Vijith Kumar Senaratne mentions Vernon Corea in his new book ‘Rasa Mathaka Asiriya,’ published in Sri Lanka

senaratne2

Sri Lankan author Vijith Kumar Senaratne has mentioned Vernon Corea in his new book ‘Rasa Mathaka Asiriya,’ published in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

senaratne

The Daily Mirror newspaper of Sri Lanka also mentioned this in a feature by Gamini Akmeemana, published on the 7th of March 2017. Here is the article:

http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/-Rasa-Mathaka-Asiriya-a-work-of-nostalgia-125025.html

“Rasa Mathaka Asiriya” by Vijith Kumar Senaratne is an absorbing collection of essays on a number of professionals in spheres as diverse as photography, broadcasting, teaching, music and the plastic arts.    While some of the faces in this galaxy are well known, others have hardly ever been known to the general public. Composer Premasiri Khemadasa is a known face but few would have heard of sitarist Piyadasa Athukorala, who performed in almost every major concert in the 60s and 70s including Victor Ratanayake’s Sa, and contributed those unforgettable opening melodic refrains of the song ‘Sinidu Sudumudu Thalawe’ from the film ‘Sath Samudura.’

Author Senaratne, with two previous books to his credit including one on pioneer singer Sunil Santha, has researched extensively his subjects and their careers, thereby bringing out a plethora of fascinating detail.    In the meandering tone of a natural story teller who loves telling his stories, Senaratne mentions that Sunil Santha gave away his thriving music class to young Amaradeva at a time when he himself was quite short of money. Or that Leela, Sunil’s wife, saved a couple of Tamil neighbours from a mob during the July 1983 riots, and that she died holding the hand of her old friend Dr. Thilokasundari kariyasasam.    Sitarist Athukorala went on his father’s shoulders to see Rabindranath Tagore lay the foundation stone for the Sri Pali school in Horana. Photographer and film producer Chitra Balasuriya’s Chitra Studio in Gampaha was a haven for actors and musicians, paving the way for films such as Parasathu Mal and Thunman Handiya.

The career of flutist Weerasena Pieris, whose mellifluous tones can be heard in songs such as W. D. Amaradeva’s Pipunu Kusuma and Victor Ratnayake’s Thotupola Aiye, was cut short when he was attacked with a knife as a political reprisal. Announcer Gunathunga K. Liyanage pioneered the broadcasting of Hindi songs on SLBC’s Sinhala commercial service, introduced direct phoning during live programmes into Sinhala medium broadcasting, allowing scholar Edwin Ariyadasa to comment directly while news of man’s first steps on the moon were being broadcast.

Palitha Perera, better known for his cricket commentaries, was put in charge of SLBC’s first FM Broadcast ‘City FM.’

When it comes to the teaching profession, Maya Abeywickrema rendered invaluable services as a music teacher, widening the scope of Western music education in our schools and initiated the National Youth Orchestra, producing many fine Western classical musicians. Prof. J. B. Dissanayake made the study of Sinhala an attractive proposition and wrote books in English for those studying it as a second language.

Hemapala Perera, adept protagonist of the mandolin and tabla though better known for flute playng, went blind at a tender age due to a botched innoculation. Nimal Mendis, composer of ‘Master Sir’ and ‘Ganga Addara’, wrote and performed the music with his UK band for songs by British jazz singer Mary Marshall. Mendis and his wife Ranjani made several documentaries too, including Dawn of Terror and Stop Killing, Start Singing.

Singer Irene Malini Ranasinghe, now largely forgotten, comes live in these pages. She made her mark as a playback singer in the films “Mee Messo” and “Arunata Pera.” Singer Wasantha Sandanayake was actively involved in film making, working in films such as ‘Wahal Dupatha’ and entertaining people with Tamil songs whenever the film locations were in the hills.

