Nihal Nelson; legends never die | Sunday Observer

Nihal Nelson; legends never die

18 December, 2022

Dancing to the rhythm and playing with his microphone, he could hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Most of his songs woven around simple and fruitful lyrics always gave a new taste that we love to reminisce again and again. Regrettably, we cannot hear his voice again. Veteran singer Nihal Nelson whom we hail as the king of Baila is no more.

Born on January 9, 1946 in Moratuwa he studied at Methodist College, Rawathawatta and Moratuwa Maha Vidyalaya. His father, G. D Hendrick, was a businessman, mother, Hema Weerawardhana, was a teacher by profession.

Surprisingly, only a handful of his fans know that Nihal has learned more languages such as Sanskirt and Pali. The fact that Young Nihal destined to rock the Sri Lankan music field thrilled both teachers and students at school. So to speak, Nihal’s name began to be glistening as a singer during his school days. He never sang other singers’ songs because he could write lyrics and compose music for his songs.

Versatility and brilliance

For instance, in 1962, young Nihal sang one of his own songs for a wedding in Moratuwa. The best example for Nihal’s creative spirit, versatility and brilliance is his maiden song with which he amazed the audience at the event. Musician A. J. Kareem who had participated in the wedding was left spellbound by young Nihal’s performances. The veteran singer Mohideen Baig too was enthralled by Nihal’s song.

Impressed by his talents, he introduced Nihal to a musician, R. A. Chandrasena, who composed music for Nihal’s first song Lassanata Pipuna Wana Mal. “After the wedding, Kareem Ayya asked me to wait. He directed me to the 4th lane at Bambalapitiya. When I went there, I felt that it was a heaven. All the talented musicians were there. R. A. Chandrasena is Sri Lanka’s Naushad. He took his keyboard and asked me to sing.

I had to sing my song Lassanata pipunu wana mal. Later, I was given an opportunity to sing songs with R. A. Chandrasena. I can still remember A. D. Jayamanna’s generous words. “It is now that we found the right people.” At the time, I could complete my studies earlier because I had gained a double promotion at my school. “Later, I joined the Kandy Lake Club with Chandrasena.” This is how he recalled his memories at an interview.

“I started my musical journey in Moratuwa. My journey is a long one, first from my home to school, then to my home town Moratuwa and finally to the whole country. Moratuwa has produced gems to the Sri Lankan film and music industries. For example, Pandit. W. D. Amaradewa, Roy de Silva and Nihal.”


“I started singing songs at my tender age. I was the one who always sang songs for our literary society at our school. I did not sing other singers’ songs. I sang my own songs. Therefore, I was popular among teachers and students. I was a singer without whom no events were complete. I came across a musician, Sarath Munasinghe, who composed many songs for me.”

Nihal became a distinguished student at his school winning everyone’s heart. “I pursued my studies well. I learned from society. No one limited my freedom. I identified my goals and started to work hard to accomplish them.

I felt that we can gain nothing without a proper education. Therefore, I studied well. I felt the need of the English language. I studied English. I know what is right and wrong. I am living according to the Buddhist teaching. No one directed me to do right things.”

He marked a milestone in his career by releasing the first compact disc. He was the first to release a cassette in 1978 with the song Gune Ayyage Kamare. His hundred and tenth album Nihal 110 dot Com was out in 2000. All the songs for the album had been recorded at Sunflower Studio at Mahawewa, Chilaw. Neil Warnakulasooriya was involved in conducting the band.

At the time, those enraptured by his performances never missed the opportunities of listening to his songs. Indeed, stage was a playground for him. Nihal was more talented as a performer than any of his peers. It is because of his energetic onstage performances. Nihal sang songs of different styles. For instance, Epa Epa Mas Kannnata Kiri Ammage and As Aragena Paththarawala Wisthara Api Kiyawanawa.

Nihal, as a playback singer has sung songs penned by Prof. Sunil Ariyarathne, Dr. Tissa Abeyesekara, Dr. Ajantha Ranasinghe, Premakeerthi de Alwis, George Leslie Ranasinghe and Nilar N Kasim. Veteran musicians had composed music for most of his film songs.

Among those veterans were Dr. Pandit W.D. Amaradewa, Visharadha Gunadasa Kapuge, Sarath Dasanayake, Victor Dalugama, Nawarathne Gamage and Patrick Denipitiya.

Film songs

Nihal’s maiden playback song was Kasili Basili Na for the film Pem Kurullo. Lyrics were by Chandrasena Fernando. Music was composed by Tony Weeratunga.

Nihal rose to fame as a playback singer who sang thousands of songs for films such as Pem kurullo, Diyamanthi, Loka Horu, Hariyana kota Ohoma Thamay, Sadawata Ran Tharu, Walampuri, Sakwithi Suwaya, Rathu Makara and Puthuni mata samawanna.

He was awarded the Moratuputra Ratnavibhushana Award for his service for the music industry in 2015. A lane was named as Nihal Nelson Mawatha as a tribute to the singer in Moratuwa in 2021. Certainly, such legends never die. They live in thousands of hearts forever.