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Sunday, 24 February 2013

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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.


Mignonne

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 Lankan."

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.

Major break

Q: The Coconut Grove at the Galle Face Hotel was a major breakthrough after Sacha and also the Tony Felice Band. What's your comment?

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.

Variety

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 band".

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 writing music.

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.

 

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