“Rasa Mathaka Asiriya” is an absorbing collection of essays on a number of professionals in spheres as diverse as photography, broadcasting, teaching, music and the plastic arts”

Narada Disasekara, though he became one of our best known singers in the 60s, studied science and joined the SLBC as a recording technician, achieving such fame in that profession that he recorded Ravi Shankar and was sought out by Sunil Santha to record his lament when PM S. W. R. D. Bandarnaike was killed. Narada got his break as a singer in the film ‘Sikuru Tharuwa’ thanks to film star Punya Heendeniya, who convinced music director R. Muttiswamy to give him a chance to sing. Some of M. S. Fernando’s slower songs such as ‘Bola Bola Meti’ came out of a creative necessity, due to a SLBC ban on fast rhythms during the Ridgeway Thilakaratne era.

Radio announcer Elmo Fernando was so enamoured as a schoolboy by Prosper Fernando’s Hindi songs programme that he habitually ran 15 minutes from home to school after hearing it to the end. SLBC’s Vernon Corea noticed this young enthusiast and handed him over to Karunaratne Abeysekara who took him under his wing. In the same era, prolific musician and multi-instrumentalist Douglas Ferndinands lived in a house along Park Road, Havelock Town, which was more recently occupied by politician Douglas Devananda.

The book is filled with many such anecdotes and reminiscences.

Published by Agahas Prakashakayo, 717/2, Madinnagoda, Rajagiriya, the book is available at leading bookshops including Sarasavi, Gunasena, Sooriya, Vijitha Yapa and Surasa Maradana.   

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Listen to the voices of some of the veteran announcers of SLBC/Radio Ceylon

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation

We came across this interesting resource, a voice archive of some veteran Sri Lanka broadcasters of Radio Ceylon/Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Many of these broadcasters knew Vernon Corea and were his colleagues from the 1960s to the 1970s. Listen to their voices on this website –

Voice Archive of some veteran SLBC/Radio Ceylon Broadcasters

Vernon Corea’s 10th Death Anniversary – Craig Thompson recalls Vernon and Kiddies Corner on Radio Ceylon (SLBC)

The pioneering Sri Lankan broadcaster Vernon Corea launched the hugely popular Kiddies Corner over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon in the early 1960s.

Vernon Corea’s 10th Death Anniversary falls on the 23rd of September 2012 – Sri Lanka will remember this pioneering broadcaster on Saturday 29th September when a Memorial Service will be held at 5 pm at St. Paul’s Church Milagiriya in Colombo.

He pioneered so many innovative radio programmes over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. One such radio programme was ‘Kiddies Corner’ the English radio programme equivalent of ‘Lama Pitiya’ a children’s Sinhala radio programme co-hosted by the legendary Karunaratne Abeysekera. ‘Kiddies Corner’ was hugely popular over Radio Ceylon.

Vernon had asked Craig Thompson, a young, talented community worker with the American Peace Corps if he would present the programme. Here, Craig Thompson recalls his days with Kiddies Corner:

I have such fond memories of Vernon and I working together from mid-1963 to
mid-1964 on Radio Ceylon’s Saturday morning children’s program, “Kiddie’s
Corner.” On the program, I was known as “Uncle Craig” or “Craig
Maåma”…where I would join in and read stories, sing songs like “Gilly,
Gilly Ossenfeffer, Katzen-Ellen-Bogen-By-the-Sea” “Tickery, Tickery Leea” and
other fun activites.

We even spent several weeks putting together a playlet called “The Necklace
of Truth” …and had children participate in the various parts on the program.

As a member of the first Peace Corps group to come to Sri Lanka, in 1962, I
had first been assigned to Dharmaraja College, in Kandy, then to Thurston
College, Colombo. Upon moving to Colombo, I met Vernon when he was
Commercial Services Director for R.C.–May 30, 1963 (according to my old
diary). We recorded my first episode on Thursday, June 6, 1963 and our
second episode on Friday, June 14, 1963.

We hit it off immediately. What wonderful days those were. I always looked
forward to Fridays or Saturdays from then on…when we would record our shows
together.

