The legends that live forever | Sunday Observer

The legends that live forever

23 January, 2022

There dawned a gloomy era on our film and music industries. Many artistes who enriched our country have departed from our midst, creating an irrepressible void in our hearts. The legendary artistes such as Sampath Thennakoon, Sarath Chandrasiri , Robin Fernando and Gamini Ambalangoda undoubtedly reigned for years. Recently, the country bid adieu to another two national treasures, Visharada Neela Wickramasinghe and Desmond de Silva.

Although they have gone on a journey of no return, the legacy they left behind would remain forever.

Desmond de Silva

Desmond Anaclitus Rajiva De Silva better known as the King of Baila was born in Matara on July 13 , 1944. He studied at two schools, St. Peter’s College Bambalapitiya and St. Thomas’ College Matara. Desmond’s father was Clement Arnold De Silva who was a Public Health Inspector (PHI) by profession and was a music lover.

His mother was a teacher. Desmond who was the eldest of the family with two siblings had not identified his inborn skills. As a youth trying to start his youthful journey, Desmond came to the city of Colombo. His first choice was the Army. Even though Desmond joined the army, he could not continue his military life for years because of his sensitive heart. The path he chose was not a rose-strewn one. He decided to work as a soil digger at a bank construction site.

As a singer

As if by chance Desmond could find his own path thanks to one of his friends. He became a singer on the invitation of his friend. Desmond’s voice featured on Radio Ceylon and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was a celestial voice which echoes in our ears for decades.

His songs with simple words could touch our hearts. Widely known as a pop singer, Desmond had established himself in pop music groups such as Spitfires,””Gabo and the Breakaways,” and the “Jetliners.” The amazing fact is that one song titled “Oba Nisa” which he sang with Mignonne Fernando and the Jetliners has been considered to be a musical masterpiece at an international song festival.

Desmond and the Clan

Back in 1976 Desmond wanted to establish his own music band. It was none other than Desmond and the Clan which started a new chapter in our pop music culture. It would be correct to say that Desmond became an international singer with this band. It is because he performed in various countries in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, Desmond represented Sri Lanka at the 5th Olympiad of Songs in Athens, Greece in 1979 and became the champion at the Yamaha Festival of Song in Tokyo, Japan. At the time when he resided in London, he performed with the London-based backing group Foreign Affairs in the United Kingdom. Significantly, Desmond had gained reputation by becoming the first Sri Lankan singer to appeal on behalf of autistic children.

Speaking of his Baila songs, such as Polkatu Hande, Chuda Manike, Mamma No, Miss Sri Lanka, Rajasangabo, Komali Pane have stolen our hearts. Being a play back singer, Desmond had sung songs for both Seetha Devi and the Samanmalee and Mage Amma.

It is regrettable to say that the king of Baila Desmond De Silva who delighted many hearts breathed his last in Melbourne, Australia on January 9, 2022. But needless to say that Desmond is a star which shines forever in our memories.

Neela Wickramasinghe

Elevating the tunes to the soaring musical heights, evoking a gamut of emotions, songs adorned with Neela’s mesmerising voice had captivated many hearts.

Born on March 30, 1950 in Wattala, Dona Delicia Neela Wickramasinghe was the youngest daughter of Don Francis Wickramasinghe and Withanaratchige Don Yasawathie Gunasekera. Sadly, she became a victim of Polio. Neela finished her schooling at Kirimatiyagara School and Kesbewa College where her musical life began to shine. Neela learned music under maestro Vincent Somapala and Ananda.

As a singer

Back in 1959 Neela sang her maiden song for Radio Ceylon. In 1967 Neela could record her song “Sende Ambare Nisal Malyaya” with the Radio Ceylon. The song enriched by Dalton Alwis’ lyrics was adorned by Lionel Algama’s music.

Significantly, she was selected as an A grade Singer. Having studied North Indian classical music, Neela received the Sangeeth Visharada degree in 1974. Being a music teacher she worked at many schools including Visakha College, Colombo. However, as if through a curse, Neela Wickramasinghe who filled our hearts with love was diagnosed with an abdominal cancer in a very serious manner. She was fortunate enough to cure her illness. What made Neela stand out may be her extraordinary ability to hold pitch at an impossible octave.

Neela’s voice which sounded like a well tuned violin had all qualities such as sweetness, tenderness and melodiousness. Her knack for succinctly conveying the feel behind the lyrics of her songs was the most prominent quality. Many generations lived with her songs like Dawasak da Ra, Punchi Sithe Punchi Sina, Daruwo Athi Ammala, Master Sir, Bodhiye Viharaye, Chamara Salunawe, Parami Dam Puramu Apa Dedena and Thun Sitha Dahan Gathawena. Such songs awakened the long-lasting fragrance of our bygone memories.

Veteran songstress Neela Wickramasinghe had become a part of our music industry and cinema industry. She had embellished many films as a play back singer.

Neela Wickramasinghe had won the Sarasaviya Awards for her songs such as Bodhiye Viharaye in Ethin Ethata, Rasa Musuwu Pem Kalpana , Pemakasuwanda Denila in Dolosmahe Pahana , Pemakasuwanda Denila and Nothalan Malkekulu. As noted by musicians, veteran artiste Neela had displayed her incredible range and a gamut of emotions through her songs.

Her social activities

In 2002 she founded a charity organisation named “ The Mother” with the aim of catering to children and elders. In addition, the veteran artiste Neela had contributed to a project implemented by UNICEF to eradicate Polio from our country in 1989. We can view her not only as a sensitive hearted artiste but also as a social activist. But, she is no more.

The veteran songstress Neela Wickramasinghe passed away in Milan, Italy on January, 17, 2022, at the age 71. Her mesmerising melodious voice will stay in our hearts for decades.