The boys are alright – tuning into Magic Box Mixup

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

If you’ve even very slightly dabbled in Colombo’s nightlife, you’ve most definitely heard of the local cover band Magic Box Mixup; known for their engaging performances and their always fresh renditions of beloved tunes, they’ve truly become somewhat of a household name.

Considering their meteoric rise to prominence, we decided to drop by frontman Shaun Perera’s house late on a Wednesday night to witness Magic Box Mixup in action. Unfortunately, we were a little too late for the practice session and the boys were already winding down and taking a breather. Regardless, they huddled around, agreeing to sit down and share with us what’s really been going on since their almost unprecedented rise to fame over the past few years.

In an almost predictable fashion, frontman Shaun got the ball rolling but Shamin De Silva, the band’s leader, took the reins to keep us on track. To be perfectly honest, sitting in the room with all seven guys really got us thinking “you know what, we get it” because truly, the charisma was palpable and there was unmistakable chemistry amongst the band members.

Despite their more recent successes, the band has been around for quite a while, making waves since they first performed together in TNL Onstage back in 2006 where they won two awards – People’s Choice and Best Musician for Shaun – and even to this day, Shaun feels the need to comment: “I’ve no idea why they decided to do that.”

Following their stint onstage and after losing and gaining a few band members along the way, the current outfit as it is now, that is Dulaj on acoustic guitar and vocals, Gayan on keys, Guyrika on percussions, Jimith on drums, Shamin on lead guitar, Vickith on bass, and Shaun on nocals; these seven guys save a few have been around for nearly six years now and they’ve shared what’s been somewhat of a “dream come true”, according Shaun.

Taking a quick trip down memory lane, being who they are, the cobbles may be a bit worn but we were obligated to ask how things have changed since their first sliver of exposure into the industry and where they are now: “Shaun and I started out carrying speakers to a club and that’s actually how we got started and we’re proud of how far we’ve come since then,” said Shamin, talking about how they’ve succeeded in making a mark on Sri Lankan music and pointing out how their practice of always doing a new variation of whichever song they select to cover has picked up amongst newer, younger bands, with some of them even choosing to cover Magic Box Mixup arrangements instead of the original.

Talking a little bit about how the band has managed to stay intact for so long despite the rigors of life and being an artist in a small island like ours, the guys were quite blasé about it sharing that they’ve luckily managed to cut themselves a comfortable corner in the music industry where they are, to be frank, doing very well – the guys mostly tend to play at clubs and weddings and according to them, the wedding industry is really on the rise and demand is only increasing.

“We get paid good money and there’s a demand for bands to play at foreign weddings right now. There aren’t too many bands that do that – it’s just us and one other band mostly,” said Shamin. And so, it’s quite clear where Magic Box Mixup stands when it comes to the Lankan music industry and they’re not so concerned about the way things are going.

While the band themselves seem to take their success in stride, it’s quite evident that their self-aware attitude has a lot to do with their achievements; when asked the unavoidable question about original music, all they had to say was that it’s been in the works and someday it will happen, but right now they’re clearly not rushing to get any original music out; especially as according to them, “In Sri Lanka, there’s not really that much of a demand for original music. There are bands who do it and do it well but we started out as a cover band and that’s what we’ve been good at and what we’re known for, so we’ve stuck to it.” However, they did note that times are changing and they believe it’s for the better.

Considering the money’s good and everything is seemingly on the up and up, it’s no surprise that the majority of the members are full-time musicians except for some who maintain full time-jobs as well. However, Shaun stressed that the reason why Magic Box Mixup sounds the way it does is because its members are the way they are. If they were all full-time musicians, then they’ll be a very different band. They also shared how their sound has evolved over the years, moving forth from their alternative rock roots to a multifaceted fuller sound.

As the night wound down, we had the boys perform a small exercise for us where each of them described another band member to us, something people won’t normally expect. The results were quite interesting with Dulaj volunteering to really shed some light on their lead vocalist. He said: “Shaun is the eldest in the band and he’s like a father figure to all of us,” and our natural reaction was to awe at this but turns out we spoke a little too soon as he went on to add “…no, no even if we don’t look up to him like that, he always makes sure to act like a dad. At every gig, he checks if all of us are okay. If you’re drinking too much, then he tells us to not drink at all.”

The others also chimed in, adding that apparently “he likes to talk a lot”. This we had noticed ourselves as the rest of the descriptions were mostly just Shaun yelling out random tid bits about his fellow band members: “You have to see Vickith on the dance floor”, “Gayan’s mind is out of this world”, and “Dulaj is the glue, when he isn’t around we really miss him”.

In between his tirade, some of the other members got a word or two in with Shamin chipping in about their drummer Jimith whom they all insisted is the best drummer in Sri Lanka, insisting we note this down for future reference. All the members in the band in return expressed how they look up to Shamin, and how they’ve truly learned so much from him.

As the night came to an end and we were saying goodbye to the lot of them, we had to ask: What keeps Magic Box Mixup moving forward? All they had to say was “legacy” – leaving behind a legacy they can be proud of. “Isn’t that what living is all about?”

Catch Magic Box Mixup on Wednesday, 4 December from 8 p.m.-1 a.m. at Curve, Park Street Mews


Interview photos Saman Abeysiriwardene