On Saturday, September 7th, 1963, we began recording the children’s program
at 12:30 p.m. for a new broadcast time of 4:15 p.m (instead of the usual
3:30). Parents had been writing to Vernon, saying that they would like us
to come on the air at a later time so that “the whole family can listen.” As
3:30 seemed to be nap time for many children, they wanted us to change the
time for everyone to listen.

A warm greeting and a friendly smile always came from Vernon. In fact, I
don’t ever remember him in a bad mood. Always cheery, even when things might
not be going quite right.

Also fond memories of appearing on the “You Call the Tune” show on May 26th,
1963 with Shirley Perera interviewing me. That’s how I first got asked to
consider the Kiddie’s Korner show with Vernon.

I also want to mention that I still hold a souvenir “keepsake” ticket from
the July 6th, 1963 broadcast of “Two for the Money.” Vernon invited me to
sit in on the broadcast and be a judge for the show…held at Radio Ceylon’s
Studio 6, that evening. The studio audience was packed to the brim.

In a surprise move, just before the broadcast began, Vernon announced the
birthday of a 73 year old contestant–and that “Uncle Craig” from Kiddie’s
Corner would lead in the singing of the Birthday Song to her. It was a
surprise to me, too.

When “Uncle Craig” was mentioned, about 20 children in the audience gasped
happy gasps and one boy stood up and said, “I see you on the radio!” Vernon
and I were both delighted. The audience roared with laughter. Then they
asked me to lead the children in singing the “Gilly, Gilly” song. It was
such a fun evening.

The ticket reads “The Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon, in association with
Harischandra Mills, Ltd., invite YOU to the most exciting Quiz Show on the
air……
“TWO FOR THE MONEY.”

Inside the fold-out ticket is an ad for Sal Bar Soap…”For the
Milkiest–Silkiest wash! The genuine Sandalwood Soap for genuine
beauty……Kumari. Along with pictures of the product it says, “Firm Family
Favourites From the Friend of the Family.”

On the inside flap the ticket reads,
1. Be in your seat by 7:15 p.m.
2. No smoking in the Auditorium
3. This ticket admits ONE of our valued customers to the show
4. Children under five are not permitted to enter the Auditorium
5. The show is on 6 JUL 1963 at 7:30 p.m. at Radio Ceylon Studio 6.

On the back cover of the fold-out ticket it says:
TRY
*Curry Powder
*Coffee Powder
*Chillie Powder
* Coconut Oil
*Gingelly Oil
*Rice Flour
* Kurakkan Flour
From the ultra-modern factories of the friend of the family
HARISCHANDRA MILLS, LTD.

One of the most difficult requests anyone has ever made of me, was when
Vernon requested that I record a 30 minute tribute of condolences following
the death of President John F. Kennedy–shortly after the assassination. It
was all I could do to “hold it together” while I read the sad messages that
had come in from all around the world. But Vernon was there to help me get
through it all.

I tried to get in touch with Vernon several years ago, but could not track
him down. We were in London in 1993. I only wish I’d known he was there,
then. I feel so sad that all these years passed without being able to tell
him how much I appreciated his friendship. There were many good times and
good food we shared together (including my favorite food like stringhoppers
and other Sri Lankan goodies).

It has been said that “…laughter, joy and kindness are the herbs to gladden
the heart and delight the soul.” That being the case, Vernon had a special
herb garden that spread around the world. His kindness brings tears to my
eyes, even today.

CRAIG THOMPSON

Indianna
United States of America

Karunaratne Abeysekera

Karunaratne Abeysekera was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest broadcasters and lyricists. He was extremely close to Vernon Corea – their friendship had a unique broadcasting chemistry – they shared ideas with each other – they thought alike and came up with amazing broadcasting opportunities at Radio Ceylon. They both had a sense of humour and loved to joke with each other.

Vernon’s son wrote about the broadcasting legacy left by Karunaratne Abeysekera in an article in the Daily News in Sri Lanka.

