Wednesday, 9 December 2009


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Timeless journey

When humans reach divinity, they achieve what deities cannot: immortality. Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra knew W. D. Albert Perera would make a timeless journey that will make him immortal in many centuries to come. And thus Albert Perera was baptized as Amaradeva, immortal deity.

Amaradeva was born when Ceylon was still in English clutches - 1927. It affected the country's music scene too. Ananda Samarakone established music unique to Sri Lanka, with Sunil Santha who followed him fusing Western and folk music for the first time. This was a period when hardly anyone bothered about Ceylonese original music.

As usual, it ran in Amaradeva's family.

With his Guru Pandit Vishnu Govind Jog

With Nanda Malini

"My father used to craft and play violins. My mother sang hymns. The beauty was my father being a Buddhist and mother a Christian. My elder brother taught me Indian classical music. I strummed the violin sometimes when mother sang hymns."

Amaradeva belongs to the rare calibre of musicians who can express well. His sophisticated expression betrays his somewhat authoritative knowledge of literature as well as bilingualism. In both Sinhala and English Amaradeva would articulate his thoughts of intellect in a soft cadence. To see him perform with his unique music instrument now and then was familiar in such instances.

Professor Sarachchandra and the then Lankadeepa Editor D. B. Dhanapala, who distinguished Amaradeva's unsurpassable capacity, were instrumental in sponsoring him to further studies in India by setting up a fund. Amaradeva's baptism took place just before leaving for Bhatkande University, which turned out a touchstone in his life later on.

Ashokamala's music director Mohamed Ghouse Master recognized Amaradeva as the best violinist in his orchestra. Sri Lankan cinema's second talkie Ashokamala is not only Amaradeva's starting point as a cinema musician, but also as an actor. He is the most senior actor of this day, since none of the Kadavunu Poronduva (the first talkie) cast is alive today.

If Ananda Samarakone and Sunil Santha could set the platform for a new consciousness in local music, Amaradeva continued the process. His early music compositions were influenced largely by Ananda Samarakone. This influence was very much useful when Amaradeva joined the Radio Ceylon in the 1960s to moderate a number of innovative programs.

Merging with the young: (from left) with Subhani Amaradeva, Nirosha Virajini, and Bhathiya and Santhush

Amaradeva, however, was not confined to oriental forms. He tried his hands on Western harmonies and counterharmonies and at times he fused it with oriental music forms. His voice has that powerful capacity to breathe life into poetry. Celebrated poems like Ma Mala Pasu and Sinidu Sudu Muthu flourish with life familiar in our realms, when Amaradeva sings in his exceptional voice. Poets such as Mahagama Sekara, Madawala S. Rathnayaka and Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe could get the best of him.

Even at 82, Amaradeva's thoughts are clear and precise. His voice still retains the same slow rhythm in its own weight.

Young Amaradeva

"I am not feeling well these days. I have some plans to have hands on some projects. It may be writing or something else. Anything my mind is set on. Waves of trends come and go, but the natural music stays on firm."

With that expression of happiness, the legend called Amaradeva looks far beyond horizons.


A legend called Amaradeva

* Wannakuwattawaduge Don Albert Perera (later known as Amaradeva) is born as the youngest of six.

* Shows vocal abilities at school

* Assists Mohamed Gousse in music for Ashokamala

* The most senior actor in Sri Lanka - second talkie Ashokamala

* Enters gramophone singing

* Association of Chitrasena, Hemakumara Epitawela, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, D. B. Dhanapala, Ananda Samarakone and Sunil Santha.

* Studies under Pandit Vishnu Govind Jog and Usman Khan and obtains Sangeeth and Vadya Visharad degree in 1956.

* Wins the first place in All India Violin play competition.

* His first independent cinema music for Ranmuthu Duwa in 1960

* Does a number of radio programs: Madhuwanthi, Jana Gayana and Vijaya Geetha

* Composes the melody for Maldivian National anthem in 1972 at the request of British Queen Elizabeth II.

* Obtains doctorates from three universities: Kelaniya (1991), Ruhuna (1993) and Peradeniya (1998)

* Bhatkande University confers the title Pandit, which is bestowed on its eminent students, in 1991.


Filmography at a glance

1963 Gamperaliya

1964 Getavarayo

1965 Saravita

1966 Delovak Atara

1967 Ransalu

1970 Akkara Paha

1970 Lasseta Kodiya

1970 Tun Man Handiya

1976 Madol Doowa

1988 Sagara Jalaya Madi Henduva Oba Sanda


Awards and accolades

2003: Officier (officer) in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) from the French government

2001: The Ramon Magsaysay Award of the Philippines

1998: Title of Deshamanya from the government of Sri Lanka

1991: First doctorate from the University of Kelaniya.

1986: Title of Kala Keerthi from the government of Sri Lanka

Padma Sri Award from India


From the citation of Ramon Magsaysay Award

A prodigious creative artist, Amaradeva has composed music for ballet, film, the stage, and countless radio and television programs. He has written over one thousand songs-melodious, lyrical, haunting songs of patriotism, beauty, faith, passion, and love. For over fifty years now he has also been performing his songs over radio and television, in concert, and on gramophone records, audiotapes, and CDs. Amaradeva's fluid, resonant voice long ago overshadowed his violin. Today, Sri Lankans need only turn on their radios to hear it daily. "He sings so beautifully," says one admirer, "one has to stop everything and listen."

Music, says Pandith Amaradeva, "is the finest of the fine arts." His music is both very fine and widely loved. Sri Lankans say it is music that transcends ethnicity, class, and age. Or as his friend Ediriweera Sarachchandra put it, it is music that "speaks to the soul of the nation."

In electing K. W. D. Amaradeva to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes his life of dazzling creativity in expression of the rich heritage and protean vitality of Sri Lankan music.


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