Sunday, June 22, 2008
Our island was called Lanka in pre King Vijaya times. Valmiki s immortal Ramayanaya had King Ravana ruling the land from the city of Lankapura. That was almost four thousand years ago. The Arab traders termed it Jaziratul- Yaqut, island of rubies. Some called it Serandip, some Ceilan, from which the Portuguese picked Ceilao and the European map- makers coined Ceylon. Many were the names from the many that came, and they all were collective in their comment in the description of this land. Bar none, everyone agreed and noted in their chronicles that this island was indeed the complete Paradise. We never gained it. Let s be honest about that part. We simply inherited. The Gods from their celestial dome, in their infinite kindness, gifted this Paradise to us, the beautiful island of Lanka, to the people of Sri Lanka. The privilege of being born and belonging to such a place can only be rightfully expressed if one can take the turmoil out and look through the veils of disharmony that obscure what lies beyond. The purity of the land, still remains, so much unspoiled. The occupant of Paradise, still smiles, in spite of the battering he had received from the time we were reborn after the colonials left. Mother Lanka dawdles, whilst her sons and daughters drowse in ignorance, somewhat a prelude to the disasters ahead. .
Ruben walks daily carrying his Malu Kada following the footsteps of his father and grand father. His son Saman tags along, apprenticing the trade, helps to weigh the fish, cleans the broad blade knife as his father barters with the housewives, haggling for the bargain. They leave, father and son, with the little boy shouting Malu Malu straining his tender vocal chords. The fishmonger to be, on his first lessons. No change. Podi Hami prays every day. That s all she can do. She and her son Sirisena, did try every possible means, and failed. No they couldn't get a letter for employment. Wrong party, not our people, that is what the man said. Not that Podi Hami had any inclination of what happened in the parliament or who sat aloft. She merely crossed the ballot papers. There was always too much controversy in the news and people spoke in such different tones about their leaders that Podi Hami had long given up in her little mind to seek the truth. That was impossible. She merely voted and got branded. Now she sees young Sirisena, a posthumous corporal, beret and braid, in black and white, immortalised in a cheap framed photograph, hanging on the nail infested bedroom wall, boring his eyes at her, a sad and constant memory of a war where mainly the poor make the payments. A Porsche glitters inside a show room at the Bambalapitiya junction. A young boy pushes his crippled father, looking at the cars. The old man sits crumpled, folded along with his worldly belongings, in a rickety old chair that rolls on warped wheels. Donated by the Lions, says the back. A blind man and his woman share their lunch, seated on the pavement of Dickman s Road. Someone had been generous. The woman, withered and wasted, raises a bath kata to her toothless mouth and hears the world with sightless eyes, whilst the husband waits his turn, scratching his mottled skin of burnt black- Citizens of Paradise.
The sun goes down and the pavements become the bedchambers for the super poor who pray for the rains to hold till morning. These are no fairy tales of my redundant imagination. They are the stories of Paradise. The day-to-day events that play sad and silent along the cacophony of achievement. Don t tell me they are isolated, oh no, not by a long shot. They are the unheard, the ignored and the expendable debts of the displaced denizens of Paradise. The stentorians are there, loud and clear, announcing to the world and beyond, the inflated paths of progress, with rainbow visions for the morrow, splashing milk and honey stories. But, isn't there a big question mark? Isn't there some straining needed to seek the truth? I'm not talking of devolution and separations, politics don't interest me. I m like Podi Hami, totally confused between right and wrong and where lies the light. I m writing of the core, the very basics that humans search for, Uncle Sam's stuff, the pursuit of happiness type, the very essence that Paradise should be made of, which I think, is sadly missing at present. They leave Paradise by the thousands. Why? That is a good question. Look around and you will see the answer. They move out to pursue their happiness elsewhere. Not by choice, but by reasons of sheer necessity. The Sri Lankan Diaspora is everywhere, from the chilly summits of Northern Canada to the dry lands of Tasmania. From sushi land to Swaziland. From the deserts of Dhahran to the lush green valleys of New Zealand. You see them with their little Sri Lankan clubs , clinging on dearly to memories of a homeland, torn between a new life and what they left behind. It s a love they cannot shed, a romance gone rotten, and they gather and lament, speak in sad nostalgic tones and save miserly to visit and spend a week or two in their much loved and beloved Paradise.
Why do these inheritors leave Paradise? Something must have gone wrong in the system. The exodus only began after we were reborn. Hence, the blame is not with the colonials and their House of Commons. It is ours and ours alone, lying firmly in the Pontius hands of the custodians who were chosen to charter our future, and seemingly have failed in their delivery. Isn t it a fact that there is a mass cry for employment outside. The mason and the maid lead, followed by the waiter, the janitor and the bartender. Name him, and he is there, looking for agents to send him to some far away Valhalla. The banker too, and the medicine man, fill passport forms, standing side by side with the young urban professional and the academic erudite. All looking across the sea, from the shores of Paradise. There are some consolations too, one cannot be totally paranoid. The factory jobs are there for the tradeless. Foreign Marks and local Spencer make the mint and scope the cream and the poor Paradisians eat the peanut. Still, it's something to keep the kitchen fires burning. The rest of the no skills pawn their souls to go abroad. Local Dick Whitingtons charging into the unknown, exploited at every toll gate (there are many) and slave in alien homes in the Middle East and Asia, sending their carefully hoarded pitiful dirams and dollars to their loved ones, whilst counting agonising days to return home. Sixty years have gone by from the day of independence. The blameless blame, the nameless suffer, the shameless go on, ramroding their way to erode and annihilate Paradise. No need to further elaborate, the reasons are obvious. Some things happen to be best left unsaid. Let me be the coward and let discretion become the better part of my limited attempts at journalism.
Call me a fool if it pleases you and I ll accept it. But let me trickle some sanity to your thoughts. Just to kindle an interest. Totally non political. I cannot and do not separate the villain from the venerated, the line is too thin and the facts are wildly scattered. The truth certainly is in masquerade. The Lankan Paradise is not lost, not yet. It is certainly misplaced. That much can be clearly seen, lest one be blind. What happens in the end to things that are misplaced? They never get found and as time goes by; it sure will become something permanently missing. Ours is a Paradise misplaced. Let us all valiantly search, it is not too late. Let us collectively find ourselves and our land, before it vanishes beyond the limit, and becomes a Paradise Lost.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
By Louise Gray
Louise Gray's blog of working for a tree conservation society in Sri Lanka
I have been in Sri Lanka long enough now to just about have a routine. In other circumstances that might mean things could get boring. Here it is quite the opposite. Take my walk to work.
As soon as I step out my front door on Kirula Road, Colombo 5 I am confronted by men with armfuls of guns. It is a local security firm and they are always very friendly but I have not quite got used to being greeted by groups of men unloading AK47s from white vans first thing in the morning.
I turn onto a dusty street already full of traffic to be greeted by a familiar cry: "Madam! Taxi!" It's the dawn patrol of tuk tuk drivers. I ignore them and walk on, but they persist. "Ok madam, get in".
"No, thank you," I refuse. "I am walking."
This will take some time to sink in as maybe one or two tuks trail me down the road hoping I will change my mind.
By the time I have reached my first obstacle fondly known as rat corner, because I usually narrowly miss stepping on a rodent at this juncture, they have peeled off.
advertisementI will get a few more by the time I turn on to Jawatta Road, the main thoroughfare I have to negotiate. The traffic is dreadful. Big Lanka Ashok Leylands, the local buses and undisputed kings of the road, roar past scattering terrified tuk tuks.
"There are zebra crossings which are meant to stop the traffic but the only protection they give you in Sri Lanka is if you are run over on a zebra crossing it is the driver's fault, whereas if its anywhere else it is your own fault. They would certainly not have much sympathy with someone so stupid as to attempt to walk to work, especially when I have so many offers of transport.
"Hello miss taxi?"
"No, really, I'm walking."
The roads I pass reflect the rulers of the country from the Portuguese Don Carolis Road to the very British Ascot Avenue. In the same way the places of worship reflect the mixed religion in the country, from the majority Buddhists, 18 per cent Hindus and minority Muslims and Christians.
The Buddhist shrine is always adorned with offerings of fragrant flowers, fresh fruit and water and I will often see worshippers stopping to offer prayer. The Hindu temple is even more colourful with its tangle of Gods and wafts of incense. By comparison the Anglican church on the corner and the mosque seem dull in the extreme.
Anyway I can never stop without attracting attention. "Aha! You want a trishaw madam?"
"No, I don't."
I'm really just being stubborn now as it is hot work walking in 30ºC plus and while there is no AC in tuk tuks there is a moderately cooling breeze. If you are lucky the driver will have garlands of flowers around the windscreen, pictures of laughing Chinese babies or psychedelic seat coverings lovingly protected by sheets of clear plastic.
Like London taxi drivers there is always plenty of chat almost always beginning with "Where you from?" followed by "You married?" I prefer to practice my Sinhala but this can be confusing for everyone involved.
I press on past various Sri Lankan ministries. I pass the ministry of water and irrigation and the ministry of youth empowerment and socio-economic development. There is also a ministry of religious affairs and moral enlightenment and a department of ayurveda. Sri Lanka has one of the highest numbers of ministries in the world with more than 100 members of cabinet. Unfortunately I do not go past the ministry of silly walks.
I also pass the national identification office where there is a massive queue of people every morning waiting to get identity cards. Since the end of the ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tigers earlier this year and an increase in terrorist bomb attacks, it has been necessary for everyone to have ID on them at all times for the many police checks. Almost in defiance of the ethnic conflict the queue is a mixture of Hindu Tamils, often with ash on their foreheads, and Sinhalese Buddhists.
"Bakeries" offer short eats like egg rotis from trailers on the back of bicycles, hawkers sell pineapple with chilli and disfigured beggars sell lottery tickets to the crowd.
There are intermittent pavements until I get to the streets around the embassies and international aid headquarters in an area known as Colombo 7. This is a bit like Sri Lanka's version of Mayfair hence you have "Colombo 7 mums" which I guess are a little like Stepford wives but with stricter morals.
Intermingled with the blaring horns of tuk tuks and buses are the sleek UN 4x4s. The streets are a little more leafy here and for a while I tried to practice identifying trees on the walk to work. But standing underneath a tree with my field guide to the common trees and shrubs of Sri Lanka invariably drew so much attention and tuk tuks that I soon gave up.
I do know that there are rain trees and Indian willow as I scuttle from one to another glad of the shade. Unfortunately there are not as many trees in Colombo as there used to be. Part of my job as communications advisor to Ruk Rakaganno, the Tree Society of Sri Lanka (http://rukrakaganno.sacredcat.org), has been firing off angry letters to the press complaining of this fact.
There are even rumours that trees are being cut to stop terrorists depositing bombs in them. This is a high security zone and soldiers in blue combats patrol the streets. At first it made me uncomfortable but after a couple winked at me, I got used to them.
I have got used to a lot of things in Colombo. The heat, the crows, the nice and not-so-nice spicy smells. I have even taken on a few Sri Lankan habits. At work I eat a lunch packet of rice and curry, I try not to think about bombs, I wobble my head when I don't want to do something but feel too polite to say no.
At the same time I try to keep an eye out for the unusual things like a monk with a mobile phone or a whole family travelling on one motorcycle. It is only a week before I leave Sri Lanka and I want to make sure I remember the extraordinary experiences and even the ordinary ones like the tuk tuk drivers who persist even as I am turning into the entrance of my work.
"Hello, madam, you need a tuk, tuk?"
Of course, I could always have jumped in a tuk tuk for 75p (after 10 minutes hard haggling) but where would be the fun in that?
Sunday, June 08, 2008
By Nalin Fernando.
Where have they all gone?
I am thinking about the Railway Burghers, not the flowers in the plaintive melody made popular during the Vietnam War.
Recently, I met one of them who did not uproot himself while almost everyone nearest and dearest to him had sought new pastures abroad to work or to retire.
He was the ultimate railway man, born in Mount Mary and he hoped to die in the vicinity in which he had lived all his life.
Once upon a time (he told me, over an arrack at the Twentieth Century Club where he was a guest) Eric de La Motte was bringing the 72 Up Night Mail from Badulla to Colombo.
He was piloting the old steam war-horse that had chugged along for well over thirty years, never failing if it had enough coal and water.
Melo, his ever-loving wife (home calling Melo, outside calling Maloney) was all a twitter as she was wont to be when he stays away overnight after taking the 463 Down Passenger two mornings before.
She had spruced up the railway quarters they lived in.
The floor was mopped, brushed and gleaming.
Although cobwebs stretched across the ceiling, one could comb your hair looking down at the floor as in a good Burgher home.
She dusted the paper flowers in a glass vase on an imitation ebony tea-boy.
She kept her quarters shining just as Eric liked his steam gauge glass and brass fittings in the loco cabin to sparkle.
The leftover ox tongue stew had been warmed up.
The raw onion and green chilli sambol and the bread cut in practical three-inch thick chunks were on the dining table that was draped with a blue and white checked plastic tablecloth.
The table stood on four tinned fish cans full of Jeyes fluid to keep the ants away.
Eric and Melo were well known in railway circles as a "lovely couple".
There was a grand do at the Railway Institute three years before when they celebrated their silver wedding anniversary.
Melo, now was shunting towards fifty, but she still maintained vestiges of her pleasant face and figure that had been the rage of the institute get-togethers in the days gone by.
Her bust, tummy and hips were about five inches rounder and her once delicate rear brake wagon was more prominent.
But, after two children, now grown up, what happened to Mrs. Hepponstall happens to all.
When they first met, Eric was a dashing young fireman who shoveled a stylish spade of coal.
He was tall, handsome and had a tattoo of a snake coiling round a totem pole on his left upper arm.
Melo often recalled those leathery palms of his in her soft hand and on her softer shoulder when he came up to her at a Christmas social and said, "dance".
They were married three weeks later and her mummy and daddy, also railway folk, approved of the match.
Old Meerwald was very proud of his s-I-l, especially his ability to drain two drams in one "gallop" and then nonchalantly crush the glass with his leathery bare hands.
Melo was giving the front steps a final swish and sweep when she spotted Dottie (outside calling Dorothy) doing the same chore in the adjoining quarters.
Dottie was Melo's good friend although socially inferior since her husband, Andrew, was still on the Puttalam run drawing cattle wagons and a few second and third class carriages.
"Erico coming soon", cried out Melo. "Bringing a leg of farm pork and bacon from Nanu and a bottle of Tiddenham Barrow from DLA. Making bacon and eggs. Pork for lunch".
"So, so, matinee show today", she replied mischievously.
Melo tried hard to blush at Dottie's naughty suggestion, failed miserably and only managed to coyly toss her short crop of hair.
"Don't be silly, Chile", she replied and walked in with a sly smile.
Eric arrived soon after in his favourite rickshaw.
It had been a satisfying run from Badulla.
The steam charge had been steady and he had not got any red signals approaching Fort that tested his patience after a long run.
He carried under his left arm-pit a parcel and on his right hand a bottle, both wrapped in old newspaper.
His overnight bag was slung on his left shoulder.
Moreover, if you think that the items wrapped in newspaper were leg of pork and a bottle of passion fruit, you were sadly mistaken.
The parcel was two pounds of fresh bread that Eric got from a florist cum undertaker after every run to Fort in appreciation of bringing back safely a basket of flowers from Blackpool.
The bottle had the last two shots of black arrack, the original contents having been progressively reduced at Bandarawela, Pattipola, Nanu Oya, Gampola and Polgahawela.
Eric walked in and placed his cargo on the dining table, took his shoes off and reclined on the armchair.
He turned to Melo and said "glass" in the same tone and timbre as he once said "dance" or says "coal" to his fireman when the steam gauge hits the warning line.
He paused until the glass was fetched and then said "food".
He was a man of few words.
Now, Melo had to fry bacon and eggs as previously boasted to Dottie.
If there was no bacon in the house, how was she to produce the sound and smell of frying bacon for which Dottie must surely be waiting with envy on the other side of the thin partition walls of the railway quarters?
Melo was a real one.
With a deft flick of her wet fingers she sprinkled water into a hot pan of old bacon fat.
Dottie, with her ears against the wall, heard the sizzling sound of water sprinkled on hot oil and aroma of bacon fat was in the air.
She resigned herself to the fact that her Andy could hardly be expected to bring back pork or bacon from Muslim dominated Puttalam.
Eric downed the remnants of the bottle in a single 'gallop".
He was ready for food after having had for dinner only a tasty but small parcel of rice and curry given to him by a certain tootsy-wootsy in Badulla - a middle-aged wife of a much older retired Sinhalese head guard with whom he had a discreet understanding.
When the plate of ox tongue stew had been wiped clean with the last chunk of bread, he released a subdued belch akin to a short blast of his steam hooter on seeing a jaywalker on the tracks ahead of him.
He rose from his chair unbuttoning his shirt, and loosening his belt and waistband he lounged in the armchair with his feet up on the extended foot-rests.
"Duckworth and Joppe coming for lunch. Buy some soda and beef. Duckworth bringing brinjal pickle. Rice and curry. Wake me when they come", he said in a rare long speech.
In three minutes he was fast asleep.
Melo spent half an hour de-stoning the rice, washing the dhal and peeling the potatoes to fry later.
She then stepped out dutifully towards Dematagoda with a shopping basket in her hand to buy some chicken necks for bites.
She could hear Dottie somewhere in the front of her quarters and was sure that she would be seen going out.
She put on a fleeting self-satisfied smile.
She tossed her short hair and smoothened it down on a side with her free hand.
She then wiggled her hips and hitched up her knickers.
How to disappoint that woman about the matinee, chile.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
'Largely Latin Show''Largely Latin' concert will come alive at the western garden of the BMICH on December 1.
Billed to perform are several Sri Lankan born musicians who have risen to international repute, two foreign stars, and a bevy of accomplished local performers, carefully selected for their musical style and technical virtuosity, the organizer said.
The international contingent to 'Largely Latin' comprises Sri Lanka's Dylan Lye, Hussain Jiffry, Dulip Wijesinghe and Sunil de Silva.
The international contingent will also include vocalist Carrie Gibson and keyboardist Stan Ganapolsky. Both are from Canada and have performed with Buddy Miles among other world renowned musicians.
The local contingent, which will perform guest spots during the four-hour extravaganza comprises Alston Joachim (bass); Harsha Markalanda (keyboards); Ravibandu Vidyapathi (percussion); Revel Crake (guitar); Shiraz Noor Amith (drums); and the Caribbean expatriate vocalist Suzanne Wallace.
Hussain Jiffry - (Bass/Vocals/Arranger/Composer) born and raised in Colombo, Hussain has become one of the most sought after bassists in Los Angeles.
In 1982 while performing with a local band in Sri Lanka, Hussain was offered to tour Europe with R & B Band, and eventually spent six years on the European club circuit. In 1988 he moved over to Los Angeles to study music at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. He graduated from MI in March 1989 receiving the school's highest award, the Vocational Honors Diploma.
Hussain is a Faculty Member of the Los Angeles Music Academy and has written the Latin Styles curriculum.
During the past ten years Hussain has gradually grown busier and more in demand as his reputation has spread as a player, writer and producer. He regularly tours with Sergio Mendez and has also toured and recorded with Whitney Houston, Dione Warwick, Michael Bolton, Freddie Ravel, Stephanie Powers, Pocket Change, Tom Scott, Robert Kyle, Chaka Khan, Carol King, Gloria Gainer and Tito Puente.
Sunil De Silva (Percussionist)- Born in Sri Lanka, Sunil de Silva got his first major break when he was invited to perform with the famous SAVAGES, which toured Vietnam.
Sunil who now lives in Australia has played on over 280 CDs and Albums, including the latest of INXS and MIDNIGHT OIL and has won all Major Music Instrumental Awards in Australia, including: Best Studio Player, Best Jazz Percussionist and Best Latin Percussionist. He currently performs with Doug Williams' new band, LR MIX and as well as the COOGEE BROTHERS.
Sunil has also performed with Renee Geyer, Marcia Hines, James Morison, Tommy Emmanuel, Jenny Morris and Wendy Mathews and has toured with Prince, Paul McCartney, INXS, Midnight Oil, Germaine Jackson, Peter Allen, Tears For Fears, John Denver and Bob Marley.
Dylan Lye (Guitarist/Vocals/Band Leader Guitarist/vocalist) - Dylan Lye, moved over to Hongkong with the Jetliners in the early eighties to perform at the Regent Hotel.
Dylan has performed at many leading venues in Hongkong, Macau, China and Singapore with reputed international musicians and has even headed Quintels comprising international musicians touring Colombo on a couple of occasions.
Dulip Wijesinghe (Bubu) (Drums/Percussion/Vocals) - born in Sri Lanka, Bubu has performed extensively in Hongkong with the Jetliners. He has backed many local and international artistes including Glen Frey (Little River Band). Simon Gallagher and Georgie Fame.
Bubu works in the Macau and Hongkong circuit, making an impression at the Jazz Club, JJ's (Grand Hyatt) and BB's. He has also performed with the Anthony Fernandez Big Band, SNJO Japanese Big Band, the Venezulan Salsa Band and the Hongkong Academy of Performing Arts' 56-piece Orchestra and regularly teams up with the Dylan Lye Quintet.
by Geoff Wijesinghe - Sat, Mar 2, 2002
George Siegertsz, who passed away in London last week at the age of 82, was one of the last of a generation of post-World War Two musicians.
George was a regular at Lion House at the Bambalapitiya Junction. He was one of the motley group of young men who visited the popular eatery, which served more as a "cup tea punt" (a cup of tea and a fag) club where these youth chatted for long hours of this, that and the other.
Although the group comprised many toughs who walked around like pocket editions of Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and Spencer Tracy, the tough guys at the time of the silver screen, George Siergertsz was more interested in chatting and in music. He was the country's number one whistler, a fine art and often his friends at Lion House, would gather round a table and listen to him whistling the popular tunes at the time.
About one in two months or so, George Siergertsz had a 15-minute program over Radio Ceylon and would whistle the popular tunes of the day, haunting melodies, many of them World War Two favourites such as "Time Goes By", "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", "A Long Way to Tipperary" and "The White Cliffs of Dover".
Many of us younger one who kept in touch with the Lion House crowd knew well in advance when George Siergertsz, a lean, tall, gangling figure was going to whistle over Radio Ceylon.
Incidentally, although some of his pals operated in grey areas, George never blew the whistle on them to the cops. He was only interested in whistling fine musical tunes. The Lion House group, I would not like to describe them as a mob, although some of them were men of violence looking out for a fight.
One morning we read the sensational news in the "Daily News" of two of the Lion House boys having stowed away successfully on board a ship from Colombo to Southampton. If my memory serves me right they were Hula Mortier and Kingsley Rodrigo who, according to their buddies, have gone to the UK to become coal miners.
When I last heard of them many years ago they had in fact made their way to London and were domiciled there. The years following World War Two produced musicians of fine vintage in this country. Foremost of them was Erin de Selfa who was discovered by the doyen of Sri Lankan showmen Donovan Andre, a former racing correspondent attached to the Times of Ceylon, which was published in the evenings and on Sundays.
She was recruited to sing in the group which was known as Red Tail Minstrels and grew up to be dark and dusky, and her voice was very much like the posh Shirley Bassey. Once she grew up, Erin was a regular over a Radio Ceylon. She then left for London under contract to the famous "Talk of the Town" nightclub in London, which was patronized by celebrities.
I had the privilege of listening to Erin over the BBC one night. This was the first time that a Sri Lankan musician had been honoured by BBC, at the time the premier broadcasting station in the world, a highly prestigious achievement.
Her renditions of "Blue Moon", "As Time Goes By", "I can't help Falling in Love with You" and several other sentimental songs, were of the highest international standards.
Several years later, another Sri Lankan Yolande Wolfe, an old girl of Holy Family Convent of Bambalapitiya and whose father owned a building at the top of Retreat Road, followed in Erin's footsteps and became popular in the US.
That was in the early 1950s, the George and Gerry Crake brother were the seniors in the local music scene and they too were regulars over Radio Ceylon. They had a band known as the Crake Brothers, Gerry had a rich, deep tenor. There was also the Millionaires' dance band who practised in a house at Edward Lane.
They had the big band sound and their rendition of the Glenn Miller favourite "Take the A-train", which is a perennial, was superb.
The biggest end-of-the-year dance in the late 1940s was at the Town Hall where several bands played and there was one hectic rush for tickets.
Some of the Lion House "boys" got involved in a brawl at one of those New Year's Eve dances, which ended tragically in the death of a young man, who fell out of an upstair window when taking a punch.
The pint-sized Carl Cooke, the former Thomian wicket-keeper, had a ballroom dancing school opposite Lion House directly behind the petrol shed at the Bambalapitiya Junction. In this sprawling old house he also established the 20th Century Club, no doubt getting the inspiration from the name 20th Century Fox, the international film producer.
One night, some of the boys who had the habit of dropping in for drinks at the 20th Century Club, imbibed more than they should have had and inspired by Bacchus, took all the club's flower pots and placed them on Carl Cooke's billiard table. Being a mild mannered man, all Carl could say was "what have you fellows done? You have damaged my billiard table. And I will have to replace it with new clothes."
Carl, of course, being a peace-loving man, paid for the repairs. But the neighbourhood was very angry with the Lion House crowd for having abused Carl Cooke's hospitality, for he was very popular. Carl's brother Percy who has played for S. Thomas' was my headmaster for long years
Jazz in Sri Lanka inside out
CONTRARY to its nowadays’ apparently diminished and rather muted disposition as a commercially well-established art form, jazz was Sri Lanka’s most acclaimed and urbanely widespread style of music in the 40s and 50s.
Although one hardly gets to hear any jazz being played in the city’s famous pubs, sports clubs or night clubs any more than a beat group playing one or two jazz songs from a podium as of today, the spicy sounds of the Caribbean and Mexico were once gaining wider notice in the country’s big hotels.
Burgeoning Jazz sessions were taking place at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, the Taprobane and the Mount Lavinia Hotel.
The musicians were all European nationals for there was no local jazz bands or musicians in Sri Lanka during those early years of post-independence. Most of these European bands resembled Swing or Big Bands in the US while some of them resembled the characteristics of Territory Bands that were playing jazz in smaller United States cities.
There were no electronic keyboards or electric guitars available at the time of the development of jazz. The instruments in use were pianos, clarinets, harmonicas, oboes, saxophones, trumpets, drums and semi acoustic-guitars.
The European jazz musicians brought these instruments to the country to play their music.
This is the early history of the beginning of jazz music in Sri Lanka.
The current article has been composed by us to serve as material for future reference outlining the history of jazz music in Sri Lanka.
As pointed out by pianist Suriyakumaran Veerasingham, a second generation jazz musician and an authority on Western music in Sri Lanka, “Most of these EU bands played a lot of jazz. They also played standards and ball room music.”
The city of New Orleans with a well-established large black population is regarded as the place of the origin of Jazz and or its evolution by many authorities.
Jazz great Louis Armstrong, and his teacher, one of the first great cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, and other influential musicians including Jelly Roll Morton hailed from New Orleans.
In the early years, Brass bands paraded in New Orleans and played to comfort families during funerals and performed at numerous functions including social dances, a character that is discernible from so call “Papare” bands in Sri Lanka.
A Papare band uses trumpets, a bass drum for beat, a pair of cymbals and most of these bands play simple jazz standards like “When the Saints Go Marching In.” After the EU jazz bands left the country, several Indian musicians came to Sri Lanka from Goa, who settled in the country, said Suriyakumar.
Among these Goanese families were good jazz musicians. The Menezes family was one among them with Roger Menezes.
The family of Manilka Vasagar was another family of jazz musicians from India. Lucky , Valantine and Nesen Vasagar became acclaimed jazz musicians. Among the characters of musical importance were Erin De Selfa, who was the wife of Donovan Andre. Erin brought down a number of foreign jazz bands to the country.
Jazz singer Yolande Bavan is another key figure. She went to America where she formed the famous Lambert Hendrix and Bavan trio, which received international acclaim.
The first generation musicians played predominantly light jazz or ball room music and jazz standards.
Saxophonists Harold Seneviratna and Edgar Hebber, Milroy Passe De Silva, guitarists Gazaril Amith, pianists Eric Batholomeusz, Sunny Batholomeuz, Dr. Gulasekaran (Dr. Gulli), Jimmy Emmanual, Jerry Crake and Raddy Fereira features prominently in the early development of jazz in the country. This was the time the piano style, which developed from ragtime was popular.
The first generation includes drummers Faleel Ziard and Cass Ziard, pianist\drummer Adrian Ferdinandz, Patrick Nelson Combo and Arden Nelson Combo.
As pointed out by Suriyakumar the musicians who came after the first generation of jazz musicians took the level of music to a higher level.
“There are no pure jazz musicians in Sri Lanka for the fact that it will be hard to earn one’s bread if one is a pure jazz musician here,” he said.
“The basis of jazz is improvisation. technically speaking if you are playing “Funeral March” and improvise on it, it means you are playing a jazzy version of Funeral March,” he explained. Helen Lucus, Steurt De Silva, Sisil Rodrigo and trumperters Papa Miskin and Latiff were among those who played jazz in Sri Lanka.
Guitarists Raja Jalaldeen, Dilan Lye, Raj Seneviratna and Derek Wickremenayake are among the second generation of musicians. Also the pianist\singer Priyanthi Manamperi, Noeline Honter and Dalrene Suby.
Musicians Aruna Siriwardena, Upali Fernando, Sunil De Silva (the percussionist for Santana), Hussain Jiffrey (who plays for George Benson and Yani) have also contributed much to the development of jazz.
Among those who promoted jazz music in Sri Lanka are Tommy Perera, Tita Nathaniez, Mahes Perera, former Minister Haren Coreya and Bala Namasvayam.
Jazz Unlimited, the jazz club of Sri Lanka to promote jazz music organise sessions of jazz music every month at CR&FA with the participation of many up and coming jazz bands and singers. Among them are senior players like Harsha Makalanda and Dilrukshi Sirimanna.
The sixties came alive
by Mahes Perera
The opening chords of the Shadow's hit 'Shazam' by the original Jetliners switched on an evening of music of the 60s at the BMICH on Sunday December 19 that will long be remembered and treasured.
The Jetliner Reunion Concert was truly amazing, in that the members after such a long time came together to perform to their fans with the same professional verve and vitality they were associated with, in their halcyon days.
The rhythm section with Indra Raj on guitar, Felix Fernando - bass, Anton Gunewijeya - rhythm guitar and Harris Jurangpathy drums, re-created with ease the fascination of the Shadows repertoire performing selections like Shadoogie, Quartermasters Stores, Foot Tapper, Wooly Bully and more including the catchy Midrun.
It was a pleasure to hear and see Indra Raj still slick and casual with his fretwork that breathed the Shadows fire, and Harris Jurangpathy sounding strong on the skins.
Not forgetting the throbbing bass of Felix Fernando and Anton Gunewijeya's supportive rhythm guitar.
The first set of vocals, was performed by Ishan Bahar who sang 'Young Ones', 'Summer Holiday,' 'On The Beach' and later on in the show 'Funny Feeling I'm Falling in Love With You' and more with the Ishan aplomb.
Mignonne's vocal entry was the appropriate 'Those Were The Days' - sung with a great deal of enthusiasm that immediately drew her fans to her.
There were other songs too 'My Boy Lollipop', 'Mangala Mohotha' which she dedicated to her late husband and Manager of Jetliners Tony Fernando, a vibrant Pata Pata which included audience participation and a rousing Bombay Meri Hai. Her keyboard artistry and arrangements played an important part in the presentation. She was assisted on a second keyboards by Cumar Pieris.
Sohan Pieris back on the Sri Lankan stage swung into the ballads 'Man Without Love', 'Ten Guitars', 'Release Me', 'Green Green Grass of Home' 'Mohair Sam', 'Black is Black', 'Delilah' and 'I Got No Satisfaction' that were lapped up by the audience.
The Original Jetliners Re-Union Concert proved that age was no barrier for showmanship in the music industry which is missing in today's scene.
Their dedication and commitment to their music came through with strength in their performance on stage. The programme was packed with delightful hits of the 60s too numerous to mention due to space.
What a selection they pulled out from the musical chest! Congratulations!
Sunday Observer jan 2 2005
Jetliners shake up Down Under
From a Special Correspondent reporting from Australia
When the curtain went up on January 30 1999 at the Blacktown Civic Centre in Sydney the original Jetliner put to rest doubts and questions in the minds of the Sri Lankan community here whether these six guys, getting together after 35 years, some having quit the music scene completely, could deliver the goods.
The very first note, the very first drum beat after the breathtaking introduction (creatively produced by Sohan and Ishan with the help of Tomie of Sound Shaft Studios, Sydney) had the Sydneyites stunned. As a guest commented, "I didn't know whether to cry or scream in joy. Finally, I did both."
The guitar mastery of Indra Raj (Switzerland) the booming bass of Felix Fernando (Melbourne) and rip-roaring rhythm of Anton Gunavijaya (London) and the dynamic drumming of Harris Jurangpathy (Denmark) zoomed us back to the 1960's and the Coconut Grove of Galle Face Hotel.
Then entered Ishan Bahar (Sri Lanka) beat boy extra-ordinary of the 60s (looking like a page from the swinging sixties) to the strains of the theme song from the Cliff Richard movie the "Young Ones" making everyone feel 35 years younger. And finally to complete the picture came Sohan Pieris (Hawaii) with his smooth rendition of "Man Without Love" which had the couples on the dance floor remembering the good old carefree days. The Jetliners ended the introduction bracket (set) with their version of the Shadows hit "Apache" with footwork, movements and the works.
From then on there was no stopping the Jetliners giving the 525 guests at the Civic Centre the time of their lives with their characteristic renditions of hits of the Shadows, Cliff Richard, Elvis, Englebert to name a few. Saying adieu, with their farewell rendition of the old time classic "May The Good Lord Bless & Keep You" brought tears, flooding us with fond memories of Sri Lanka.
It was no different at the Moorabin Town Hall in Melbourne, the following Saturday, 6th February. The 880 guests were given the full treatment. It was so electrifying that not only did the teeny boppers of the 60's let their hair down, the younger generation, most of them, I'm certain had been dragged by their parents for the show, stood stunned with mouths agape listening to the beautiful, refreshing sounds of the Jetliners, Ishan and Sohan ably supported by the Keyboard wizardry of Raddy Ferreira (Sydney). It was such a "turn-on" some of the teenage girls joined the Jetliners on stage for their final bracket to bump and grind with the boys.
Once again their farewell song was a touching and emotional one.
A special bouquet to Randy Pieris (Sydney) for the great effort to make this "Reunion" a reality. As the "boys" commented in unision, "NO RANDY NO RE-UNION".
Sunday Times Feb 28 1999
The boys reminisced that the going was tough. Gunawijeya used to borrow a bicycle and carrying his guitar cycled daily for practices which took place at Harris Jurampathy's home, Harris remembered the time when they lost their side-drum which had fallen out of the taxi on their way to Beach Road. They spent the wee small hours of the morning looking far it and were successful. It was in a 'thoose boutique' surrounded by people who were trying to figure out how it got there. It was a let - down for me as the drum was punctured and we could not do anything about it" said Harris.
by Ilika Karunaratne
Daily News, Sat Jun 14, 2003: Every fairy tale has its own bete noire - A 'Once upon a time' or 'happily married ever after', also usually demands a thorn. To Mignonne Rutnam, as she was then, her fairy tale began, when she met Tony Fernando, when she was just sweet sixteen. He was first her Manager, and later, both husband and Manager. The thorn to them, was Tony's illness and death, which was to take him away last year, after a 38 year old marriage, made in heaven.