Karunaratne Abeysekera of Radio Ceylon:

The legacy still lives on

Broadcasting legends - Vernon Corea and Karunaratne Abeysekera of Radio Ceylon

by Ivan Corea

When he entered the room, you could not help but notice him – his hair groomed back with ‘Brylcreem’ (his hair always had that shiny wet look), the thin moustache and sharp cheek bones, the immaculate smart bush shirt – you were in the presence of Karunaratne Abeysekera, the pioneer Sinhala broadcaster of Radio Ceylon.

Karunaratne Abeysekera or ‘Karu’ was born on June 3, 1930 in the village of Ratmale near Matara. He was educated at Nalanda Maha Vidyalaya in Colombo. The young Karu as a teenager displayed such creativity and vibrant talent, that he was invited to join the popular ‘Lama Pitiya’ (the children’s programme presented by ‘Siri Aiya’) over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon at the age of 15 years.

This was the making of the teenage broadcaster. He grew in popularity and listeners appreciated his wit, his sharp mind, his way with words – he was truly a master of the Sinhala language. He joined the Panel of Announcers of Radio Ceylon in 1950.

In 1958, he was sent to London to get himself trained with the British Broadcasting Corporation at the age of 28. The 1950s and 1960s was the golden era of Radio Ceylon – the oldest and finest radio station in South Asia. Radio Ceylon was the ‘King of the Airwaves’ and Karunaratne Abeysekera enjoyed iconic status as an announcer and presenter of radio programmes.

Millions turned into Radio Ceylon. Karu was also heard on many radio jingles. He was the voice of Sinhala radio in the 1960s and 1970s from the days of Radio Ceylon, the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation and current Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

But radio was not the only facet of the life of this multi-talented man. He was lyricist, poet, dialogue writer, compere of hundreds of events and he even wrote stories for children. Several children’s books have been published. Karunaratne Abeysekera wrote over 2,000 lyrics – a national record for a Sri Lankan lyricist.

His compositions are still being covered by musicians in Sri Lanka and they have been sung to audiences as far and wide as London, Los Angeles, Melbourne – Mignonne Fernando and ‘The Jetliners’ sang ‘Mangala Mohotha’ to international audiences – it is now one of the most requested wedding songs in the island.

He won the prestigious Sarasaviya Awards for his lyrics on two occasions for his stunning compositions.

Karunaratne Abeysekera has the distinction of creating history in the world of radio by being the first ever Sinhala cricket commentator over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon. He commentated on matches played by Ceylon against visiting English, Indian and Australian sides from the 1950s – 1970s. He also commentated on the well-known school cricket matches like the annual Royal-Thomian cricket match, the oldest unbroken cricket match in South Asia.

Karunaratne Abeysekera had to devise cricket terminology to describe cricketing actions of batsmen and bowlers – this was unchartered territory in terms of Sinhala language – his words to describe various aspects of cricket are used to this day, by present day Sinhala cricket commentators.

I have vivid memories of Karunaratne Abeysekera who was a frequent visitor to our home when we lived in Maha Nuge Gardens in Colombo in the 1960s and 1970s. Karu and my father, Vernon Corea, were very close friends – it was hugely productive broadcasting relationship and they collaborated with each other on various projects – both broadcasters were men of ideas and when met it was creative explosion.

“Vernon! I’ve got an idea,” he would say, striding into our home in that confident style of his. They would stay together – late into night, thrashing out their ideas – the end product would be a radio programme, a script, a radio jingle or a show in English and in Sinhala.

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation has named Studio 5 to remember the giant of Sinhala broadcasting.

Sri Lanka lost a broadcasting genius when Karunaratne Abeysekera died in 1983 but his legacy, his lyrics, his words live on.

http://www.dailynews.lk/2006/02/03/fea02.htm

Premaratne Abeysekera dies

Premaratne Abeysekera, brother of Karunaratne Abeysekera, has spent hours at Vernon Corea's BBC Office in the Langham - it is now The Langham Hotel in London.

Vernon Corea’s friend Premaratne Abeysekera died recently in Hounslow, Middlesex. He was a registrar at Peradeniya University and a diplomat in London.

