Going down the memory lane with
Sri Lankan Muscisian Annesley Malawana…
Simplicity was evident at his home and in his attitude towards life just as his singing was which still goes on after 49 years. That was the Annesley Malawana we met at Mount Lavinia, where he now resides with his wife and daughter, the son having gone abroad.
Relaxed and comfortable at his home in a pair of shorts and T shirt, Annesley made sure that my colleague and I were also comfortable in the sitting room before we started chatting about school, music and anything else that mattered in his life.
Hailing from the City of Gems Annesley had attended a convent school in his lower kindergarten year but from the upper kindergarten had been at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. His entry to St. Joseph’s had been in the year 1958 when the late Fr. Peter Pillai strode SJC like a colossus. Though not from Colombo, he had not been boarded at SJC as he had schooled from his father’s brother’s house along with his cousins who were into sports.
Coming to the school’s influence on his musical career, Annesley believes that it was the “Interval Melodies” that gave the start to his interest in music. “Interval Melodies” had been organised by Mr.Loganathan, the Scout Master, so that the musically inclined boys could put the one and half hour long lunch interval, to better use. While in the Senior Prep class Annesley together with two of his classmatesAmindra Wanigasekera and Eustace Silva had participated in the “Interval Melodies” singing in Three-part harmony a few songs by that Indonesian duo, the Blue Diamonds, who were so popular then.
Annesley recalled with a burst of laughter how the three of them were thrown out of class one day by an irate master when they had been practising their singing blissfully unaware that the master had come into class. Since they were in the corridor they had thought they might as well continue practising but the master who had got angrier had then chased them into the class.
If interest in music was germinated through the “Interval Melodies”, it was this musical show that had been responsible for Annesley’s interest in stage performances.
He spoke with gratitude of Mr. Loganathan who apart from initiating “Interval Melodies” had once organised the Jetliners to perform at the College Hall with Bob Harvey as the compere. If interest in music was germinated through the “Interval Melodies”, it was this musical show that had been responsible for Annesly’s interest in stage performances.
Recalling a stage performance in the 1962 – 64 era at St. Peter’s College Hall (which together with Ladies College Hall were the only two halls that could accommodate such performances in those days), where the “Spitfires” and Los Caballeros performed he said that after the Spitfires had performed the Los Caballeros who performed had been jeered but realising the smooth harmony of their singing, Annesley had persuaded those with him to silence the audience and at the end the Los Caballeros had continued their performance that had ended in applause. As for Annesley, he had decided that this would be the line for him to take.
Fr. L Don Peter had been Rector when he left College and Annesley remembered with gratitude teachers such as Rev. Frs. Stanley Abesekera and Marcelene Jayakody and Mr. Loganathan of course and others such as M/s. Joe Perera, De Kauwe, Tissa Weerasinghe and Eric Mendis.
Of the classmates, apart from his “partners in rhyme” mentioned earlier, he recalled Sunil Athukorale, Trevor Mitchell, Ananda Wanigasekera, Russel Von Bergheim, Rienzie Fernando, SunilAbeysekera,Lasantha Fernando, Earl Pieris, Ryle Perera, Tissa Madigasekera, Sunil Aberatne (whose father incidentally had been Annesley’s father’s classmate at St. Aloysius’ College, Ratnanpura), AjanthaCooray, Romesh de Silva, Srinath Perera and Errol Perera, the latter four being lawyers who adorned Sri Lanka’s legal firmament with distinction.
After the GCE (O/L) all those who had not qualified for A/Ls but were engaged in sports were in a special class which Annesley termed the “Mortuary” as nothing happened except that those taking part in sports did their sports but no one really bothered whether they came to school or not. Annesley had qualified to be in the “Mortuary” by virtue of the fact that he played tennis for SJC. However as tournaments were seasonal, he had had plenty of free time to virtually do as he pleased and he had spent most of his time back home in Ratnapura.
It had been during one of his visits to Ratnapura that he had met Clarence Wijewardena, who many acknowledge as the one who was responsible for Sinhala pop music to gain popularity. This was in 1966 and Clarence then had been known as “Wije”. Annesley had been introduced to Wije by a neighbour who had known that he (Clarence) was looking for a lead singer. It had so happened that Clarence had had a musical group that had never performed in public and in fact Clarence had known that his lead singer was not good and hence his search for a lead singer. For the audition Annesley had sung the lead part with Clarence and Clarence who was happy with him had arranged for them to meet Sirisangabo Corea who at that time had been a Sales Representative at Lever Brothers.
