Music legend basks in her moment of glory
In the throes of making last minute changes and embellishments to the
arrangements of the music the Jetliners will be performing at their
concert soon, Mignonne took time off to have a conversation with us
about her musical career as a brilliant keyboardist/pianist and
musician. Any wonder then she earned the recognition of being 'the
living legend in music' in Sri Lanka. The international stage too, was
quick to recognise her artistry. She was, as she proudly claims, the
only woman in the music history of the Yamaha World Popular Song
Festival to come off tops in '71, '72 and '73.
There were many other achievements such as the participation of the
Radio Television Hong Kong Song Festival '81, The American Guild of
Variety Artistes (AGVA) in Honolulu '74, and the Asian Composers League
Manila in 1975. Through it all, the success she achieved, Mignonne
confesses, that in the words of her song, she was "Proud to be Sri
Question: To revive the golden days at the Coconut Grove at the Galle
Face Hotel how did the idea filter in to become a reality?
Answer: "Actually, the thought of having this concert in a farewell
way for Sri Lanka came about with Harris Jurangpathy, Indra Raj and
Anton Gunewijaya discussing it. They wanted to celebrate the event in
Sri Lanka, because each of them had their individual careers, and invite
a few guest artistes who played with the Jetliners. The original
Jetliners were the three guitars and drums.
Even EMI on their records, labelled us as the Jetliners with Mignonne
and whoever was there at the time of the recording. This is a farewell
concert of the original Jetliners. Initially I was not there. I was
invited later by Tony, my late husband, to play keyboards and sing with
the group, and direct the music. You have to have good talent and
musically we sounded very good.
Q: You started off playing the piano when you were quite young
and you headed the group as well. Were you nervous about keeping the
members together, you know what it is with clashing personalities?
A: "When I started playing the piano at the outset I played as
a guest artiste not with these Jetliners but I played for groups that
were quite famous at that time such as Adrian Ferdinands, Combo, Ryle
and Herman who were at the Aquinas University with me. When Tony found
this three piece group he approached me, given the tip-off by Lucy Page
and Cyril Gardiner. Tony at that time was at the recording studio at
Lewis Browns. The Jetliners were already a talented group and thirsty to
get more knowledge such as new chords and play in a more disciplined
manner, worthy of being recording artistes.
In the early years there was no question of copying and pasting, the
one take had to be perfect. I guided them to be different and not be
like copy cats, that's what EMI told us. I spurred that off and we
worked closely as a unit.
Q: The Coconut Grove at the Galle Face Hotel was a major
breakthrough after Sacha and also the Tony Felice Band. What's your
A: "We came in there trying to get experience and we evolved.
That was fantastic. The timing was incredible. The teenagers in Ceylon
(as the island was called then) were looking for something different and
we became a cult - Sundays at the Coconut Grove. Parents were happy
because their children could come to a safe environment and enjoy
non-alcoholic beverages. We had bouncers to keep things in control. It
was a healthy environment for the teenagers.
Q: Playing at The Regent Hong Kong for so many years is
something that no other Sri Lankan band has ever achieved. You have
composed music for various international presentations, were you
literally worked off your feet and don't you miss the scene now?
A: "Actually to be chosen for the Regent, Hong Kong with one
thousand, two hundred bands applying for it and we only sent a tape with
photographs, was an achievement in itself. At that time it was not the
original Jetliners. We had Dylan Lye, Aruna Siriwardhana, Brian
Felthman, Randy Peiris and Suyin. We had two offers - Tehran and Hong
Kong. I chose Hong Kong.
The early Jetliners
When I went in there I was part of the regular band. The Regent
didn't believe in advertising. They said if you are good, people will
come. They just put in one advertisement. By the time, we finished one
month, there were people waiting on the staircase to get into the
Mezzanine Lounge. From then on we created a clientèle. Then one and half
years after we were shifted to play at the ballroom and Mignonne and the
Jetliners was an established story. From the ballroom. I started the
Supper Club playing the Steinway with bass and drums.
What we provided The Regent was a variety musically for all ages. We
were a disciplined group and we had a good rapport with the large
cosmopolitan guests who patronised the hotel. We were required to do
special promotional events for which I composed suitable music. Cartier
launched Panther with a live panther and Julio Iglesias sang for the
event. We worked with Patti Austin, Roberta Flack Sergio Mendes, Frank
Sinatra and Whitney Houston. We played for the QE II Ball and also for
other recognised cruises. Playing at The Regent was a contract we took
year by year, we had the flexibility to bow out, but in the end we
played there for 16 years. In the seventeenth year I came back, but they
asked me to return and handle the Millennium event. It was so wonderful
and we have gone down as "a veritable record for an expat resident
Q: Here in Sri Lanka I'm sure you are busy involving yourself
in composing songs, how exactly have you progressed?
A: "I've written quite a few and I am contemplating on
releasing another CD. I've received so many letters from all over the
island asking me to record songs which I have sung, and so I'm looking
at doing a collection of those songs. I want to do some keyboard work as
well. I'm thinking of involving myself in production, performing and
I intend giving classes to new young musicians who want to learn
about chords, and expand their horizons and even to read music. Coming
to Mangala Mohota which I wrote in 1972, I'm looking to do an official
video of this song.
Meaning it is from the artiste. Because I think copyright is coming
into play and I understand YouTube is carrying many versions of my song
with no reference to me.