Premaratne Abeysekera’s brother was the great Karunaratne Abeysekera one of Vernon Corea’s closest friends and a colleague who worked in Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Prema was very keen to keep alive the broadcasting legacy left by his older brother, the late Karunaratne Abeysekera.

Prema has spent hours at Vernon Corea’s BBC Office at The Langham in London in the 1980s.

Prema’s funeral was recently held in Hounslow, Middlesex in the United Kingdom. May his soul rest in peace.

OBITUARY

Mr Premaratna Abeysekera beloved husband of Amitha Padmini, loving father of Dulamani, Lileepa and Buddhika. Brother of the late Karunartane, Gunaratne and Gamini and of Daya,Susantha, Sita, Kirthie, Ranjana, and Sujatha, Brother in-law of Irani, Srima, Anoma,Shyamalee, Neetha, Srinie, Sujatha, Indra and Upali, father in law of Priyath Liyanage, grandfather of Gayan, Priyan and Dulan, passed away on 24th of November 2010.
Mr. Premaratne Abeysekera was educated at Nalanda College, Colombo .

Having graduated from the then University of Ceylon Peradeniya he functioned as a journalist for Janatha and Silumina news papers of the Lake House Group. After that he joined the University Administrative Service and served at the then Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara Universities, the
University of Colombo and the University Grants commission as
well. He won a scholarship to study for his MA in the USA
whilst being in the University Administrative Service.

Mr. Abeysekera has been a resident in London since the mid
seventies and prior to his retirement from the Public Service he
functioned as the Education Officer of the Sri Lanka High
Commission in London.The funeral took place on Saturday 4th December at 1.30 p.m at South West Middlesex
Crematorium, Hounslow Road Hanworth, Feltham, Middlesex. UK

Tony Fernando, Mignonne Fernando and the Jetliners

The late Tony Fernando and Mignonne Fernando

The late Tony Fernando was a pioneer in the field of popular music in Sri Lanka. He was truly an entrepreneur and was excited about popular music. He saw a gap in the music market in 1950s Ceylon and opened up the first ever shop selling records and radios called Tony’s Record Bar,’ in Bambalapitiya. It was the ‘in’ place to be for the next generation. Tony sold the latest music in his record shop and he started releasing records himself – his first ever signing was Nimal Mendis who went on to become a star. Tony recorded Nimal’s hit song ‘Kandyan Express’ and Radio Ceylon played the song over and over again.

Tony Fernando built up a friendship with Vernon Corea in the late 1950s. Vernon had joined Radio Ceylon as a relief announcer in 1956 and as a full time announcer in 1957. Tony was keen to receive airplay for his new protegees. When Vernon and his family lived in Templar’s Road in Mount Lavinia, Tony Fernando and his first wife were frequent visitors. Sadly she passed away in the early 1960s.

Tony Fernando went on to run the Lewis Browns recording studio and formed the hit making machine – Sri Lanka’s first ever super group The Jetliners. Vernon was impressed with young Mignonne Rutnam who had participated in a Radio Ceylon talent contest.

Later on Mignonne joined the line up with The Jetliners. Tony Fernando was her first manager and then her husband. Mignonne and the Jetliners reached the top of the music world in South Asia and South East Asia. They proved to be an absolute hit  – over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon.Vernon played their songs on his popular radio programmes on the station.

The first ever superstar group from Sri Lanka - The Jetliners.

In the early days Vernon had introduced Mignonne and The Jetliners at the premier entertainment venue of the 1960s in Colombo, the ‘Coconut Grove’ at the famous Galle Face Hotel. Radio Ceylon also held their talent contests at the Coconut Grove.Vernon has also compered New Year’s Eve dances held at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sri Lankan star Mignonne Fernando

Information on Mignonne Fernando on Wikipedia:

Having won Radio Ceylon‘s Talent Contest at the age of seven, a year later she wrote her first music composition. Her father. Arnold Rutnam, was renowned for his mathematical skills, and her mother, Marie was a devoted and much loved teacher of music.

As a student of St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo 7, Mignonne scored First position in her class throughout, except the one term when she took ill and was placed second. She participated in Theatre Productions and played Goal for the School Netball Team with equal enthusiasm.