Mignonne, has always been my favourite female Sri Lankan singer. Her voice in my ears, is like sun warmed honey, and no-one, then or now, can hold a candle to her. Each one of us takes the death of a loved one in a different way. Each of us swims in our own pool of grief; our own flood of memories. Loneliness becomes constant, memories become companions and darkness becomes a haven for fantasy. Mignonne's first reaction to the shock, was to take herself away; to spend time with her daughter in Dubai. She then returned to immerse herself in work.
"Tony knew that I wanted to do this CD, and it was his dream too. Music to me, is a gift from God; I am forever in his debt, for this wonderful gift. My mother helped me to develop it, by her knowledge of it, and her encouragement. But it was because of Tony's inspired management that my music sprouted and blossomed. I worked hard, to see that this dream of ours, Tony's and mine, came true, by producing this album. It seemed to be an eternity in the making, but it has been a labour of love, and a total experience of mind, body and soul", she said of her new CD released recently.
You have been away a long time. How would you describe those years? "Working at The Regent, Hongkong, was a truly enthralling experience. It is a place where the rich and famous gather almost daily, as you can see from the Daimlers parked outside. It was voted the world's best hotel, for three years in a row, by The Institutional Investor. It rises above the glittering lights of Hongkong, on the very edge of the world's most spectacular harbour".
Mignonne showed me a picture of the room in which they sang, with enormous glass windows, almost the length and breadth of the room. She also related an interesting legend about it; that it is built in the path of the nine dragons, as dragons can walk through glass; so it doesn't disturb their freedom of movement! The view seems panoramic, and at night, with an azure sky, the stars would look like diamonds., sparkling on dark silk.
"Our time there was really wonderful. It was the best years to be there too; meeting interesting people, organizing and creating music to suit individual tastes. There were various dimensions to performances; some would like old music, like Joe Loss for instance. We played at several traditional weddings too, society functions, with the sophistication of Chanel and Karl Lagerfield clothes, a Cartier launch of the perfume, 'Panthere', brings back nostalgic memories, of a real live panther, being carried in on a palanquin, by Nubian slaves. Julio Iglesius, who popularized that ubiquitous song, 'All the girls I loved before' performed at shows that we did.
Singers, dancers, comics, Broadway veterans, brought great entertainment, as well as the celebrity touch to the performances. So many shows with so many different themes; one was in the styling of 'In a Persian market', another was 'A night in Manhatten' I created the whole score of music for many of these shows. Often, after the star of the evening performed, we would play music for dancing. 2.30 a.m. is the time they call 'carriages' which means that the function was over and it was time to go home. Alan Zeman, is a famous figure in HongKong, who owns several clubs and streets in Hong Kong we played at his son's 'Bar Mitzah and played only jewish music on that occasion:".
When was the beginning of your spectacular career in music? "We began right here in Colombo, at the Coconut Grove at The Galle Face Hotel. Our next spot was The Taj Mahal in Bombay, then to Singapore, where we won our first international awards. Our first break in Hong Kong, was at The Talk of the Town, which was a revolving restaurant. We came back here and performed too, before our long stay in Hong Kong".
Sohan Peiris says that he owes everything he is today to Tony and you. What about the original jetliners? "The original jetliners are scattered all over the world now, but we did get together for a concert in Australia recently. We are all keen on performing here, where it all began and are working on it, and trying to work out sponsorship. Tony managed all hotel musicians in Hong Kong. He was a most gentle ruler, who ruled his kingdom of music, with a firm, but fair hand.
We formed a company for this and had 16 to 20 musicians under this umbrella. We played for almost every grand opening at The Regent, where the creme a la creme of Hong Kong would be present. We once had a millionaire who wanted to have dinner alone with his wife in the atmosphere of Sherwood Forest, with our band playing soft music.
We created this and he was so happy with the evening that he gave me a gift of a mink teddy bear. I had to give this to a child before I returned here, as the mink would not have stood our climate! Another wonderful memory was 'The Captains Ball', held by the Captain of The Q E 2. We had one band in the foyer, another playing light classical during dinner, and still another for dancing.
The joy of creating and organizing music left me little time for boredom. We used to practise two days in the week and perform for three days in the week. Our apartment was just next to the hotel. It was great fun while it lasted, but in 1997, we decided come back home, and go back only for seasons. Our two sons have finished University now and are both living and working in the US. The last two years for me, were devoted to Tony's health and everything else came after that. I wanted to launch my CD in February, but I felt it was insensitive in the midst of the war in Iraq, to launch a CD, which was a celebration of life".
What of the future? I would like to do seasons in the US, where my sons are. I would very much enjoy doing the musical score for a Sinhalese film. I like to be flexible and introduce new concepts in music". Mignonne's world has been a kaleidoscope; a constantly changing prism that mixed, mingled and overlapped to create shades and patterns. On stage, she is the quintessential star of spellbinding presence; shimmering and shining.
To meet and talk to her on her own, she is a lovely person, with beauty of soul that somehow shines through. I almost cried as I listened and watched her on video, singing 'I am proud to be Sri Lankan', in all three languages, Sinhalese, Tamil and English. The background showing all the beauties of our country. Our beaches, the ruined cities, temples and our children of all communities, who are after all our future. This song, should I think be used on radio, on TV, on Sri Lankan, Airlines and by The Tourist Board. It is so beautiful and heart warming and could be a pathway to permanent peace.
"Wherever I may have wandered, I have never failed to take a part of Sri Lanka with me, and have always projected my country through my music. I wear either Kandyan saree or 'Redda hatte', and wear a 'nalal patiya too', when I sing in Sinhalese or Tamil. My heart has always been right here, in Sri Lanka, and I would like to do more for our country".
Her soft, mellifluous voice as she speaks, radiates a special kind of spirituality, charm and originality. As a composer, lyricist and singer, she has no equal, and is the brightest star of the musical firmament in our country.
She has been dubbed ‘Sri Lanka’s Ambassadress of Song,’ Mignonne Fernando enjoys iconic status not only in South Asia but also in the Far East, where, for many years she was a resident musician at The Regent Hotel in Hong Kong. She will headline a massive concert in Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka in March 2006. This will be an opportunity for fans of Mignonne and The Jetliners to re-live nostalgic memories of the 1960s and 1970s of the popular music scene on the island
Mignonne is truly an international star and has performed from the United States to Singapore. She has wowed audiences at the Taj in Mumbai in India for several years.
Mignonne Fernando exploded onto the Ceylonese music scene in 1963 when as Mignonne Rutnam she won a song contest on Radio Ceylon. The radio station is the oldest and one of the finest broadcasting institutions in South Asia.
Legendary broadcasters such as Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea, Jimmy Bharucha, Nihal Bhareti and Vijaya Corea played her music and that of the Jetliners over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, making her a household name.
Vernon Corea who had introduced The Jetliners at the Coconut Grove at Galle Face Hotel in Colombo in the 1960s played the music of The Jetliners on his popular radio program on BBC Radio London called ' London Sounds Eastern' in the 1970s and 1980s - it was produced by top BBC man Keith Yeomans. Mignonne Fernando's music reached new British audiences in the capital.
She was managed by the music mogul the late Tony Fernando who married her - he made her a star. Mignonne and the Jetliners had star billing in Sri Lanka. They represented the country at international song contests.
A pivotal moment came in 2003 when Mignonne Fernando released her first CD titled 'A Celebration of Life.' Mignonne told the media: 'Tony knew that I wanted to do this CD, and it was his dream too. Music to me, is a gift from God; I am forever in his debt, for this wonderful gift. My mother helped me to develop it, by her knowledge of it, and her encouragement. But it was because of Tony's inspired management that my music sprouted and blossomed. I worked hard, to see that this dream of ours, Tony's and mine, came true, by producing this album. It seemed to be an eternity in the making, but it has been a labour of love, and a total experience of mind, body and soul', she said of her CD.
The Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka noted: 'Mignonne drew her early musical influences she tells us, from Franz Liszt, George Gershwin, Quincy Jones her favorite, Diana Ross and the many well known gospel singers. The music of the Motown World, Jazz and Dave Griusin hold a special place for her inspiration-wise.
The highlights of your CD?
"Mangala Mohotha, the lyrics for which is by the late Karunaratne Abeysekera, I arranged and performed the song and introduced the flute by Sajeewa Gurusinghe. There's the song 'Proud to be Sri Lankan' for which the inspiration came fast after I saw the Imax film 'Blue Planet' - the journey of the space shuttle and when the astronauts said "there down below is beautiful Sri Lanka."
It took me by surprise I was spurred to compose. The lyrics came equally fast like the melody. Our people are forgetting what a beautiful country we live in and I hope the message I'm projecting in the song will be a lasting one.
There are other tracks like 'Den Nivadu Kale', my version of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' which was featured on VOA by Judy Massa and broadcast on Simultaneous Satellite Broadcast Worldwide." And of course the Overture which I wrote for the Mignonne and the Jetliners Australia 2000 tours, ' she said.
