In a league of his own | Sunday Observer

In a league of his own

12 July, 2020

The legendary Louie Bellson once said, “Drummers are the tone of life: We are rhythm, we are timing, we are pacing”. The good natured genial Hassan Musafer believed in the saying wholeheartedly. Many are the moments when we music lovers in Sri Lanka enjoyed his expertise at the drum stool despite the long hours. He had a tenacity that never flagged. But now sadly we have lost him. Hassan Musafer passed away in Hong Kong after a brief illness and to musicians and music lovers here in Sri Lanka, there will never be another Hassan.

He was drawn into the exciting world of drumming, we understand, in 1966 while he was still a student at school. He played for the band Dakotas led by Joe Jayasuriya and later moved over to play with the early X’periments and then as fate decreed he joined the Jetliners, led by Mignonne Fernando and his popularity escalated when the band was given a contract to play in Hong Kong. Mignonne and the Jetliners created a record when the band played for sixteen years at The Regent, Hong Kong. The other members were Dylan Lye and Bubu Wijesinghe. When Mignonne returned to Sri Lanka, Hassan and Dylan stayed behind.

Professional drummer

A professional drummer and percussionist he travelled the world over in the past 30 years. He has according to reports performed in Europe, USA, the Middle East and Asia. His drumming extended to the tabla as well which he tutored students at the Baptist University. We asked who better than Mignonne Fernando to express her views on Hassan Musafer.

“Grief opens a place in our hearts that we never knew could hurt so profoundly, but it also opens the same place to a love we never imagined possible” (A beautiful quotation that headed Fathima Jowharsha’s tribute to the sad passing away of her ‘little brother’....) This is in my opinion an apt description of the amazing outpouring of sorrow, love and respect in messages offered on the passing away of our dear brother, a gentle and loving human being and our most respected and admired drummer Hassan Musafer.

Gone too soon indeed, we will always remember him as being one of the steadiest and disciplined Drummers of our time in Sri Lanka. He brought that little ‘extra’ to all performances with The Jetliners whether in Hong Kong, Hawaii or in Sri Lanka. Hassan, our drummer, was an integral part of the success of our Band as “Mignonne and the Jetliners.” While he stayed on in Hong Kong, and we had completed our 16 years at The Regent, Hassan teamed up with Dylan Lye and Bubu’s group with Adonis De Jesus and other Artistes. Soon, in his own inimitable way he quietly crept into the hearts of the musicians there. Their love and respect for him is amply shown in the Thread created by Aruna Siriwardhana, where such wonderful tales are told and so fascinating to read. Many treasured memories of Hassan’s times with us will surely live on in our thoughts and in our hearts. Farewell dearest Hassan, May you Rest in Peace.

The Song maybe ended, but the Melody will surely linger on... Mignonne

I cannot move on without requesting one of his drummer contemporaries and long time friend Aruna Siriwardhana to speak his mind about Hassan Musafer “From the day I got to know the seriousness of Hassan’s illness, I said to all I spoke with, that “I cannot imagine a world which he isn’t in”, and exactly two weeks from then, such a world came to pass. He was 66. Three true greats, the late Mohan Sabaratnam (Savage and Spitfires), Upali Fernando and Nihal Perera (Gypsies) had revolutionised modern drumming in Ceylon, and Hassan, on his return from several years of touring in Hawaii and Hong Kong with Mignonne & The Jetliners, set us ablaze with his signature ’less is more’ approach replete with style, finesse and sheer elegance. To this day, I wish I could play drums the way he did. In the eyes of the world, he was many things most strive to be - non judgemental, sincere and generous and utterly so in all three aspects. To me, he was mentor, friend and brother non pareil.

His timing in leaving was as impeccable and remarkable as it was in his drumming - for Has Mus enfeebled by illness would never have been Has Mus.

I now know what the world is without him in it... Aruna.


Hassan Musafer made countless number of friends in Sri Lanka – non musicians and musicians. Miles Roche an active bassist in the early years shared many happy moments with Hassan. Miles is a friend of his family especially his brother singer Budi.

“ I played with him in the band ‘20th Century’ in my last professional contract at The Catseye Supper Club, Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel in 1981. As a bassist, I could not have asked for a better drummer who understood the essence of a good Bass and Drums combination to set-off the rhythm section of the band. He was unparalleled in his understanding of this very important aspect of playing ‘live’. Great knowledge of and feel for the music! He will be sorely missed by the Sri Lankan Western Music scene as he surely had so much more to offer. A good friend, gone way too soon! I will miss him... Miles

While playing with Dylan Lye and Proteus, Hassan also performed with a Jazz and R+B Quartet at the Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong. In a league of his own Hassan was more than a super craftsman when he sat at the drum set. He displayed pulverising power when need be and undoubtedly gave music its spine and drive. Be it jazz, funk, rock, pop he cruised with ease with his cymbals and sticks. Counter rhythms came easily to him. And as one senior musician said, “Hassan had a pulse, a steadiness that kept the tempo better than a metronome, he was a one man symphony.”