Her interest in Law was overtaken by her passion for Music, and thanks to her mother, she received formal training in Western Classical Music, Speech and Drama. This proved to be her greatest strength and an excellent foundation to her musical career that was to follow.

“Her firsts in the history of popular music in Sri Lanka and her many musical achievements internationally have proved that Mignonne is a rarity by any standard.” Carl Myatt – South China Morning Post.

The early years

In 1965, Mignonne along with her group The Jetliners became an instant success under the excellent guidance of Manager/Husband Tony Fernando; and their popularity grew from strength to strength, wherever they performed. Radio Ceylon,introduced her music not only to a local audience but right across South Asia. During the early years Mignonne Fernando and the Jetliners enjoyed star billing at the Coconut Grove nightclub situated in the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo.

In 1969 she became the first Sri Lankan to be signed up by EMI Records UK, and Keith Prowse Music London. The CeyloneseWedding Song’ (Mangala Mohotha) was her first song to be copyrighted by KPM.

Her song “Love don’t let me down” won the Embassy Award at the World Popular Song Festival where renowned composers and artistes the world over are invited to submit compositions. Of over 1,200 entries, only 10 were selected to be eligible for the award. Another original composition “Someday my love” won the Matsushita Award and Special Jury Award for Composer and Performer at the Festival of Song.

A Sinhala composition “Oba Nisa” was selected for the Finals of the 5th Olympiad of Song in Athens, Greece where it won the Gold Medal. “Coconut Man” made the finals of the World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo. This made her the only Woman Composer/ Performer to date to have been selected into the finals.

Mignonne Fernando

by Ilika Karunaratne

Daily News, Sat Jun 14, 2003: Every fairy tale has its own bete noire – A ‘Once upon a time’ or ‘happily married ever after’, also usually demands a thorn. To Mignonne Rutnam, as she was then, her fairy tale began, when she met Tony Fernando, when she was just sweet sixteen. He was first her Manager, and later, both husband and Manager. The thorn to them, was Tony’s illness and death, which was to take him away last year, after a 38 year old marriage, made in heaven.

Mignonne, has always been my favourite female Sri Lankan singer. Her voice in my ears, is like sun warmed honey, and no-one, then or now, can hold a candle to her. Each one of us takes the death of a loved one in a different way. Each of us swims in our own pool of grief; our own flood of memories. Loneliness becomes constant, memories become companions and darkness becomes a haven for fantasy. Mignonne’s first reaction to the shock, was to take herself away; to spend time with her daughter in Dubai. She then returned to immerse herself in work.

“Tony knew that I wanted to do this CD, and it was his dream too. Music to me, is a gift from God; I am forever in his debt, for this wonderful gift. My mother helped me to develop it, by her knowledge of it, and her encouragement. But it was because of Tony’s inspired management that my music sprouted and blossomed. I worked hard, to see that this dream of ours, Tony’s and mine, came true, by producing this album. It seemed to be an eternity in the making, but it has been a labour of love, and a total experience of mind, body and soul”, she said of her new CD released recently.

You have been away a long time. How would you describe those years? “Working at The Regent, Hongkong, was a truly enthralling experience. It is a place where the rich and famous gather almost daily, as you can see from the Daimlers parked outside. It was voted the world’s best hotel, for three years in a row, by The Institutional Investor. It rises above the glittering lights of Hongkong, on the very edge of the world’s most spectacular harbour”.

Mignonne showed me a picture of the room in which they sang, with enormous glass windows, almost the length and breadth of the room. She also related an interesting legend about it; that it is built in the path of the nine dragons, as dragons can walk through glass; so it doesn’t disturb their freedom of movement! The view seems panoramic, and at night, with an azure sky, the stars would look like diamonds., sparkling on dark silk.

