Mariazelle - iconic songstress of Kandy Lamissi fame | Sunday Observer

Mariazelle - iconic songstress of Kandy Lamissi fame

7 June, 2020

In 1977, Mariazelle Goonetilleke mesmerised Sri Lankan audiences with a unique , singlish baila style song, Kandy Lamissi and over 40 years on Mariazelle and Kandy Lamissi still continue to wow local and overseas audiences. The song was not only Mariazelle’s first commercial hit but was the first singlish song. From then on she has never looked back. Today, Mariazelle Goonetilleke is a much sought after musical star dazzling in the Sri Lankan and foreign musical firmaments.

This versatile songstress has many hit songs to her credit, with Gayu Gee, Yowun Sihina Loke and Wathsala being a few among them. Among her songs, Sihina Nelum Mal is the jewel in the crown for Mariazelle. She says,.. “ but I guess the most important one in my song book is definitely Sihina Nelum Mal – my tribute to my precious son, Teshan. How did this song come about? The composer, Roshan de Silva and his fiancé Erin were frequent visitors at home and Roshan gifted this melody to me for my son’s first birthday insisting that I got good lyrics written for it. The late Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe was commissioned to write this and I recall how Ajantha questioned me about all the different things I was now facing as a mother… he had secretly recorded in his memory all my hopes, dreams, aspirations, emotions and very cleverly translated them to words – today, Sihina Nelum Mal is not only loved by mothers the world over – but by fathers too and is known as the Mothers’ Anthem and I am humbled”.

Currently, Mariazelle has been involved in a lockdown project, a collaboration involving 70 + artistes. Aluth Iskole is a song which gives a message of learning from the enforced lockdown, social distancing, curfew and other features linked to lockdown. The song also focuses on the beneficial features of the lockdown like the resurgence of birds, decreasing pollution and the healing of the ozone layer.

The original idea came from Shakila Perera , drummer of the band Chain. Though what Shakila first suggested was a cover of an MJ hit it was superseded by a plan to do an original. Among the others involved were Mahesh Denipitiye, Upul Shantha Sannasgala, Kelum Srimal and Shehan Galahitiyawa. Upul Shantha Sannasgala wrote the Sinhala version of the song and Mariazelle wrote the English lyrics.

The song was recorded on the artistes’ mobile phones with videographer Sagara Lakmal de Mel lending his expertise to give an excellent finish to the song with the exactly right tone and colour. Mariazelle says of this collaborative effort: “Amazing human beings - all those who were involved in this project.. all coming together with the same enthusiasm and zeal. The singers must be mentioned for colouring the song in their inimitable styles … from rock (Chitral Somapala what a voice) to reggae to classics and pop… all of them gave their best. My feelings are so complex I can’t put them all into words”. She also says that listener response to Aluth Iskole has been encouraging.

Mariazelle Goonetilleke grew up in the Colombo suburb of Nugegoda. Her parents were the late Rajah Wijebadra Goonetilleke and Selvio Maureen Therese Quyn. Her one younger sibling is now domiciled in Australia.

She had her education at St. Joseph’s Convent, Nugegoda, later known as Girls’ School , Nugegoda. Mariazelle refers to her schooldays as the ‘best days of her life’.

Around the age of seven Mariazelle started strumming the guitar and her father who was a strong believer in Mariazelle learning the instruments of whatever instrument she played, arranged for her to have lessons with the well-known exponent of classical guitar, Winston Jayawardene. However, Mariazelle’s musical journey commenced later. Around 1971, encouraged by her parents, she started singing lessons with Estelle de Niese.

At 10 years of age, Mariazelle won the Ceylon Observer ‘All Island Talent Quest’ which paved the way for her future musical career. A neighbour, Milroy Peter (bassist, Fireflies) helped her enter the contest. Mariazelle faced the initial stages of the contest without any preparation but later when things were challenging she gave it more than 100 per cent.