Sirisangabo, who later rose to be the Marketing Manager at Levers, being interested in promoting talented musicians had earlier told Clarence that if he had ideas of progressing in the musical arena he should find a good lead singer. When Annesley had sung with Clarence for Sirisangbo, he had had literally given the thumbs up. Though this had been the start of their musical performances the band at the time had had no name and it had been Sirisangabo Corea who had named the band “Moonstones” for the obvious reason that they hailed from Ratnapura, the City of Gems.
Sirisangabo Corea who had connections with Radio Ceylon had then arranged for the group to meet Vernon Corea and Vijaya Corea and this led to the Moonstones performing in a programme titled “Saturday Stars”. Said Annesley “all this happened while I was still at the “Mortuary” and my father was unaware of what was going on though my mother knew. He thought I was schooling and he was keen that I should continue with my tennis. In fact I left home to participate in the Saturday Stars programme on the pretext of taking part in a tennis tournament”.
Annesley continued “having done the recording on a Friday, I wanted to listen to the radio on the following Saturday when it was to be aired but dared not switch it on in my father’s presence. However, luckily my father was not at home on Saturday and so while my mother and I listened to the programme he missed it. The next Monday a colleague from my father’s office who had heard us sing had told him in glowing terms of how talented his son was and this brought him round to accepting me as one who would pursue a career in music. It could not have been too difficult for him anyway as he was a chorister in our church in Ratnapura”.
The original members of the Moonstones who starred in that first ever radio programme, apart from Annesley and Clarence Wijewardena, had been Monty Waththaladeniya & Dammike Wijesiri.
Recalling another incident from those heady days in Ratnapura, Annesly says “we were asked by the principal of Ferguson’s Girls School in Ratnapura to play at one of their carnivals. This was to be our first ever public performance and we were keen to perform so much so that when asked how much we wanted to charge, we offered to play free of charge. A band called “Peddlers” performed that day and then we were announced on stage next. We hardly began our singing when we were booed off the stage as Sinhala harmony was unheard of in public concerts in those days. However the Peddlers leader, Derick praised our singing and invited us to perform for payment. They were from Moratuwa and we were invited by Derick to perform for a Show titled “Star Parade” at Moratuwa which was a roaring success. This prompted Clarence to later compose his song “Moratuwa”.
About two years later, by which time the Moonstones had become known in the music scene here in Sri Lanka, they had been invited to sing at a wedding in Moratuwa where a band called “Beacons” were playing. Fortunately they had agreed to back Clarence and Annesley and the Beacons had backed them with electric guitars which was a first for the Moonstones. According to Annesley it was this that lured them to change to electric guitars from the box guitars that they performed with earlier. By this time Annesley’s brother Sunil and Mangala Rodrigo had also joined the band.
Said Annesley of their first record done in 1968 under the Philips label, “we used electric guitars, a sitar, a saxophone and two violins. Clarence, Mangala Rodrigo, my brother Sunil and Ajit Sivananthan(another Josephian in addition to the Malawanas) played together with a drummer and the sitar player, Upali Ubayasekera. Songs featured in this first album were: Mango Nenda, Ruwan Puraya, Seetha Udeyand Sudu Menike”. According to Annesly, of these four songs, Mango Nenda had been the first ever Sinhala song to hit the top spot in the Sri Lankan hit parade beating Cliff Richard, Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley.
Sometime later Annesley had started working at A T Cooray’s and Clarence had moved out of the band as he had wanted to compose and had formed the band “Golden Chimes” while Annesley had continued with Moonstones. Since the parting had been amicable, one day Clarence had invited Annesly to one of their musical shows but Annesly had felt that the performance was bad, or “terrible” was how he put it. Continuing the story Annesley said “Clarence, Dixon Guneratne (the lead guitarist) and I went for dinner after the performance and I mentioned my opinion to Clarence and he admitted the shortcoming and told me that he had been told by a mutual friend that their performance was like a wedding without a bride. This same friend had given me the same opinion about our performances”. The consequence of this had been the formation of the “Super Golden Chimes” in 1973 with Srikantha Dasanayeke and Condred Guneratne joining the trio of Clarence, Annesly and Dixon. Paul Perera, RukshanPerera, Sunil Malawana – brother, Nimal Perera and Nimal Punchihewa had joined them later.
