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Five decades in the music field

Anton Jones still a household name

His once movie-star looks may be fading but the voice that entertained over three generations will not be contained. Baila maestro Anton Jones continues to be a household name and is still in demand at outdoor musical shows, church feast carnivals etc. where young music lovers feast on his inimitable style of baila rendering even though not even the parents of these youth may have been born when he hit the musical scene nearly five decades ago.

That was the time in the late fifties when we were yet to witness the full advent of pop music in the country and Baila was the chief form of entertainment with its famous Kaffiringa beat.

This was also the time when the legendary Wally Bastians was the rage and songs like the perennial "Masun Maranna" was on every one's lips.

It was into this milieu that Anton broke in with his prodigious talent as a Baila exponent. Perhaps the immediate surroundings of his upbringing at St. Sebestian's Street in Hulftsdorp, which had a large carefree Burgher community with a penchant for baila rhythms may have had a profound influence on him.

Anton possessed a unique style and his tremulous baritone ideally lent itself to the baila form. Hits such Mini Gawuma, Uyala Pihala, Kanthoruwa, Kanthoruwa are still in great demand nearly 40 years after they first came on the airwaves.

To date he has released 37 cassettes and eight CDs all of them instant hits. He is perhaps the only singer to have set to lyrics, events of upheaval and tragedy that caused an impact in the country.

Hits that readily come to mind are 'Aasai Bayai' (the Nilwala boat tragedy), DC 7 (the Knuckles Range crash), 'Maru Sira' (the controversial death of death-row prisoner), 'Rukmani Devi' (the demise of Sri Lanka's nightingale), 'Premawathi Manamperi' (the Kataragama Beauty Queen murder).

He is quick to pounce on such events and not surprisingly his latest CD titled 'Sebe Siddhi' (true events) starts with the Tsunami catastrophe.

These and other hits are in constant demand at musical shows where Anton also performs a unique feat that of breaking into impromptu compositions picking on the names of all band members backing him on stage as a sort of tribute to them. A truly remarkable feat from a Burgher.

Anton who walked into Lake House the other day speaking to this writer said he had no regrets looking back on his long musical career. and attributed his success to his firm belief in God. It is God who has given him the strength to carry on thus far even though he has now passed the biblical lifespan of three score and ten years.

Delving back to the past Anton was ever grateful to his guru the late Wally Bastian popularly considered as the father of baila.

"I started my singing career in the early 50s under the guidance of Wally Bastians. I did my first live programme at SLBC (then Radio Ceylon) in 1958. Since then I have been performing on stage at musical shows".

Anton is also among the few local artistes who did not make singing his sole career. His career as an English stenographer of a leading state Bank almost spanned his entire singing career before his retirement in 1997 completing a 35 year period of service.

"I never even once absented myself from work on account of some dawn musical show. Whatever the hour I always reported to work on time". What of his family?

Anton says he has two sons and two daughters. The eldest, Tyronne is domiciled in Paris where he had already made two visits. He lives with his loving wife Iris at their home in Dehiwala and dotes on his numerous grandchildren.

Anton's singing career has taken him to UK, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, Cypress, Jordan, UAE, Bharain, Kuwait and Qatar.

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