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Sunday, 9 December 2012

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Remembering Clarence, 'Father of Sinhala Pop'

What would Clarence Wijewardena be like if he were alive today? He would have been 69. He would certainly be involved in the music he loved and was influenced deeply. As he once commented in an interview "music got into my bones and altered my life." He was a guitarist who played with a lot of freedom. There was no parallel for him so it's hard to imagine where he would have ended up had he lived. That he took the music on to another level cannot be disputed. His fans saw him as a new branch in music that took them on a magical trip which they eagerly followed. Because to them Clarence and his music represented the future. But ironically it was never to be.

Clarence Wijewardena

A spool back reveals that this extraordinary singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer has left behind an invaluable legacy when he passed away on December 13, 1996 at the age of 53 after suffering from a brief illness. Clarence Wijewardena launched himself into the Sri Lankan music scene with his four-piece group 'Moonstones'. He was just 21 then and at this time groups such as the 'Los Cabelleros', 'La Ceylonians', 'Amigos', 'Los Muchachos' were using acoustic box guitars to express their music. So did Clarence and the 'Moonstones' with Clarence and Annesley Malawana on box guitar, Monty Wattaladeniya - conga drums and Dhammika Wijesiri playing maracas.

Electronic equipment

They held the stage from the years 65-71 performing at weddings, shows and functions. But Clarence's creativity spurred him to create a new sound for his band after having heard the other groups playing their electronic instruments.

He realised the need to revolutionise Sri Lankan music. So, he pioneered the use of the electric guitar in Sinhala music and came to be recognised as the "Father of Sinhala Pop". He influenced performers ranging from W.D. Amaradeva, Premasiri Khemadasa to Athula Adikari. To many, 'Moonstones' became a household name after their performance on the National Radio, thanks to their manager Sri Sangabo Corea who together with broadcasters Vernon Corea and Vijay Corea gave the 'Moonstones' the opportunity to perform weekly on the program series 'Saturday Star'. The EP Mango Nanda recorded on the Philips label spiralled with success, selling up to 5,000 copies. The EP contained the songs, Mango Nanda, Ruwan Puraya, Seetha Ude, Menike.

The hit parade on Radio Ceylon showcased Mango Nanda as its top hit and soon after Clarence was invited by Sooriya label to record some of his songs and the 'Moonstones' okayed Kalu Mama, Rosa Male, Ramani and Goyam Kapanawa. The 'Moonstones' were now riding high on the crest of popularity with the group comprising Clarence - guitar/vocals, Annesley Malawana - vocals/guitar, Sunil Malawana - vocals, Chanaka Perera - bass, Wijith Pieris - drums. Dileepa Podi Putha was a major solo hit for Clarence.

Clarence's hometown was Matale where he was born on August 3, 1943 and when his family moved to Batugedera, Ratnapura he abandoned a promising future in a planting career and stepped into music full time. Ratnapura gave him the inspiration to compose the many pastoral songs which became hits for him, and which is the legacy he has left for his fans. His tenorish voice could sing any song and above all he was a superb rhythm guitarist according to his comrades in music. When Clarence was once asked how he managed to compose such meaningful songs so quickly, his reply was "It's a God's given talent. An idea comes to my mind and I'm able to compose it quickly".

Innovator

No one can match him, he was a maestro, he knew to whom to delegate a song to sing, he was an innovator in an era that belonged solely to him, say his members of Moonstones. Clarence was a musician who was not limited by anything. You put him in a situation and he would play something profound. To him it was 'God's given talent'. But unfortunately the desire to move out and 'progress', which happens to every musician was experienced by Clarence. 'Moonstone's popularity was on a firm footing, their songs were on everybody's lips but Clarence's searching quality in music made him leave 'Moonstones' and form the 'Golden Chimes' with Chanaka Perera, bassist of Moonstones and Lankika Perera, in January 1971. Their first release included Kimada Nawe, Mage Pelpathe, Sihin Sinawai and Samanalayo. Soon Anil Bharati joined the group and a second EP was released with the songs Malai Welai, Sihil Nuwan, Surangana Vesvala, Mage Viyowen and Kalu Mama. A third EP contained the songs Iru Dina, Sandai Tharui, Muhudu Rella and Thakkita Tharikita.

Lankika Perera, leader of the 'Golden Chimes' which she inherited from Clarence when he left 'Golden Chimes' to form the 'Super Golden Chimes' was quite nostalgic about Clarence's musicianship.

"Clarence had a profound effect on us and also on other musicians. Without exaggeration he took Sinhala pop music on to a higher level. It was strong and we were fascinated by his creativity. He was an innovator and when he played there figured a lot of spontaneity, creativity and improvisation. He was multi-talented. When he was with the 'Golden Chimes' we were grateful for what we learnt from him. His leadership qualities were tremendous and so was his nature. He was a real gentleman.

Calmness

He never got ruffled. He tackled any situation within the group with a coolness and calmness that amazed us. I'm glad most of it has brushed off on us.

The music industry misses him. His kind of music cannot be got today. No, there won't be a person like him in the future. Clarence was a musician who could lay his finger on new talent and that's how Anil Bharati joined us and the song 'Bethlehempure' was composed for the Christmas season", says Lankika. It's a song that will never fade and during the festival season it's a touching reminder of Clarence and the conclusive thought that Clarence was a Grade A bona fide musician.

Another shift took place in Clarence's life before his untimely passing away. He moved out from the Golden Chimes to form the 'Super Golden Chimes' with his pals Annesley Malawana and Dixon Gunaratne. But sadly it was short lived.

Yet, no one can doubt that he possessed the charismatic showmanship of a successful musician and that his influence on other younger guitarists was staggering. He had the uncanny knack of capturing the spirit of Sinhala pop music and if you don't agree then Mona Lisa was a man!

 

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