“Our time there was really wonderful. It was the best years to be there too; meeting interesting people, organizing and creating music to suit individual tastes. There were various dimensions to performances; some would like old music, like Joe Loss for instance. We played at several traditional weddings too, society functions, with the sophistication of Chanel and Karl Lagerfield clothes, a Cartier launch of the perfume, ‘Panthere’, brings back nostalgic memories, of a real live panther, being carried in on a palanquin, by Nubian slaves. Julio Iglesius, who popularized that ubiquitous song, ‘All the girls I loved before’ performed at shows that we did.

Singers, dancers, comics, Broadway veterans, brought great entertainment, as well as the celebrity touch to the performances. So many shows with so many different themes; one was in the styling of ‘In a Persian market’, another was ‘A night in Manhatten’ I created the whole score of music for many of these shows. Often, after the star of the evening performed, we would play music for dancing. 2.30 a.m. is the time they call ‘carriages’ which means that the function was over and it was time to go home. Alan Zeman, is a famous figure in HongKong, who owns several clubs and streets in Hong Kong we played at his son’s ‘Bar Mitzah and played only jewish music on that occasion:”.

When was the beginning of your spectacular career in music? “We began right here in Colombo, at the Coconut Grove at The Galle Face Hotel. Our next spot was The Taj Mahal in Bombay, then to Singapore, where we won our first international awards. Our first break in Hong Kong, was at The Talk of the Town, which was a revolving restaurant. We came back here and performed too, before our long stay in Hong Kong”.

Sohan Peiris says that he owes everything he is today to Tony and you. What about the original jetliners? “The original jetliners are scattered all over the world now, but we did get together for a concert in Australia recently. We are all keen on performing here, where it all began and are working on it, and trying to work out sponsorship. Tony managed all hotel musicians in Hong Kong. He was a most gentle ruler, who ruled his kingdom of music, with a firm, but fair hand.

We formed a company for this and had 16 to 20 musicians under this umbrella. We played for almost every grand opening at The Regent, where the creme a la creme of Hong Kong would be present. We once had a millionaire who wanted to have dinner alone with his wife in the atmosphere of Sherwood Forest, with our band playing soft music.

We created this and he was so happy with the evening that he gave me a gift of a mink teddy bear. I had to give this to a child before I returned here, as the mink would not have stood our climate! Another wonderful memory was ‘The Captains Ball’, held by the Captain of The Q E 2. We had one band in the foyer, another playing light classical during dinner, and still another for dancing.

The joy of creating and organizing music left me little time for boredom. We used to practise two days in the week and perform for three days in the week. Our apartment was just next to the hotel. It was great fun while it lasted, but in 1997, we decided come back home, and go back only for seasons. Our two sons have finished University now and are both living and working in the US. The last two years for me, were devoted to Tony’s health and everything else came after that. I wanted to launch my CD in February, but I felt it was insensitive in the midst of the war in Iraq, to launch a CD, which was a celebration of life”.

What of the future? I would like to do seasons in the US, where my sons are. I would very much enjoy doing the musical score for a Sinhalese film. I like to be flexible and introduce new concepts in music”. Mignonne’s world has been a kaleidoscope; a constantly changing prism that mixed, mingled and overlapped to create shades and patterns. On stage, she is the quintessential star of spellbinding presence; shimmering and shining.

To meet and talk to her on her own, she is a lovely person, with beauty of soul that somehow shines through. I almost cried as I listened and watched her on video, singing ‘I am proud to be Sri Lankan’, in all three languages, Sinhalese, Tamil and English. The background showing all the beauties of our country. Our beaches, the ruined cities, temples and our children of all communities, who are after all our future. This song, should I think be used on radio, on TV, on Sri Lankan, Airlines and by The Tourist Board. It is so beautiful and heart warming and could be a pathway to permanent peace.

“Wherever I may have wandered, I have never failed to take a part of Sri Lanka with me, and have always projected my country through my music. I wear either Kandyan saree or ‘Redda hatte’, and wear a ‘nalal patiya too’, when I sing in Sinhalese or Tamil. My heart has always been right here, in Sri Lanka, and I would like to do more for our country”.

Her soft, mellifluous voice as she speaks, radiates a special kind of spirituality, charm and originality. As a composer, lyricist and singer, she has no equal, and is the brightest star of the musical firmament in our country.