An outstanding track on her CD 'Celebration of Life' is called 'Island Song' a fusion of hip hop and tabla. This song deserves to be played on western radio stations - by all accounts it should be an international hit if only someone would promote the very best of Sri Lanka's musicians in the west.
Mignonne received a huge ovation when she appeared on stage at a 'Grand Salute to Vijaya Corea' at the BMICH in Colombo. She will play Colombo in March 2006 before spending time in the United States.
To hear Mignonne Fernando's hit: 'Island song' please access the website:
Mignonne Fernando and The Jetliners regularly entertained guests at the Coconut Grove and the venue was even popularised in a song. Radio Ceylon recorded music programmes from the Coconut Grove. D.G. William (known as 'Galle Face William'), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party trade union leader, first worked and organised workers here. The Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote the final chapters of 3001 - The Final Odyssey in the hotel.
Sunday Observer June 9 2003
Mignonne's `A Celebration of Life' launched
Popularly known as `Miss Music' and as `Sri Lanka's Ambassadress of Song', Mignonne Fernando launched her first CD on Monday May 12, at the Galadari Hotel.
Present was a distinguished gathering of musicians, fans and friends, which included Secretary to the Prime Minister, Bradman Weerakoon and Dhammi Weerakoon, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs - Ravi Karunanayake and Mela Karunanayake, Chairman of ANCL - Nalin Ladduwahetty, Chairman, Hatton National Bank - Chrysantha Cooray and Pamela Cooray, Chairman, Delmege Forsyth and Company - Ricky Mendis and Charmaine Mendis.
The CD which was sponsored by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), contains a collection of Mignonne's own compositions which includes the famous Mangala Mohotha, or more popularly known by the first line of the song Kadalle Athivu Kirilli Vage, Island Song, which was selected Runner-Up in the Song Writers Contest conducted by Radio Television Hong Kong in 1981 and Proud to be Sri Lankan - a song composed by Mignonne to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Sri Lanka's Independence in 1998.
Managala Mohotha was written 26 years ago by Mignonne and for this she obtained a seven year contract with EMI UK. It became the first Sinhala song for video for the inauguration of TV in Sri Lanka on the July 1 1979. Today Mangala Mohothais played at almost all weddings and has come to be known as the Sri Lankan Wedding Song.
The other songs on the CD are Mignonne's own rendition of popular English songs like My Boy Lollop, Bombay Mere Hai, Chiquitita and the perennial favourite Over the Rainbow.
This CD is dedicated in memory of her late husband Tony Fernando whose encouragement and support has been infinite throughout her musical career.
Speaking at the launch, Mr. Weerakoon recollected Mignonne's contribution towards the music scene and her efforts to bring credit to Sri Lanka through music.
He recalled her contribution at the Fifth Non-Aligned Summit Conference held in Colombo in August 1976 when she entertained world leaders from over 84 countries, and earned for herself the title, Lady of the Conference. He elaborated on her magnanimous financial contribution towards the Housing Development Scheme initiated by the then Prime Minister the Ranasinghe Premadasa. He said that this was the very first contribution made by a Western musician.
- B. N.
Earle Douglas Meerwald was born into a very musical and talented Burgher family in Colombo, Ceylon. The Meerwald Family were well known for being first class, first rate musicians on the island. The Meerwald Brothers - Earle and Clair performed at the Public Hall - where the Empire Theatre now stands in Colombo - as the Alabama Masked Ministrels for over a decade.
There was a wealth of music in post colonial Ceylon. The Big band sound was extremely popular in 1920s Ceylon. The popularity of dance bands increased after World Wars I and II. British musicians visited Ceylon to entertain the allied troops in the 1940s who were stationed on the island. Lord Louis Mountbatten of the South East Asian Command (SEAC) had made Ceylon his headquarters during the war. Music played an important role in boosting morale of the multi-national forces stationed on the island.
Glen Miller and his music was hugely popular in wartime Ceylon. Douglas and his school mates from Carey College Colombo enjoyed listening to the big band sounds on the radio station.
Radio was launched in Ceylon in 1925. The 'Father of Broadcasting in Ceylon' was a British engineer, Edward Harper who initiated the first ever radio experiments on the island.
Broadcasting on an experimental basis was started in Ceylon by the Telegraph Department in 1923, just three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe. Gramophone music was broadcast from a tiny room in the Central Telegraph Office with the aid of a small transmitter built by the Telegraph Department engineers from the radio equipment of a captured German submarine.
Colombo Radio was launched in 1925. This was a historic moment - Sri Lanka celebrated 80 years in broadcasting in 2005 and Douglas Meerwald had the distinction of appearing on many radio programs over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon (the oldest and finest radio station in South Asia) in the 1950s. Douglas has appeared on several music programs presented by the legendary Radio Ceylon announcers of the day.Musicians enjoyed very warm relationships with Ceylon's top broadcasters. Douglas Meerwald knew them all - Chris (Christopher Greet), Jimmy Bharucha, Greg Roskowski, Vernon Corea, Tim Horshington, Claude Selveratnam among a whole host of broadcasting icons of Radio Ceylon.
Meerwald was a dashing cricketer and all rounder at Carey College Colombo in the 1950s.He even won the Spooner Prize at Carey College. His first love was music - this was his natural God given talent. It was 'in the blood.' Douglas Meerwald decided to explore his musical talent. He joined Don Daniels and the Ballroom Hornets and learnt his craft. He soon built up a reputation as one of Colombo's finest crooners. Subsequently Douglas Meerwald joined one of the most versatile and swingiest dance bands in Ceylon - The Manhattans.
He headlined concerts and music events all over Ceylon - The Manhattans played at the prestigious Galle Face Hotel and at the Grand Oriental Hotel. One of Sri Lanka's talented musicians 'Sam the Man' joined the Manhattans in August 1957. This really gave a boost to the big band sound of the Manhattans.
Douglas Meerwald was invited to appear on various music programs over Radio Ceylon.
'Not content with Church singing,Douglas sang the standards with great acceptance.His interpretation of 'The Lady is the Tramp' has the stamp of class. Quite naturally band singing had to come and Douglas started with Don Daniel and his Ballroom Hornets. Later he joined The Manhattans....he was on the air with The Manhattans on the popular series Bristol Nite,' noted Vernon Corea in his popular EMCEE Column in the Ceylon Daily News in 1967. Douglas Meerwald also appeared on Talent Corner and Starmaker on Radio Ceylon - two very popular music programs in the country. The station enjoyed millions of listeners and Douglas Meerwald entertained the entire Indian sub-continent on the Overseas Service of the station.
Douglas Meerwald was not the only Meerwald who was heard over Radio Ceylon - his father and uncle Earle and Clair, both gifted musicians who sang in perfect pitch. They were members of a leading church choir in Colombo - The St.Luke's Church Borella Church Choir. All three Meerwalds sang in the choir on Radio Ceylon and susquently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, during Christmas and Easter in the 1960s and 1970s. Douglas Meerwald was a Christian, his faith in Jesus Christ was important to him. The Meerwald family were fully involved in the community in Borella through the work of St.Luke's Church for over 60 years. Serving the community was equally important to the Meerwald family.
Douglas Meerwald was a pioneer musician who contributed to the rich music history of the island, through the big band sound of the 1950s. He died in Colombo in 2003.
Douglas Meerwald pioneered the way in Ceylon from the 1950s - 1960s in the world of music by fronting some of the swingiest big bands in Colombo, including The Manhattans who had a loyal fan base on the island.
The Daily News in Sri Lanka published an obituary of Douglas Meerwald in October 2003:
MEERWALD - EARLE DOUGLAS - Husband of Audrey (Deceased), father of Sandra, Debra and Keith, brother of Julaine, Don and Irma Klyne, father-in-law of Ralph Ferdinands (United States Embassy), expired. Cortege leaves A.F. Raymond's Funeral Parlour at 4.30 p.m. on Thursday 2nd October. Burial at General Cemetery, Kanatte (Anglican Section).
MANUEL - JIMMY (Pianist). Beloved husband of late Tita, loving father of Eugene (Willo) and Ninny, Peter and Virgie, Milroy, Ingrid and Bernard Machado and Christopher, much loved Papa of Tatum, Vanessa, Dillon, Sachel and Samara. Remains will lie at A.F. Raymond's Funeral Parlour from 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday 18th March. Cortege leaves the Parlour at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday 19th March. Burial at General Cemetery, Kanatte (Roman Catholic Section). Daily News Tuesday Mar 18 2008
Those of us who knew Jimmy and his exciting piano playing will remember those halcyon days when he gave his whole self to music and took us into realms unknown with his style and talent. They dont make em like that anymore. He was a great master of the keys.
May God Bless him and may he rest in peace!
The bass note is silenced...
He was not lucky to retire from music at a ripe old age....by a cruel twist of fate his elegant bass notes were silenced, last week. Lucky Manickawasagar left behind the legacy of his bass artistry that will only be memories to his many musician friends who performed along with him and respected his unique style and knowledge of music. He did not have a formal education in music, but he had a remarkable ear for music and pitch, a gift that only a select few are born with. Hailing from a family of musicians - of four girls, four boys, a violinist father and a pianist mother - Lucky once told us that their home at Mutwal was a musical haven and twenty four hours a day were insufficient for the family's music appreciation.
