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Neela - the singing sensation

Visharada Neela Wickremasinghe is an illustrious, renowned, accomplished singer, teacher, composer and a super grade artiste at SLBC in both classical and light music. She is a versatile playback singer in films having sung in 67 films. Her singing career has spanned for over 37 years since she sang her first song for the then Radio Ceylon in 1959 for a programme 'Amateur voice.'

Visharada Neela Wickramasinghe

It has been a beautiful journey in delighting her fans with the blessings of Sarasaviya, the daughter of music. She has always sung with an intensity of feeling superbly and gracefully. As a singer she has grown in stature and she has evolved her own distinctive inimitable style, very impressive in appearance, as a splendid vocalist.

Singing nightingale Neela's first love is music having inherited musical instincts from her parents.

Her father was a reputed businessman who has displayed his skills in singing and acting while her mother has excelled in singing folk songs with her melodious voice. She has only one elder sister Aruni who has also inherited singing skills.

Initially it is Neela who tried to imitate the songs of her sister. Neela from her young days developed her talents by studying in various music classes while her sister pursued a career in engineering. Both had their primary and secondary education at Kesbewa MMV, Bandaragama MMV and Piliyandala MMV.

Music has been in her blood and it had been a matter of singing the whole day and attending to music classes under reputed music teachers as Amara Athukorala, Vincent Somapala, Ananda Jayasinghe, Sarath Dassanayake and Premadasa Mudunkotuwa. She owes her present status totally to them and she still speaks about their proper training with a deep sense of gratitude.

All of them have boosted her morale to perform better. She graduated in 1974 when she received her Sangeeth Visharada Degree. She opted to become a teacher in music. After teaching in several schools she decided to retire prematurely in 1998 after a period of 23 years having had a long stint of eight years at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo. She preferred to quit teaching to concentrate on her musical career, which had at that time blossomed.

Singing career

Her lilting, vibrating, vaulting vocalizations with lyrics having layers upon layers of meaning have won the hearts and merits of so many enthusiastic listeners. She possesses, unique characteristics of choosing the proper lyrics and she is very particular with regard to the meaning of every word. The rhythms and echoes of her songs have given the listener immense ecstatic delight.

The smile she displays while singing seems to emerge from the depth of her heart and soul. It is a genuine act of expression without any camouflage that makes the song more glamorous with her very pleasing personality. At solo concerts here and abroad fans await eagerly for the rare aesthetic nourishment, which they relish. Her variations are found in singing a series of songs with her melodious voice.

Unlike many vocalists she never goes behind popularity. She has been acclaimed and hailed by a large cross section of fans. She has made many packed audiences remain spellbound with pin drop silence at her recitals with lilting melodies having variety in abundance. She believes in not having recitals at frequent intervals.

Over the years her voice has grown to a high depth and could only be described as a kind of sobriety, which has given her songs a semblance of sheer maturity. She has won every possible award, the Sarasaviya Award thrice, Presidential award, Sumathi tele award, Zonta award and Vanitha award. To her the acclaim she has received from fans is treasured more than any of these awards.

She has made several trips overseas for solo recitals. The first visit was to West Germany in February 1980. Since then she has sung to audiences in the USA, Australia, Middle East, Canada and the UK.

She is very competent in writing notations of songs. She is equally clever in this area as her mentors, as she was known to answer all questions correctly at all music examinations. She has composed the music for most of her own songs.

Among many who have successfully sung her musical compositions are Pandith Amaradeva, Sangeeth Nipun Sanath Nandasiri and Victor Ratnayake. As she is competent in musical compositions she is offered to do the music score of teledramas as a music directress.

Neela is a noble woman not merely surpassing excellence but also a heroine of our time. Humanity, which is quite natural to her, is found in abundance within her. She is deeply conscious of her physical handicap. Nevertheless she sings overcoming these limiting and curbing factors.

Humble beginnings

After her birth when she was just six months old she had contracted polio, which had prevented her from walking. Her mother had carried her to and from school. When she was about five years old she had decided that she should somehow walk. Obviously she had difficult times when she was young. At present she is very pleased and content with her present position and status in the singing arena.

Her humane qualities inspired her to participate in a project launched by the UNICEF to save the children by eradicating polio from our country in 1989. She appeared in a hoarding and a poster produced by UNICEF. She visited the shanty dwellers to educate them with regard to taking of medicine.

She sang a song composed for this campaign, which was heard frequently over the airwaves and T.V. channels. Her efforts helped immensely to eradicate polio through this campaign and by 2000 not a single case of polio had been reported.

She has had the unique opportunity to sing for songs composed by Dr Lionel Algama, Athula Somasiri, Victor Ratnayake, Nimal Mendis, Stanley Peiris, C De S Kulatillake (a great exponent of folk songs) and a host of other musicians including young Samantha Perera. She prefers to give talented young musicians their due place.

She has been encouraged and boosted by music maestro Nimal Mendis to prove her versatility by immortalizing heavily westernized compositions such as "Viyo Gee" " Rantikiri Sinaha" "Master Sir" etc., Many of her popular songs have been sung in about eight cassettes, first of them was in 1978. She has delayed the release of her latest album containing 16 songs owing to the tsunami devastation.

Bouquets and brickbats

Neela was adjudged the winner in a singing competition during a New Year festival. She has won every singing competition she took part in. She was elated when she won the championship in an all island schools solo singing contest in classical music. She was selected to sing just one line in a film after coming first out of 555 applicants who had responded to a newspaper advertisement. The test was held at the Sarasaviya studio in Kelaniya in 1966.

Her career as a playback singer blossomed with time and she became a sought after singer from 1980 onwards. In 1984, her song "Bodhiye Viharaye" for the film "Ethin Ethata" she received the Sarasaviya award. Although there were plenty of bouquets, accolades and reverence, pouring from all quarters, there were some brickbats and missiles.

After her retirement she wanted to protect our children, felicitate veteran artistes not given recognition and look after elderly parents. She on her own initiative formed 'The Mother' organization of which she is the founder chairperson. She organized the 'Master Sir' recital and the entire proceeds were distributed among the experienced orchestra who needed to be felicitated for their services.

She performed a similar recital on 30 Oct. 2004 at the BMICH to a packed audience. From the proceeds of that show she felicitated veteran artistes, Kalasuri Latha Walpola, music maestro Dr Premasiri Khemadasa, Sisira Senaratna, Murie Samarasinghe and Titus Totawatta by giving them cash awards of Rs 25,000 each together with 'The Mother' replica.

In addition to these awards ten brilliant students selected from rural schools hailing from poor families in villages such as Girandurukotte, Ampara, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura etc., who have entered the university without attending a single private tuition class were awarded handsome cash prices to pursue their higher education. The 'Master Sir' recital was a complete sell out and was a musical splendour.


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