By Upali Obeyesekere – Editor, The Times of Sri Lanka.
There are but a few Canadians of Sri Lankan Origin who possess latent talent in music – be it vocals or playing an instrument. Most leave this God-given gift at home while a handful reaches out for the stars! One such person who has reaching out is Karen Usha Gray. She has entered into a musical collaboration with Silver Lining Promotions and launched a 12-track album titled, “Rainbow in the Cloud”. Karen is an accomplished soprano with the ability to transcend her classical training and bring her versatility to the genres of gospel, jazz & contemporary music. She is hoping that her dream will become a reality with your support. The songs reflect her life and faith; she wants to share her passion for music with the world. The CD will launch just in time for Christmas!
Tracing the life of this talented soloist was quite revealing. Karen Usha Sabaratnam was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and showed promise from an early age. As a child, Karen had her baptism in singing while at Mt. Lavinia Methodist Church which led to voice training at age 4. Her performance at age 8 in 1985, at BMICH at the International Youth Festival of Song where she opened the show with Somehere Over the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz brought in rave reviews. This also marked the beginning of Karen’s musical journey that has been quite rewarding.
Two years later in 1987, she took part in The Young Performers’ Concert and was highly commended. Extract from a news item in the mainstream local print media states thus, “We have a promising young soloist with a bright future before her. She is Karen Sabaratnam, a 10 year-old from the Tiny Tots School. She has a wonderful voice for one so young”. In 1994 she was picked as the Most Promising Artist at the Island Music Awards. She also won the top prize in the vocal category in the Kandos Talent Search that earned her a singing contract at the Mount Lavinia Hotel.
A leading newspaper had this to say after this performance, “Classical singer Karen Sabaratnam is the type of performer who feels very comfortable in any atmosphere and really sings with ease without imitating the original”.
In 1990, she took the lead role in the musical Oklahoma as “Laurie” which further demonstrated her natural talent as a classical singer. In 1992, she had the distinction of been selected Queen of Karaoke organized by The Sunday Times & Mount Lavinia Hotel. Her fans loved her genial demeanour. In 1993, she represented Sri Lanka in the International Choir organized by the “World Scholar Athletic Games” held in Rhode Island, USA. She was picked the most promising artist and carried away the Coca Cola Trophy for The Most Outstanding Artist at the Island Music Awards. She also had a lead role in the production of “Tribute to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber” the same year. This period saw her emerging as a classical vocalist of repute.
Well known Sri Lankan Features Writer Sukumar Rockwood had this to say about Karen Sabaratnam in the Sunday Observer of December 27, 1992. “The songs she sang – one from the play Cats and the other from a Whitney Houston album amply justified the original songs. However, she gave the songs her own style which resulted in a brilliant performance. She sings like a nightingale”.
Karen has earned voice performance certificates from programs conducted by the Royal & Trinity College Schools of Music, London, England and Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada. In addition, she has picked up numerous awards for vocal, speech and drama. Her passion and innate talent for the theatre has led to lead roles in popular musicals and operatic performances in Sri Lanka, New York and Australia. She is highly regarded as a soloist in classical and contemporary music.
Karen immigrated to Canada in 1996, and has made Toronto her home. She is the daughter of triple international sports star Mahes Sabaratnam (Rugby, Boxing & Weightlifting) and his wife Vasundera. Rugby fans would recall the dashing wing three-quarter from Kandy Lake Club, Kandy Sports Club and CR & FC who dazzled the crowd in the sixties with his brawn and speed. Mahes Sabaratnam was called, “The Kandy Express” for his daunting speed and sizzling runs on the rugby fields in Colombo, Kandy and up-country.
In Toronto, Karen teaches children’s music programs through Toronto and Markham Public Libraries. She shares her natural talent by performing as a soloist at Concerts and places of religious worship for Charitable Organizations. Karen is confident that she could continue her musical journey following the success of the launch of the CD. She would like the support of the Sri Lankan community in Toronto.