A golden celebration in music | Sunday Observer

A golden celebration in music

When pop, rock and soul was spinning our youth in circles the late Neville Fernando burst into the Sri Lankan music industry with his catchy acoustic group Los Cabelleros. He took a page from Trio Los Paraguays, identified his songs with lyrics in Sinhala and the result was that Los Cabelleros were a hit – so different in rhythm and lyrics. It was in this scenario that Anura Jayasinghe who was passionate about music and singing and who became an ardent fan of Neville Fernando made up his mind to move away from an academic career and give of his best in music to the industry.

Now 50 years later, and coincidentally his birthday falls today-May 7, Anura is happy he made the decision to become a singer, for the many opportunities he enjoyed not only in Sri Lanka but also abroad.

Currently, he is busy planning to celebrate this landmark achievement with a show at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.

Q: Before you were “thrown into the fire” so to speak, were you like the others moving from one band to another seeking a permanent band to sing and play what you like to do?

A: “To be honest I was lucky. I studied at Royal Primary and Thurstan College and after I left college in 1967 this desire to sing and play the music I like was intense. I was stimulated listening to Neville Fernando and his scintillating acoustic band, Los Cabelleros. They performed at selected events and on the radio, on the English Service mind you. I met Noel Ranasinghe founder leader of La Ceylonians and he invited me to join his group. I had by this time listened to their performances, liked the way they handled their original compositions and with no hesitation joined them.”

Q: La Ceylonians were specialized in their music, what with the Portuguese influences and expressing Sri Lankan folk themes, and they were not in the dance music circuit which was a craze then – so how did you guys spread your wings?

A: “We were contracted by the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Regency Hotel, presently the Mount Lavinia Hotel to entertain the tourists, by moving from one table to another on normal days, and on their BBQ nights. Our instruments were guitar, percussion and of course, vocals. We were fortunate to be contracted to perform also at Hotel Ceylon Intercontinental from 1974-1986”.

Q: Going back in time, La Ceylonians under Noel’s leadership was featured at Tokyo for the Yamaha World Popular Song Festival. Could you expand on it?

A: “It was in 1976 that the group was selected to play at the Yamaha World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo. It was a totally different experience, we had to give of our best. Under Noel Ranasinghe’s leadership it was a pleasant experience. He knew how to motivate you, keep you up front and we received a Certificate of Merit for our performance. This was a stepping stone for the group being selected to perform on board the inaugural flights of Air Lanka’s Tristar on the USA – Colombo and Tokyo-Colombo routes in 1982 and 1984. During this time I played with La Ceylonians at the many Sri Lanka Food Festivals held around the world, sponsored by Air Lanka”.

Q: Did you have regrets leaving La Ceylonians and forming your own band The Balladeers?

A: No! In fact Noel Ranasinghe my leader encouraged me to do so. Because he felt that it was important that in Sri Lanka we should have more of this type of folk oriented original songs to project the image of Sri Lanka not only here but abroad as well. So the original members were, Rohan Silva the guitarist and acoustic multi-instrumentalist, Nilantha Ariyaratne who handled the bass guitar and vocals and myself. My dear friend Stanely Walgampola wrote the lyrics for my songs and in fact chose the name for the group.”

Anura Jayasinghe and his group The Balladeers’ had their own run of success playing at many leading hotels, recording and releasing songs for the larger benefit of the country.

One of these compositions was the song he composed about the laudable project of the then late Prime Minister R. Premadasa’s construction of model villages under the Gam Udawa scheme.

“This spurred me on to tackle subjects relevant to the social requirements of our youth and the country. When the then Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Livy Wijemanne requested me to record and produce innovative and motivating Anti-Drug jingles in Sinhala and English I agreed readily because I was interested in the subject. “Stanley Welgampola was responsible for the lyrics and I composed the melody, it was an honorary job on my part.

“The jingles were not only the first ever on the subject but also became the campaign leader against drug abuse.”

Q: Your ‘Welcome to Sri Lanka’ CD and cassette we understand, was produced by Arion Record Company, how were you able to achieve that?

A: “I gained membership to the French Authors, Composers and Editors’ Union (SACEM).

I was the first Sri Lankan musician to introduce Sinhala songs to the French Radio and Television in 1987. Arion Record Company produced Welcome to Sri Lanka which contained twelve Sinhala songs and one English song.

The album was aired internationally and succeeded in giving exposure to our little island.

Subsequently, the French TV ‘Canal Plus +’ requested video clips produced in Sri Lanka of two of my songs and these were aired frequently.

At present, Tele Sude (the only African Cable channel in France), R.F.O. TV and Radio, telecast my video clips depicting life in Sri Lanka”.

Anura Jayasinghe has another plus to his 50 year career as a musician. In 2015 Putumayo World Music Producer in USA contacted him through facebook and requested one of his songs to be included in their latest album titled, Asian Playground.

The song selected was Mudalithuma, and Anura is proud of the fact that he was the only artist selected from Sri Lanka.

There are many musicians and benefactors who helped him along in his 50 year career as a musician.

The list is long, but Anura is grateful to all of them and extends an invitation to them and all his fans to meet him at his show to celebrate this landmark achievement. 

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