A great musician of the 60s in Sri Lanka
Nimal Mendis - dared to dream
Sisira CHANDRASEKERA in London - Sunday Observer Feb 21 2010
Recently I got in touch with Nimal Mendis, a veteran composer of hits such as Master Sir, Nim Him Sewva and Ganga Addara. He has been living in Britain for many decades travelling to and from Sri Lanka to write those hits that have proved extremely popular.
When I emailed him I received the following reply.
"Thank you very much for your email. Unfortunately or may be fortunately I am now in Sri Lanka. We came over three months ago and have been busy settling down here in Malabe. Hoping to be here now with an occasional visit back to London. Our son worked for the BBC (TV Centre White City) for seven years as a sound/video editor and he too is now here with us.
There is outstanding talent in Sri Lanka, especially in some of the young musicians and singers here today and we are quite amazed that they have not got on to the world stage as yet. One thing we are determined to accomplish is to try and do our best to help these young artists."
This is the man, as a young lad from Sri Lanka who dared to dream that he was good enough to perform with the best in the West. An impossible dream at the time!
He would swim along the coastline at "Bambalawatte" (Bambalapitiya) as it was called then, gazing at the sky on his back dreaming his dream. Just out of school at Royal College he filled in his music ambitions playing the piano for the Harold Seneviratne Combo. He said that they used to be paid Rs 10 a night and Rs 15 for an all-night gig at the 'Pigalle' night club in Colpetty.
He came from a family that viewed the world with an anglicised professionalism and the house was filled with the atmosphere of western classical music, art and literature, although it was also infused with everything Sri Lankan, especially in the world of art philosophy and politics. There were discussions of Ghandian and Nehru values. His mother was the first author in Sri Lanka to write in English and her first book was published in London in 1929. His father was an inventor - inventor of the now famous brand of "Mendis Special" that reached great heights through its development by his brother, Walter M Mendis.
The Mendis family was a set of liberals, five children making their mark in different spheres and the youngest Nimal, who dared to dream a tall dream into the entertainment world. Nimal said, "It must have been the `gene jewels' we inherited from my father and mother. The liberalism of his parents is what enabled the young Nimal to convince his parents to send him to England, initially to study accountancy. However, there was a manipulation that took place because after an year of accountancy studies in London he was playing the piano in sophisticated restaurants and writing songs and composing music. The seeds were sown of the dream he dared to dream.
His first big break came when he was playing the piano at the Ceylon Students Centre. He had formed a group called `The Kandyans'. Mano Chanmugam on piano accordian, Anura on Kandyan drums, and Subra de Silva as the singer in the group.
Nimal played piano and also sang. The piano was in the restaurant and after meals the manageress allowed them to practise there while Sri Lankan students and their guests drank coffee or tea. While they were practising one of Nimal's songs a young woman came up to them an inquired about the song.
She was Mary Marshall an up and coming English singer. The song was "Kiss Kiss Kiss" and it went on to be a huge hit in Sri Lanka played regularly over the airwaves by the late Vernon Corea, Livy Wijemane and Jimmy Bharucha, the veteran broadcasters of then Radio Ceylon.
It did well in England too but soon after Mary married a successful agent in the entertainment industry, she left England and went to live in the Channel Islands.
After 40 years Mary is in contact with Nimal again. Her daughter had seen some of his work on Sinhala Juke Box on the internet and emailed him. Although Mary had faded out from the music scene in London she was involved in a lot of charity work in the Channel Islands. Mary always kept her interest of 'Ceylon' and when the tsunami occurred collected funds for an organisation dealing with the victims. of the tsunami.
"Kiss Kiss Kiss" has still an occasional play on the SLBC.
String of hits
A string of hits followed when Nimal came back to Sri Lanka for a short spell. Kandyan Express, Butterfly in the rain, Cherry Blossom Tree, Champagne Blues, Oh My Lover and Goodnight Kisses, all with the Harold Seneviratne Combo and singers such as Ciff Foenander, Sandra Edema and the Jay Brothers. The dream beckoned him back to the bright lights of London and Nimal became a successful musician of the sixties in London.
Although he did not share the fame of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones he held his own as a Sri Lankan with his singing partner Sandra Edema who was now also searching stardom in London. They teamed up and were on' Top of the Pops", the famous British TV show at the time and "Beat Club" and even the more successful TV show in Germany that was viewed by millions on the continent of Europe. Nimal Mendis is one of the two Sri Lankan artistes to sing on BBC Top of the Pops. The other singer is Bill Forbes who lives in Yorkshire. Nimal said that he was searching for over 30 years to get a clip of the performance on "Beat Club" and there it was two weeks ago on the internet. He managed to get a copy which is of good quality and is hoping that a TV company in Sri Lanka will pick it up for airing.
It is certainly a clip that is worth seeing by all our young people of a lad who dared to dream. They will be inspired and they too will dream. To dream the dream is the first step of fulfilment.
Unfortunately, but as Nimal said, "What looks like misfortune at first, if accepted and you do not `Cave in could lead to fortune once more. He was in a race attack in the late sixties and decided to come back to Sri Lanka.
He got 10 acres of land in Norton Bridge and farmed for five years. While doing this he experienced first hand all kinds of negative values.
This was what led him to write " Master Sir". His good friend Manik Sandrasagara said, "You are not a farmer, you are a composer. Stop burying yourself here. I am making a film and you must write the music for it."
Doing the music for Kalu Diya Dahara was the beginning of Nimal's entry to the Sinhala film Music scene. Lester and Sumitra Peries and Manik used his talents to write several scores and songs. Every song that Nimal wrote for a Sinhala film was a hit with our people. Master Sir, Ganga Addara, Nim Him Sewva, Upul Nuwan, Gehenu Lamai, Viyo Gee and Obey Adare are household name songs.
From the dream of the western entertainment stage Nimal was now conquering the Sinhala music scene with his songs and composing. This is a career that should be followed by our youngsters as an inspiration.
Here is this veteran come back to his motherland. Come on - make use of him - meet him - get his experience and storm the world stage with the amazing talent that exists today in Sri Lanka.