Where do we begin to tell the story of Lucky, whose dedication to music was intense. Like his brothers, pianist/bassist Valentine and bassist Nesan he was a total musician and wanted total freedom for his creativity.
When he was just thirteen and still in school St. Benedict's College he turned 'professional' played bass for seniors like Wally Murray, Clement Coomaravel, Alfred Perera and Duncan Clyde.
A multi instrumentalist who was cool in his drum artistry, Lucky joined the then popular pop group Spitfires before he was chosen by pianist Rex de Silva to sit at the drum stool for the band that enjoyed top rung popularity then - 388 Quartet which included Tom Menezes - trumpet/Milroy Passe de Silva - guitar/Valentine Manickawasagar - acoustic bass/Rodney van Heer - sax, Ishan Bahar and Marie Rosairo - vocals. But his great moments were playing with his brothers - a trio with Valentine - piano and Nesan - acoustic bass and Lucky on drums. This special jazz combination 'The Manickawasagar Brothers' were featured at many concert shows and radio shows and festivals by themselves, as well as in the popular radio show 'The Nightbirds' with Tom Menezes and Percy Bartholomuesz. His rare knowledge in music and the bass in particular required no guidance in chord structures and key changes. He knew how the standards in music should be played and was ready to teach those musicians who wanted to learn.
Free lance on the music scene, Lucky had his moments with other groups as well. He was a regular with the Harold Seneviratne Combo, Harsha and Khrome, Cecil Rodrigo Quartet, Marie Rosairo Quartet and he enjoyed his era with Milestones led by saxophonist Rodney van Heer. He won the Golden Clef Award '93 for the Jazz Musician of the Year presented by the Sunday Observer which rightly recognised his awesome artistry on bass.
Lucky had a style of his own and fitted in with diverse groups, except the bands that played funk and rap. He had his own verdict on that kind of artistry.
Although he listened regularly to many of the global greats in bass he was never a slave to their styles. He had his own theories and his own creative style in playing the bass. He may have borrowed ideas from his brother Valentine who now plays bass in London, or from the late Nesan whom he idolised, but when he took the stage to play with a band he was a solid back bone to any jazz or popular band, making a tremendous impact with his fretboard finger work which left you voice the thought "Man, you are well ahead of your time, you should have been on the global stage!"
Sunday Observer Sep 22 2002
DRUMMING UP A PASSION FOR MUSIC
Christopher Prins reveals how he went from banging on pots and pans to becoming the ‘Most Outstanding Drummer’ at the Golden Clef Awards. Savithri Rodrigo takes note.
Isn’t it surprising that Peter Prins, a legend on the local Western-music scene, discouraged his children from attempting the arts? “My dad worked at Baurs for 40 years. Music was his second choice, but he didn’t believe anyone could make a career out of it,” recalls Christopher Prins. “In fact, when I requested his help to go abroad to study theatre, music or sports, his answer was a firm ‘No!’. But he did say he would fund my marketing studies,” he reveals. The younger Prins says that although they were never taught to play any instruments, he recalls his dad buying a set of drums which was safely stored in a closet. “My brother and I used to sneak it out, play to our hearts’ content and then lock it up again. We got caught many times, I think – but the joy of playing was immense,” he confesses.
Despite continuing opposition from his father, Prins went on to pursue his passion for sport, dancing, theatre and music. Although his accomplishments are many, he is most renowned for being a maestro on drums. In fact, his drumming is versatile enough to accompany a lusty rendition of Hickory Dickory Dock by a posse of Montessori children, jam with Glen Terry and Jerome Speldewinde at their own brand of jazz or play classical music with Dushy Perera. “I can’t read music because I never learned it,” explains Prins. “I play everything by ear… so learning the drum accompaniment to a classical piece was certainly a challenge.”
Prins was born in Kalubowila and lived in Kohuwela for the first 12 years of his life. He loved the neighbourhood environment and missed it greatly when the family moved to the Baurs Flats. “There were no friends to grow up with, but this isolation prompted me to pursue sports and theatre,” says Prins. He speaks fondly of his mother, Blossom, who has been one of the biggest influences in his life. “Mum knew we were all interested in music and took us to the Housewives’ Association meetings to watch The Jetliners perform and to dad’s playing venues, where children were allowed – and she used to dance with us as well,” he discloses. With music coursing through their veins, nothing could stop the Prins siblings from having their own band – replete with broomsticks, boxes and pan covers.
Although he confesses to having been less than average in academia while at school, he was an active figure on the sports field at St. Peter’s. He played for the rugby Second XV and First XV for two seasons, was a member of the college basketball and hockey teams, and a long-distance runner. As a thespian – although he made his stage debut in the kindergarten – he was actually discovered only in his late teens, when Jerome de Silva cast him as Bill Sykes in the college production of Oliver. Subsequently, he played the roles of a disciple in Godspell, Mr. Mistoffeles in Cats and one of Joseph’s brothers in Joseph And The Technicolour Dreamcoat. It was the latter that gave Prins a taste for ballet. “I was about 21 when I started ballet with Aunty Oosha, which I did for about six years. I also sang with the Merry An Singers and was a member of the cast of the mega production Evita, produced by Graham Hatch,” he explains.
Prins credits Antoinette de Alwis for being responsible for his initiation into drumming, which happened “rather late, at 22”. He recalls: “I used to go and bang on the drums when dad’s band rehearsed, but no one took me seriously. One day, Antoinette rushed in saying that her drummer hadn’t turned up and asked me to take his place for a 30-second jingle for a brand of lozenges. From then on, Antoinette used me as the drummer for all her jingles.” But joining the Peter Prins Combo was not a given for the younger Prins: he had to audition for the drummer’s position and be voted in by the band – which he was!
Two years later, he received the rare honour of joining Maxi and Mahogany, when Christo Dhason recommended that Prins take his place. “This line-up was like a dream,” he enthuses. “The best musicians were in this band – Maxi Rozairo, Rodney Van Heer, Ravel Crake and Godwin Perera – playing at the Peacock, which was the hip place at the time,” he reminisces. Prins was also challenged to play a completely different style of music from the dance-band versions he was used to, such as jazz, funk and new pop. Influenced greatly by the likes of Ringo Starr, Prins recalls with gratitude the input of Denzil Lazarus and Basil Paiva, who taught him the basics of music – even the drum roll, which he knew nothing about. He also remembers Tom Menezes, who presented him his first pair of drumsticks when he was seven (unknown to his dad!), as well as Harris Jurangpathy and Telus Anandappa, who took the aspiring young drummer under their wing.
DATE OF BIRTH: 24 June 1962.
FAMILY BACKGROUND: Married, with two sons and a daughter; third in a family of one girl and three boys.
ALMA MATER: St. Peter’s College.
STRONGEST BELIEF: “There is a God, and I am accountable for what I have and have not done.”
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Winning the Golden Clef Award for Most Outstanding Drummer.
MOST PRESSING NATIONAL ISSUES: Peace; and the need for politicians to be honest and sincere about what they want to do for the country and the people.
HOBBY: Music – mainly jazz.
FAVOURITE CHILL-OUT: Any place where he can relax with his family.
FAVOURITE COUNTRY: Australia, because of the Australians’ respect for other people’s time, dignity of labour, conveniences and facilities – and their attitude in having facilities and infrastructure for children to grow and develop in any field.
FAVOURITE CITY: Las Vegas, because of the high quality of live entertainment.
MOST ADMIRED LEADERS: Naomal Wijeyaratne, Chairman
of Quantum Tele-Shopping, for encouraging everyone to contribute their ideas towards improving the business; Oosha Saravanamuttu, Jerome de Silva and Mary Anne David, for getting people to believe in themselves and give of their best as a result; former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, for being unafraid to take decisions that he believed were the best in the given circumstances.
ROLE MODELS: Noel and Faith Berman, for their exemplary family values; Glen Terry and Jerome Speldewinde, for taking Sri Lankan Western music to a different plateau.
After a hiatus of two years, Prins was persuaded to play once again for the Peter Prins Combo for a little while. He then joined the Marie de Rozairo Quartet, playing in lobbies and casinos. “This was completely different music, again. It was jazz, but controlled music,” he avers. It was at this time that Kool & The Gang toured Sri Lanka, and Prins had the opportunity of jamming with them. Moving back into his dad’s band in 1992, Prins continued with it for five years, even touring Australia and Dubai. But the musical genius of the likes of Joe Thambimuttu and Kumar de Silva beckoned; and soon, Prins was playing at the newly opened Legends nightclub. With the untimely demise of Thambimuttu, Prins was quickly snatched up by Jeffrey Fernando, who had just formed his band, Blind Faith. “But I simply couldn’t afford the time commitment and had to quit, because I felt I was not pulling my weight enough to allow the band to grow,” Prins concedes.