Of her success she says, “I was numb when the results were announced … total disbelief because the standard of the other competitors were extremely high… even now when I recall the moment, I feel the need to pinch myself… my best friend from school Gillian Vanderwall was with me that evening and she practically pushed me onto the stage. I would d like to mention the panel of judges that night – Mignonne Fernando, Dalreen, Indrani Perera, Trevin Fonseka, Keerthi Sri Karunaratne, Harold Seneviratne and Winston Jayawardene. I have no doubt that they had a really tough time making the decision”.

It was another Fireflies member, the late Mohan Sabaratnam who suggested to Mariazelle’s parents that she should join the Junior Rhythmiers and sing with them. He also arranged for an audition for her with Mildred Perera . She liked young Mariazelle’s voice and invited her to join the Junior Rhythmiers. Mariazelle did so and was affectionately called nangi by the boys. Even today ex Junior Rhythmiers’ leader Neil, is like Mariazelle’s loku aiya and spiritual guide. He still calls her nangi and Mariazelle says it is a lifelong relationship.

Between her time with the Junior Rhythmiers and her recording of Kandy Lamissi Maraizelle performed with some other bands - Modsters , Emeralds, Midnight Mist and Talk of the Town. She played the guitar, electronic organ and sang with these bands.

Mariazelle talks about the history of her hit Kandy Lamissi thus:” During my stint with the Emeralds, who were managed by Mr. Sam Sodhiraj of the Music Bureau Kohuwela, he also managed another band called the Blue Sapphires. Their drummer Kitto (Asith) Chandrasena had written a couple of verses and could be heard thumping the beat on any surface he laid his hands on and both bands would perform this song. I later took it, wrote it out to suit me, added the other verses and Kandy Lamissi happened. The tune of course is an interpretation of the folk song Cotton Fields. “

Asked about her soaring success with this hi song Mariazelle said, “actually, I expected nothing.. for me it was a dream come true to just do a professional recording – everything else that followed was nothing but the Grace of God. Grateful thanks to the late Wijepala Hettiarachchi, owner of Gemtone Records who made it possible for me to branch out as a recording artiste under Gemtone”.

Mariazelle has great faith in God and this has carried her through life in good times and bad. She met with a bad accident and asked about it, her reply was,” I don’t really know, except that I believe my Creator had bigger plans for me than the devourer had…. I owe my recovery to Him first and the clever doctors at the Base Hospital Nuwara Eliya. I still suffer from severe lower back-pain which is a result of a fracture, but hey – here I am”

Versatility is key in Mariazelle’s repertoire and she moves from one genre to another with ease She also has no particular favourite among musical genres. “I believe that to be a successful singer, one has to be able to handle any genre of music. For me it is mostly the attitude with which I approach the composition. Therefore, I have no favourites, but for pleasure I would listen to ballads”.

The support she received from her parents and their faith in her was very important to this songstress as according to her she had’ no faith in herself’ Also the encouragement she received from every musical director she worked with and what she has learnt from them has stood Mariazelle in very good stead throughout her musical career.

This iconic singer has this to say about her large local and international audiences.

“All my audiences are important whether I perform in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world … the rapport I share with them helps me continue being who I am on stage. Therefore, every performance is a memorable one”.

Mariazelle’s advice to aspiring musicians and singers is “find your niche, be who you are. Never copy or imitate, don’t go with the flow because you may find yourself on a musical chessboard or in a rapid, and the result could be fatal. So be an original.. I’m kind of disappointed when I see people just covering other people’s efforts thinking they are on the road to success….’

This beloved singer says when it comes to her work she is’ a bit of a perfectionist’. She is also a very private person who enjoys solitude and a quiet life.

Her answer to the question as to how she would like to be remembered was “how would I like to be remembered? I guess that’s a something time will tell because how the other person sees me will define how they remember me.

As for the future she says,” Tomorrow doesn’t belong to me … so instead of making plans for tomorrow, I prefer to live today as best as I can and leave tomorrow in the Hands of God my Father”.