Going back to the Moonstones, he narrated how for the first time they got paid for a performance as prior to that their performances had been free of charge. It had been a lawyers get together in Ratnapuraand they had been offered Rs.50/- for the performance. Having shared Rs.40/- among each of the four band members, they had spent the balance Rs.10/- on treating themselves to a movie and gone to the Tower View Hotel for tea. The ten rupees he earned he had given his mother. Annesley looks back on those leisurely days with a sense of satisfaction and contentment. He said that he felt times were slow and simple then and people didn’t spend so much on non-essentials. Most had only one suit he said and recalled an occasion when after a function, having got drenched while going back and forth with Clarence, being worse for liquor as each had felt that he should drop the other at home, and having to wear the same suit the next day for another performance having ironed it several times as that was the only suit they had to performin.
Speaking of recording then and now, he felt that artistes have it easier now with electronics allowing a wide leeway for correcting errors while recording, whereas recordings then were live and one person making a mistake would mean that all had to redo a whole song.
Asked how Indrani Perera joined them he said “Dilhani was a song written by Clarence for Sirisangabo Corea’s daughter when she was a baby and I sang it first at a programme but we realised that we needed a female voice for this song. I was at my cousin’s house in Colombo from where I had attended school and Indrani was one of her best friends and I had heard her sing. When I told Clarence about her we arranged an audition for her and knew immediately that she was the right choice for Dilhani”
Music he feels has changed trends and adds it was inevitable that it should happen. Like changes that have been seen from the The Beatles era, Annesley believes that the Sinhala songs had been given a new direction by Sunil Shantha and then C T Fernando, which he believes to be the beginning of the trend that led to the type of songs they now sing.
Annesley was of high praise in acknowledging the support given by the Coreas (all cousins) Sangabo, Vernon and Vijaya and also Wickremasooriya of Sooriya Records, in his long journey to success. He recalled how after a performance in London where they had sung “Piyaneni” they had met Vernon Corea in whose father’s name that song had been composed and when they had thanked him for his support his words had been “I didn’t know how to compose songs, Clarence, but you knew, I didn’t know how to sing those songs, Annesley but you could, so it is your talent that mattered and all I did was to open doors for you”. He also related with a smile on his face how after a performance in Australia recently when he related being jeered off the stage in their first performance at Ratnapura, a member of the audience had come back stage and sheepishly said that he had been one among those who jeered.
Though not recognised with any awards by the country, Annesley is proud of the fact that his songs are popular still and that tells him that he lives in the hearts of the Sri Lankan music fans. Though not been recognized with an award at country level, his Alma Mater, St. Joseph’s, had presented him with the Josephian Award for Excellence in recognition of honour and glory brought to College by his outstanding and distinguished services in the field of music and drama, at the annual Prize Giving in 2007, thus acknowledging his contribution to music in Sri Lanka.
Somewhere in the mid seventies a group of Air Lanka Ground Hostesses had come without partners to a dance where the Super Golden Chimes were performing with Gabo and the Breakaways. Though they had seen the girls refusing invitations by boys to dance, during their break Clarence had taken courage and introduced him (Annesley) to one of those girls and she had agreed to dance. Annesley says “well I’ve been dancing with her ever since then”. Married in 1977 to this dancing partner, Swarnamali – or Mali to close friends, they have two children a son and a daughter.
Unfortunately Mali was not well and could not even pose for a photograph but I managed to coax the daughter, Shalindri to pose with the father. Their son who is married and has two children lives and works abroad but neither the son nor the daughter is following in the musical footsteps of the father.
Annesley said he has no regrets about his life and had words of advice for the younger generation. Relating how on one occasion a very popular musical personality from his own generation, when introduced to the late Vincent de Paul Peiris (of Siripade’ fame) had not even bothered to stand up and Annesley had felt bad for Vincent de Paul as he was old and deserved better respect. “Never lose your head” he said and added “take advice from seniors and respect them. Be down to earth and you can go far”.
Wise words, I thought as I bade good bye to this talented singer of our times.
Full Name: Annesley Aloysius Lukshman Malawana
Date of Birth : 13th June 1947
School Attended: St. Joseph’s College, Colombo
Original Band : Moonstones
Band Formed in : 1966
First Song Sung on Air :Dilhani in 1966
First Album Released: 1968 (Philips Label)
Chart Topper : Mango Nenda.
Super Golden Chimes Band Formed in : 1973
Tours Done: USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Dubai, Oman, Doha and Bharain
Wife: Swarnamali or Mali for short
Son – Kishan (now married and living in UK)
Daughter – Shalindri (employed in a leading mercantile establishment as the Head of Retail Sales)