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Inimitable Jothi

22nd death anniversary on July 7:

New trends eclipse the lifestyle of the society each era but significantly it is the creations which hold value and dedication, oozing with an ample amount of talent that survive for decades. The songs of legendary vocalist H R Jothipala is a good example to prove this fact. Though more than two decades had passed since his melodious voice was put to rest, his popularity never ceased to die.

Gifted vocalist H.R. Jothipala

Voice of the voices

He was known as the inimitable playback voice behind many of the songs of the silver screen of his time. He holds the record as the playback vocalist who had rendered his voice for the most number of songs in history of Sinhala cinema, the number amounting up to 330 films. The last film which included one of his tracks was Supiri Balawatha which was released the year before.

Hettiarachchige Reginald Jothipala was born to a middle class family in Katawalamulla on February 12, 1936. His father was H R James and his mother was Ahaliyagoda H K Podinona Perera. Jothi was the eldest in a family of five. He was a product of St. Lawrence College, Maradana, and St. John's College, Dematagoda.

Fassion for music

Interestingly Jothi had never pursued music as a subject, neither at school nor after completing his studies. Rather he was in the habit of spending his time at tea kiosks in the area listening to other vocalists as his family did not possess a radio. Though he himself never dreamt of succeeding to such heights, his passion for music swept him in the right track.

His entrance to the scene was hard earned as he had to face a number of hardships and slights on the hard earned journey. Some criticised the youth for singing to the tunes of popular Hindi hits and still more did not believe in his potential as a vocalist. He began on a small scale by singing duets with Wasantha Sandanayake and G S B Rani Perera at SLBC before gradually emerging as the star. Though his debut as a playback singer was in Cyril P Abeyratne's Surathalee with the hit song Siriyame Sara, the talented youth had recorded a track for the late Sirisena Wimalaweera's Podi Putha. The song was mysteriously slashed from the film and Jothi had been in the brink of committing suicide when he went with his friends to watch the film at the theatre. According to sources the key to this incident had been the fact that Jothi's voice had failed to impress the Indian film composer who had worked on Podi Putha.

Jothi with Pandit W.D. Amaradeva and Dr. Ajantha

Later when Surathalee producer Jabir A. Cader wished to hear one of his songs so that he could decide on him for the movie, Jothi almost passed out on the opportunity as he did not possess enough money to launch a record.

Fortunately for him veteran musician Stanley Omar came to the rescue. He helped him out of financial difficulties and this act of goodwill made way for a much-awaited break for the budding young musician. With Siriyame Sara becoming a hit overnight, Jothi was on his way to stardom. It did not take him long to top the charts and achieve a huge fan base. He also clinched the label of possessing an excellent screen voice, a title that no one else had been able to replace up to date.

Range of pitches

Jothi worked under a number of reputed directors of the island and had lent his voice all classes of actors ranging from Eddie Jayamanne, Ananda Jayaratne, Gamini Fonseka, Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ravindra Randeniya, Sanath Gunatilleka to the younger generation of actors like Damith Fonseka and Lal Weerasinghe. One of the highlights of his career was the opportunity to work with the doyen of Sinhala cinema, Dr. Lester James Peries in the historical Sandeshaya. He sang the evergreen number Pruthugeesikaraya to the melody composed by reputed musician Sunil Santha according to the lyrics panned by veteran lyricist Arisen Ahubudu.

One significant aspect linked with Jothi's melodious voice is that it transcends time. He had the capacity to sing at a range of pitches and he had the talent to mould his individuality through his numbers. Though many musicians of the past and present tried to imitate him they never quite succeeded in their effort.

It is believed that Jothi studied the persona of the actor whom he was supposed to give voice to and varied his voice to suit the artiste. This feature was a bonus point for him and brought him opportunities to sing for all types of characters: heroes, villains and comedians. He was a one-take singer and never sang the original songs under the batons of Pandith W D Amaradeva, P V Nandasiri, Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath Dassanayake, Victor Ratnayake and Milton Mallawarachchi. There is still a high demand for Jothi's cassettes and CDs and in fact they are among the highest sold in the market today. In addition he has become an icon for many a youngster who step into the industry hoping to pursue a tuneful career.

Shanthi (1974)

Sada Aadara Jothi

Not limiting his talents to singing the much sought after vocalist had even ventured towards acting. His debut shot was in a group scene in Daskama in 1958. Later he was given the opportunity to act in a more significant role in Sudu Sande Kalu Wala in 1963 before being offered heroic roles in a couple of films like Amathikama and Athulweema Thahanam. He developed his image as an actor through Joe Dev Anand's Geetha, Sujeewa and Obai Mamai.

He also portrayed some memorable roles in Sulalitha Sobani, Sukiri Kella, Abirahasa, Bonikka and Shanthi. He produced and played the main role in Roy de Silva's Sumithuro which is based on his life story. Roy had currently made another feature film Sada Adara Jothi (Ever Loving Jothi) based on the legendary vocalist's life story. The movie is complete and is currently on queue for release.

Lifetime achievements

Jothi clinched two Sarasaviya awards as the best playback singer in 1982 for Sara Sande in Mihidum Sihina and in 1985 for Palu Susanaya in Obata Divra Kiaynnam. He also bagged the award for the most popular singer for several years. His unique skills together with dedication for the profession got him to the zenith of his career. Popular Indian vocalist Mohamed Rafi once commented that Jothi should have been born in India since Sri Lanka was too small a country for him to get him to the international spotlight. Rafi's comment remains one of the best praises he received in his lifetime.

Indeed he had his own share of devotees for a music show was never complete without him. The demand was so great that Jothi Rathriya, a string of popular musical concerts was launched in 1980. He had performed 242 concerts the Jothipala Fan Club named Jothi Mithuru Samajaya was incepted in 1971.

Jothi married Blossom Winter, a nurse by profession, and the couple had four daughters. He died at the age of 51 on July 7, 1987.


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