The cover of Hotel California by Lahiru Dikkumbura was a one-off. In 2016, Dikkumbura and a group of friends (“mostly the kind you make over a drink”) took the 2-hour drive from Colombo to Madu Ouya, Sri Lanka. Dikkumbura is a photographer, so for him, it was a field trip to take nature photographs while exploring the Madu River jungle by boat.
Lahiru Dikkumbura explained to me that while taking the boat ride, they started singing a couple of Sri Lankan songs. They decided to go for a “more Western vibe” since they had a few guitars and “without a doubt, the best song suggestion when you have a guitar with you is Hotel California.” Using Dikkumbura’s DSLR camera, they started recording.
The wind was strong, which made it difficult to grab good audio. “Therefore we took our boat into a Mangrove shade which provided better windshield and sun protection”. Since the DSLR mic quality wasn’t good enough with the background noise, Dikkumbura connected his condenser mic, which has a windshield. The impromptu group played a few more Sri Lankan songs to test the audio. They “mixed” the sound by listening to the playback and adjusting how loud each participant played.
I asked Dikkumbura about the distinctive sound of the bongo. He said the sound quality of the customised Sri Lankan bongo was far better than expected and that sound management was down to the skill of the player. Dikkumbura sums up: “It was a random take and this was a long time ago, most of the people are abroad and busy with their families and personal commitments”. Dikkumbura (and Friends) Hotel California has 9.7m YouTube views. His second most popular song, Sanasennam Ma, has 13K views.
That’s a beautiful song! Let’s hope that The Music Man readers nudge up the viewing figures.
Reflecting on the playing and recording of Hotel California on a boat amongst mangrove trees along the Madu River, Dikkumbura gets a little wistful. “Everybody was in harmony and, as usual, teamwork produced a great outcome. When we put the video out, everybody loved it, as we’d hoped”. If you would like to see more from Lahiru Dikkumbura, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook.