Music and storytelling
By Kavishna Wijesinghe
Sri Lankan-born American record producer and songwriter, Ruwanga Samath who scored the ending title track of the blockbuster movie, Fast Five (2011) spoke to Junkyard Theory about his film music career a few weeks back. Ruwanga’s music has been placed in over 30 feature films and he also runs his own record label, SmoothBLAQ.
Ruwanga recalled that he was a music enthusiast from his youth and his passion kept him going up until today. As he was born and raised in Sri Lanka, he bought local newspapers weekly to check the UK and the US charts. He didn’t forget to mention that he was an alumnus of St. Peter’s College where he had his primary and secondary education at.
After moving his life to America, Ruwanga realised that college wasn’t the place for him and that he wanted to make music. His dream was supported by his parents who also have a heart for music and he explained how he managed to take projects starting simple with neighbourhood rappers up to producing for bigger projects like Fast and the Furious franchise, leveraging one thing to another. As he climbed up in the skill ladder, he learned how to compose music for movies, bringing up tension, accent and many elements required for cinematic storytelling.
Ruwanga had a background for music and his mother, Renuka Samath used to play in a band in Sri Lanka. Growing up, he experienced the means of being a musician inspiring him more and more into the game. He also stated that, doing something you’re passionate about, and having no time limitations for it make a real difference and he encourages everyone to do what they genuinely love. “If you do what you love… how could you have a bad day?”
Ruwanga enlightened us on how he got the chance to do the ending title track for Fast Five and how he managed to join the crew, being chosen over more popular music artists and how he pleased the audience with his work of art. He recalled that he was visiting his acquaintance, Jonathan McHugh, who was a producer and introduced him to the crew and a call from Universal Studios came saying that they were still looking for someone to do the music for the titles. McHugh had pushed for Ruwanga and while initially hesitant, Universal succumbed and had sent him some material to work with later that day. Ruwanga stated that he came up with the track overnight.
Ruwanga added that his work was praised by the late Paul Walker over a phone call once the movie had come out.
Ruwanga revealed that he would like to join a movie production early at its script stage, where he can talk to the director and understand his vision as he considers himself a creative partner of the work. When working in Reality High (2017) directed by Fernando Lebrija, Ruwanga suggested the music type that they should go with, in order to capture the hearts of the audience. He did some research with Black kids in that specific age group and asked them to send him playlists, which in return helped him to figure out the music they actually like. At the end he composed 30 songs for the movie and “it had so much energy and bounce to it”.
Ruwanga also revealed his love for fighting movies and how he got in touch with Akash. The fight scene in the short, Eidetic (2016) grabbed Ruwanga’s attention and later when Akash came to L.A., he explained how they worked together on a music video back in 2018. They trained martial arts and developed the story and pulled it off remarkably in a very short amount of time. Since he wanted to continue training, Akash prepared a plan for him before he returned to Sri Lanka and Ruwanga stated how much he adores martial arts to this day and how Akash led him to it.
Creating things in Sri Lanka
Ruwanga shared his emotions about following one’s dreams because in “earlier times people wouldn’t hold such courage and in order to look reputed, they would become an engineer, doctor or a lawyer”. But trespassing those baseless traditions, young people have taken the lead to follow their dreams now. Therefore, Ruwanga encourages all the creators out there to be brave and utilise the existing resources to create something new.
At the end of the live interview, Akash announced that Ruwanga had joined up with Junkyard Theory and would be producing the series of interviews moving forwards.
The full interview with Ruwanga is available on the Junkyard Theory YouTube channel.