Vibrant at the congas | Sunday Observer

Vibrant at the congas

 Clarence in action
Clarence in action

If you ask yourself what musicians such as Candido, Poncho Sanchez, Ray Barreto and Babatunde Olatunji have in common, you will no doubt come up with the answer – they speak the same percussion language. So did our very own Joseph Clarence Bernard Corera who bade farewell to his musician friends in Sri Lanka and to his music compatriots in Maryland in the States, recently.

Clarence Corera was loaded with fire and intensity and standing or sitting at the congas he had no time for conventional patterns of playing. If you were present at a performance by him you’d be in for an unpredictable night. The emotions he created reflected his insatiable hunger to follow his own inner-vision of being an Afro-Latin freak. His style was distinctive and amazingly fresh and to this day in our music scene there’s hardly a percussionist to rival him. He had the knack to give music, spirit and character. You can have a musician who is musically adept and plays everything correct – but no character. Likewise, an artist can paint and is technically correct – but if there is no spirit, or soul or energy it falls flat.

Clarence launched his musical career as a drummer with the band, The Junior Rhythmaires managed by Marci Perera. He was in his early teens then and he looked forward to playing because it gave him the opportunity to express the music and rhythm in him which gave him a great deal of happiness. He was basically funny and witty, and introduced his own style of playing the congas which included, dance steps as well. They say, Gabo Pieris introduced him to the Latin mode, when Clarence joined Gabo and the Breakaways.

The switch to playing the congas was a bonus to the audience. He learnt the art of keeping crowds entertained. At one of the jazz sessions in Colombo before he left for the States, Clarence told me, “I don’t want lovers of percussion to remember me as having the Poncho Sanchez touch or the Babatunde Olatunji rhythms, I want them to remember me as Clarence Corera with a style of my own”. He couldn’t be more right. Sri Lankan music lovers will surely miss him. Dirk Tissera in a tribute to Clarence Corera mentioned that Clarence flew into Toronto to perform at a fund raiser for Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. The other musicians were, Tony Samaranayake, Raja Jalaldeen, Sherwin Jayah and Alston Koch. That was Clarence Corera – he’d go a mile for a friend.

As I write this I ask myself, ‘will Sri Lanka in the future have a musician like Clarence whose vibrancy at the congas was always entertaining?”