It is evident that the ponytailed Prins loves his wife, Tammy, passionately. He comes across as a family man who enjoys helping out with household chores. His relationship with Tammy, which evolved over a period of five years during their Youth For Christ meetings, culminated in marriage when Prins was 26. They share an enthusiasm for dancing and have won the married-couples category in the Ballroom and Latin American Dance Championships. “But once the children came along, the dancing stopped – because our days now revolve around school, swimming, singing, music and French lessons, and whatever else they like to do. We both firmly believe that they must be encouraged and their talents brought out,” he affirms. Prins starts his day early, driving 12-year-old Isaac and 10-year-old Rachel at 5.30 a.m. to the pool. Daniel, who just turned nine, joins them in school later on. Prins has dabbled in advertising and PR, but currently works as Director – Marketing And Distribution at Quantum Teleshopping – a job he enjoys immensely. He puts in a 12-hour day, clocking off in time to pick up his brood from French lessons.
Enjoying interacting with young children and youth via music, Prins feels that the opportunities for their development are vast. He is appreciative that parents today encourage their children to pursue extra-curricular activities. Looking at the future, Prins’s ideal is to retire at 45 – an unattainable goal, according to him. “But once my children have completed their education, I would like to ease back into music, studying its genres more – because there is a void in me that only music can fill,” he asserts.
LMD Cyber Edition, Thu Dec 29 2005
The song is ended...
No more will the saxophone soar with lyricism, passion and sincerity as it did in the hands of Malcolm de Zilva, the song is ended... and the music scene in our country lost another veteran and acknowledged musician two weeks ago.
It came as a surprise to all, musicians and music lovers, who gathered to say "Farewell" to a saxophonist, clarinettist and vocalist too who was a friend to many and much sought after on the scene since his repertoire of standards and evergreens was extremely elastic. He enjoyed blowing his sax, even if it meant that he had to stand and play for many hours. But what irked him now and a again, was when his supporting musicians were unable to play a melody on the key he was blowing the tune, but he was quick to forget the lapse.
Malcolm de Zilva belonged to an era when dance bands were a major force in our country. He never wanted to wear the mantle of the leader of a band, but instead was happy to be a member of a band, and always gave of his best. His first gig in his career goes back to 1958 when he played with Don Daniel's Ballroom Hornets at the 'Flying Angel Mission to Seamen Club' at the Colombo Fort.
Friday night, was the all important night weekly, and the seamen were amazed at the band's wealth of English, Irish and American songs, he once recalled. As a point of interest Don Daniel played drums, Blind John was the pianist, Refaai Miskin blew the trumpet and Malcolm was on sax.
In his eagerness and enthusiasm to forge ahead in his music, Malcolm, and whilst holding a 9-5 job at Aitken Spence, decided to free lance.
In 1960 he played with Papa Menezes led by Papa bass and violin and played alongside greats like Helen Lucas - piano, Miki Menezes - tenor sax/drums, Tom Menezes - trumpet and Malcolm blew the alto sax. The Morton Cole Combo a popular name band on the scene then, sought Malcolm's artistry and he played with them for dances, variety shows and functions enjoying himself for a period of five years; before he decided to join the Raddy Ferreira Combo.
The year was 1965 and Malcolm as he once confessed enjoyed every minute of playing time with this Combo, with its new and fresh sound which soon saw the band sitting on the top rung of popularity. The members were highly professional - there was Raddy the leader on piano, Malcolm on tenor sax, Stanley Ranasinghe - alto sax, Errol Joachim and Upali Fernando - drums, Ralph Menezes - acoustic bass, Dallas Achilles - trumpet and Claude Selvaratnam - vocals.
There were many highlights in Malcolm's early career, too many to record here, but of importance was when he played with pianist Jimmy Manuel and his band for long years at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel; then with singer Marie Rosairo and her band at the Taj Samudra, and more recently on popular demand when he went back to play at the Mount Lavinia Hotel weekly with pianist Dharshika Perera in a duo scene, and at the Lanka Princess Beruwala with Lazer. He also was a familiar figure with Friends in Harmony.
Marie Rosairo recalls that "Malcolm was the easiest musician to work with. He was so professional in every aspect, he could just pick up his sax or clarinet and play and the enhance the sound of the band.
What's more he knew just how to back a singer..." Dharshika Perera of the younger generation recalls "he was a musician who knew all the standards and I learnt so much from him. When he was playing with us we were extremely confident, he made us confident, we miss him a lot..." Farewell Malcolm - you were a stalwart at all jazz sessions....!
Sunday Observer May 30 2004
Forty six years in showbiz as an active singer/saxophonist and Sam the man has no regrets he chose music for his career and not an academic one. Music had an unexplainable fascination for Sam, the chords coloured his life. No sooner he left college he grabbed the first opportunity that came his way to play sax in the popular swing and dance band of that era- The Manhattans.
"My first booking was with Leonard Franke's band The Manhattans takes me back to 1957 and if I remember right the date was August 2. I was just after college and I had to play the sax, no vocals.
Dougie Meerwald was the vocalist with the band' says Sam as he spooled back to his career beginnings. But through his colourful years he was popular for his characteristic and legendary Sam the Man vocals - sax sounds of his dance band, the Jam-with-Sam series at the Lotus Room Taprobane and now the 'Sing-a-long' sessions which have turned out to be a must for music lovers.
An admirable senior crusader in the music industry, Sam the Man was recognised for his valuable contribution, by the Sunday Observer honouring him with the Golden Clef Award 2002. How does he feel about it?
"Reviving the Golden Clef Award is the greatest impetus for the industry. I'm happy that I was recognised. It is true that when you are an award winner you are giving a push to the music scene, you are spreading the know-how. It is the ultimate. What is more important is that people recognise you as belonging to the cream of the industry.
So it is up to you to deliver the goods especially the young musicians who won awards. The success of singers and musicians depends on the ability to asess your audience, and to play your music so that they can enjoy it and not to get their ears blasted. Are we importing the correct equipment for our indoor stages I wonder?"
Sam the Man who works a regular band gig at the Terrace, Mount Lavinia on Sundays and on the other days at Bentota at the Taj Exotica comments that the music scene is good today provided you are prepared to work.
"Today's young musicians need a commitment and a dedication especially where rehearsals are concerned. I have often disciplined and penalised my musicians if they don't come on time. Then on the other side of the coin, hotels must bear in mind that musicians are trying to earn a living and the hotel must pay the boys a fee or salary to lead a comfortable life." Sam speaks aloud.
When did it all begin to happen for this crusader who is still active on the scene? "In 1961 I led the band Escorts a five piece band with saxophonist Saybhan Samat, and we played regularly at the then happening places the halls at Siri Kotha, Girls Friendly Society, Women's International and at the popular Railway officers hall at Mount Mary.
It was a different scene then. Our repertoire was dance music - only instrumentals - like the cha-cha, samba, waltz, rock'n roll etc. Tony Fernando in 1964, requested me to play for the Jetliners which I did for about an year, keeping the Escorts going. Here I must say that from Tony I learnt all the business acumen of leading a band."
What burst on to the scene subsequently in '66 was the band 'Sam the Man' with a compelling sound of two saxes from Sam and Saybhan, two trumpets - from Neville Peiris and Denzil Lazaraus. Others in the band were Jimmy Peck piano, the Schwalie brothers, Dicky- bass, Errol - lead guitar, Maithri Mervyn de Zilwa - drums, the female glitz Esme de Silva - vocals and Maurice Balasingham - male vocalist. For extra colour the go go girls - in vogue then - Sandra Barrington, Sherine Peck and Asuntha Herft.
They all made up 'Sam the Man' the band that found swift success. Competition was high, it was a common thing for members to move from one band to another. Personnel changed and so Gabo Pieris joined Sam the Man as drummer and Priyanthi Manamperi as vocalist and in the following years by Noeline Mendis (Honter).
Sam is proud of the fact that he drew his influences from leading Sri Lankan musicians. "Clem Croner selected my E flat alto sax and taught me to blow the instrument, Papa Menezes instructed me on tonal control, Edgar Hebber taught me technique and I gathered a general education in music from maestros like pianist Gerry Crake and Jimmy Manuel and saxophonist Mario Manricks. Most of all I learnt the importance of singing the lyrics of songs clearly so that the song could be understood."
Your band members are young musicians and your repertoire is from the '40s to the '80s how do they fit in?
"Young musicians are aware of my repertoire and young musicians have great talent which they are not aware of. Prior to their joining my band I check out their aptitude to handle vocals and the instruments. It is left to a band leader to bring out the talent in the young musicians. After I complete one of my sets, I leave the bandstand and let them handle their sets and make them feel that they are part and parcel of the band.
This is a good training ground for them to become future leaders. It is wrong to think that when we seniors are no longer there - there won't be anybody. There will be musicians to pick up from where we left off."
The 'Sing-a-long with Sam' series which kicked off in September 1998 at the Galle Face Hotel organised by the Y's Men International of Sri Lanka and was a capacity packed event has grown in popularity in our music scene. On Saturday June 7 Sam the Man will be in action reviving nostalgic memories at the BMICH, the event organised by Musaeus College. You have another date on Saturday July 5 at the Holy Family Convent, Dehiwala with Sam and his distinctive Sing-a-long session. So be sure you catch him!
Sunday Observer May 25 2003