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Remembering M.S.

The legendary M. S. Fernando was recently remembered for his valuable contribution to the Sri Lankan music scene. Popularly hailed as the 'King of Baila' he reigned supreme for over four decades without much challenge. The baila rhythm a legacy from the Portuguese was introduced into our musical scene by none other than Wally Bastians and they say that 'M.S.' as he was fondly called was responsible in popularising this exciting rhythm giving it a Sinhala identity.

Born in Mount Lavinia, the oldest son of Laron Fernando and Lilee Gomes, 'M.S.' was keen on music even during his days at St. Anthony's College, Mt. Lavinia and Christ Church, Dehiwela, and with his parents' blessings studied music under veteran J. A. Sathiadasan. His keenness to make music his career saw him record a duet with Pushparani Ariyaratne titled 'Malak Kada Konde Gasala', the lyrics for which were written by the prolific Karunaratne Abeysekera.

The popularity of the song drew him into the film world as a playback singer and his debut song, 'Sili Siliye Nava Suvandak' became a hit and is popular even to this day. The song was the launching pad for the countless times he lent his voice for playback singing. In fact according to his family 'M.S.' has recorded songs for over 150 films, which is a great achievement.

An enthusiastic and energetic singer M. S. Fernando's decision to act in films paid off with success, because he was sought after for minor comedy roles for more than twenty five films and later acted in tele-dramas as well. His sensitive and touching role in "Udagira" was well acclaimed by tele-drama fans.

M.S.'s 'golden voice' brought him fame among his contemporaries. He won, according to information, 159 silver trophies for the many Baila contests he participated in, and the fact that he was versatile in singing in five different languages was a major plus for him. Taking a page from the western musical scene M.S.'s popularity increased further when he introduced dancing into his act. In that he engaged himself in dancing whilst singing, which brought him an enhanced fan club, and endeared him to practically all music lovers.

To M.S. Fernando the highpoint of his career was when he was awarded the "Golden Lotus" by the then President William Gopallawa in 1973, for the yeoman service he rendered to the Sinhala music scene. His catchy, engaging style of singing the baila, together with his 'golden voice' made him popular overseas as well. Any wonder then that many Sri Lankan associations invited him for performances abroad and M.S. was happy to sing for his many thousands of fans in England, France, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Middle East.

It is ten years since the 'golden voice of baila' was stilled, yet though now he is a memory to his wife Tulin and his six sons, his music lives in their hearts each day never to be forgotten. M.S.'s son Susil and his brother Walter keep the flame alight by continuing to perform his songs at many musical shows today. M.S.'s legacy will always be a treasure.

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