She has been dubbed ‘Sri Lanka’s Ambassadress of Song,’ Mignonne Fernando enjoys iconic status not only in South Asia but also in the Far East, where, for many years she was a resident musician at The Regent Hotel in Hong Kong. She will headline a massive concert in Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka in March 2006. This will be an opportunity for fans of Mignonne and The Jetliners to re-live nostalgic memories of the 1960s and 1970s of the popular music scene on the island

Mignonne is truly an international star and has performed from the United States to Singapore. She has wowed audiences at the Taj in Mumbai in India for several years.

Mignonne Fernando exploded onto the Ceylonese music scene in 1963 when as Mignonne Rutnam she won a song contest on Radio Ceylon. The radio station is the oldest and one of the finest broadcasting institutions in South Asia.

Legendary broadcasters such as Livy Wijemanne, Vernon Corea, Jimmy Bharucha, Nihal Bhareti and Vijaya Corea played her music and that of the Jetliners over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, making her a household name.

Vernon Corea who had introduced The Jetliners at the Coconut Grove at Galle Face Hotel in Colombo in the 1960s played the music of The Jetliners on his popular radio program on BBC Radio London called ‘ London Sounds Eastern’ in the 1970s and 1980s – it was produced by top BBC man Keith Yeomans. Mignonne Fernando’s music reached new British audiences in the capital.

She was managed by the music mogul the late Tony Fernando who married her – he made her a star. Mignonne and the Jetliners had star billing in Sri Lanka. They represented the country at international song contests.

A pivotal moment came in 2003 when Mignonne Fernando released her first CD titled ‘A Celebration of Life.’ Mignonne told the media: ‘Tony knew that I wanted to do this CD, and it was his dream too. Music to me, is a gift from God; I am forever in his debt, for this wonderful gift. My mother helped me to develop it, by her knowledge of it, and her encouragement. But it was because of Tony’s inspired management that my music sprouted and blossomed. I worked hard, to see that this dream of ours, Tony’s and mine, came true, by producing this album. It seemed to be an eternity in the making, but it has been a labour of love, and a total experience of mind, body and soul‘, she said of her CD.

The Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka noted: ‘Mignonne drew her early musical influences she tells us, from Franz Liszt, George Gershwin, Quincy Jones her favorite, Diana Ross and the many well known gospel singers. The music of the Motown World, Jazz and Dave Griusin hold a special place for her inspiration-wise.

The highlights of your CD?

Mangala Mohotha, the lyrics for which is by the late Karunaratne Abeysekera, I arranged and performed the song and introduced the flute by Sajeewa Gurusinghe. There’s the song ‘Proud to be Sri Lankan’ for which the inspiration came fast after I saw the Imax film ‘Blue Planet’ – the journey of the space shuttle and when the astronauts said “there down below is beautiful Sri Lanka.”

It took me by surprise I was spurred to compose. The lyrics came equally fast like the melody. Our people are forgetting what a beautiful country we live in and I hope the message I’m projecting in the song will be a lasting one.

There are other tracks like ‘Den Nivadu Kale’, my version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ which was featured on VOA by Judy Massa and broadcast on Simultaneous Satellite Broadcast Worldwide.” And of course the Overture which I wrote for the Mignonne and the Jetliners Australia 2000 tours, ‘ she said.

An outstanding track on her CD ‘Celebration of Life‘ is called ‘Island Song’ a fusion of hip hop and tabla. This song deserves to be played on western radio stations – by all accounts it should be an international hit if only someone would promote the very best of Sri Lanka’s musicians in the west.

Mignonne received a huge ovation when she appeared on stage at a ‘Grand Salute to Vijaya Corea’ at the BMICH in Colombo. She will play Colombo in March 2006 before spending time in the United States.

To hear Mignonne Fernando’s hit: ‘Island song’ please access the website:

http://www.sinhalajukebox.org/cgi-bin/songs.cgi?action=ShowTracks&artist=A417&compose=

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