Dr Lionel Algama:
Remembering a multifaceted musician
May 18 marks the second death anniversary of the late Dr Lionel
Algama the renowned and gifted musician, teacher and composer of songs.
He was also an 'A' grade singer in Hindustani and Bengali as well a,
examiner, 'A' grade instrumentalist, ballet-stage-films-teledrama-director,
conductor, Inventor of the original instrument called the "Soorthar" and
the sophisticated 'Sree Veena' comprising 39 strings, which had taken
him about 15 long years to complete after continuous research.
He obtained his Doctorate after successfully writing two theses,
Teaching of Music and Development of Chordophones East and West in the
years 1978 and 1979.For his achievements in the field of music he was
acclaimed and hailed by critics as an accomplished musician with
accolades such as 'Music Maestro'.
He was a native of Gampaha born on 24 March 1935 who had his primary
education at Veyangoda Central. His father Jinadasa Perera, was a
wealthy businessman. He loved to enjoy life and ran his own theatrical
company mainly for amateurs for his own personal gladness and enjoyment.
It was a routine every evening for amateurs to conduct rehearsals at
their residences where all guests and friends were well entertained. He
naturally learnt art and musical instincts while he grew in these
surroundings. His uncle Jayasinghe Perera was an expert exponent of the
harmonium. In such a soothing musical environment it was automatically
natural for him to be drawn into the world of music. His enormous
talents were easily identified by his father in this creative field and
made arrangements to send him to Visva Bharathi University, West Bengal,
Shantiniketan to complete a degree in Bachelor of Music in 1955 when he
was just 20 years old. He obtained his degree in music after four years
of strenuous theory and practical courses. He studied Bengali and
Hindustani under reputed professors in 1959. Having identified his
talents he was selected as a member of the broadcasting team of the
university as an instrumentalist.
He had an aptitude and a keen interest in designing various musical
instruments and experimenting with various types of sounds. He used his
natural skills combined closely with practical knowledge of other
musical instruments and invented through rigorous research an original
instrument termed the 'Soothar'. He is the only musician in Sri Lanka
who had invented a musical instrument. The 'Soorthar' is basically based
on the blending of sounds transmitted by the Sithar, Hawaiian guitar,
Sarod, Santoor, Harp and Goothawadyam. Besides his own 'Soorthar' he has
mastered the Sithar, Sarod, Harmonium, Piano, Organ, Mendolin, Tennor,
Banjo, Guitar, Esraj, Torshani, Santoor, Violin and the Tabla.
He had made several solo performances in many countries. He has
humbly admitted that when he plays his Soorthar or any other
conventional instrument and sings, fans had been subjected to rare
aesthetic nourishment, especially when he performed to spellbound
audiences in concerts in many parts of the world. He had excelled at
classical and jazz concerts, Ballets in New Delhi, Culcutta, Bombay,
Banares, Jaipur and Pakistan between the years 1955 to 1959.
Subsequently, after evolving his own distinctive style he had performed
in Perth and Tasmania in Australia with the Chitrasena ballet troupe,
Broadcasting and T.V. Singapore in 1963. He had also performed in
musical recitals and concerts in the U.K. and all Scandinavian
From 1959-1989 for a period of three decades he had a long tenure of
teaching attached to the Department of Education. He had a long stint at
Thurstan college as a music teacher. He was instrumental in creating the
College theme song which exists even to date. The music composition of
the 'Daham Pasal' song is also his creation. In 1975 he was assigned as
the Cultural Development Officer in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. He
was also entrusted with the duties of the examiner of music both theory
and practical at the Faculty of Aesthetic Education, University of
Kelaniya. He served as a Supervisor in Music, Ministry of Education, in
the Republic of the Maldives in 1983-1984. He earned the distinction of
designing the North Indian classical music syllabus for the Institute of
Asian Culture, University of Windsor. Ontario, Canada He has composed
and directed music in several films, ballets, dramas and teledramas in
Sri Lanka and had won a number of awards for the best music directions
in the years 1961, 1963, 1966, 1976, 1984, 1996 and 2000. The musical
score of the award winning film 'Parasathumal' and the theme song 'Paravunu
Mal Wala Suwande Atheethe' sung by Sujatha Perera was also his. He had
made several musical melodies for a countless number of popular artists.
The composition of musical melody 'Thanha Asha' sung by Maestro
Amaradeva was also his.
The names of some of the dramas for which he had composed music were
Naribena, Romeo & Juliet, Kusa Pabawathie, Tikirimalie and the horror of
Mahahena. The names of some ballets where the music compositions were
his are Karadiya, Nala Damayanthi, Sakunika, Ginihora, Rankikily,
Isolation etc. In addition, he had organised, composed and conducted
music for several feature programmes in Hindustani, classical and light
music. The contribution he had made individually to the field of music
in this country is very extensive and enormous.
The 'Sree Veena' instrument is the first of its kind produced in the
world and could be used exclusively for a solo concert. He played and
demonstrated his new instrument 'Sree Veena' in a solo concert at the
Elphinstone Theatre, Maradana on 7 January 1996. The Professor of Music,
University of Delhi Ajit Singh Paital was the chief guest and had this
to say, 'The Sree Veena' innovated by Algama had unique sound quality of
many Indian instruments like Sarod, Sitar and Swar-Mandal, all combined
and blended together in one instrument. Algama's performance, it was
said, was marked with, highly skilled technique as he is fully
conversant with several Indian and Western musical instruments. It was a
unique experience to listen to Algama playing on the 'Sree Veena', the
Indian ragas with such depth. A certificate confirming his marvellous
performance was also issued.
Since his demise there had been many family discussions to find a way
to dispose the instrument. Their efforts to obtain assistance from the
Cultural Ministry and other related higher sources have proved futile.
They probably lack knowledge to appreciate such a valuable product the
only one of its kind in the world. It is the fervent hope of the family
members that someone will come to their rescue in regard to the disposal
of the unique instrument the 'Sree Veena' which has to be preserved for
May he attain Nibbana.