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Lanka’s pop pioneer

The 66th birth anniversary of Clarence Wijewardena - August 3:

Was there ever a musician who had revolutionized the local music scene and left a number of haunting melodies as Clarence Wijewardena? Not only do his songs top the charts but they are also among the most recited list as the evergreen numbers seem to adapt into any delightful event or program and cater to both young and old.

 Clarence Wijewardena

As one of Sri Lanka’s top most composers, melody makers, rhythm guitarists and music directors, Clarence had transcended time to be regarded still as one of the island’s most sought after musicians after nearly 13 years since his demise on December 13, 1996.

He had earned the title ‘father of Sri Lankan pop’ after hits like Malata Bambaraku Se, Dillepa Podi Puthu and Sihina Lowak which emphasized the guitar techniques in the melodies.

He started off his career as a budding planter but soon abandoned it to pursue music. In 1966 he formed his first band together with Charles Senewirathna and Prem Aththanayaka. Soon Annesley Malawana joined the trio and ‘The Moonstones’ were formed with a few more members joining in later. Interestingly it is said that Clarence introduced a sitar player to the team as an experiment.

The upcoming vocalist of the era, Indrani Perera, too, joined in. The band was complete and their destiny made.

Significantly ‘The Moonstones’ goes down in history as the first band that used electronic technology for local music. Though Annesley and Indrani lead the vocals, Clarence’s ability to sing was also noted during this period.

First single

With many craving to hear his voice Clarence launched his first single Dileepa Podi Puthu penned by Karunarathna Abeysekara.

Always eager to experiment with new forms of music, Clarence took to making lively tunes with diverse percussion instruments. The electric guitar took an important place in his work. His song Sigiriya was the first Boss nova beat song in the island.

After its success he also used the same technique to compose the tunes for Piyaneni, Mage Palpathe, Muhudu Rella, Renin Piyabanna, Maliniye, Ramya, Ran Monarun and Lalitha Kala. In addition he also used two guitar players for the melodies of songs like Sumudu Mal Pipinu and the block guitar was used for the first time in Sri Lanka for the song Kusumalatha.

Celebrity scene

In 1970 Clarence held a musical show in Moratuwa after leaving ‘The Moonstones’. It was titled ‘Breakaways from the Moonstones’ and was a collaboration with Chanaka Perera and Wijith Peiris. With the success of the event Clarence formed the ‘Golden Chimes’ another band which he put together with Dixon Gunaratne, Nihal Perera, Ranjan de Costa and Clinton Fernando. Kimada Nawe, one of the band’s earliest songs was Clarence’s first duet. He later dueted with female vocalists like Indrani Perera, Lankika Perera, Mariazelle Gunatilake, Lilanthi Karunanayake, Shami Fonseka, Chitra Somapala, Menik Chandrika, Latha Walpola, Samitha Mudunkotuwa, Neela Wickramasinghe, Sheril Perera, Dammika Walpola, Chandrakanthi Munaweera and Maya Rodrigo.

Clarence was known for the songs he created for the sons and daughters of his friends in the celebrity scene. Dilhani, Kalpani Duwanee, Ramani, Wathsala, Duwe Harshani, Duwa Ma Wage, Duwa Roshi, Jayanadi Duwe, Mage Surathal Podi Duwa, Du Anjali, Du Sonali, Amila Duwe,, Kiri Muhuda, Dilshan Puthe, Nohadanna Podi Puthuni and Mage Kuda Puthu are some of those songs he set to music and were dedicated to the young. He once composed a song for the son of outstanding compere Vijaya Corea. He changed the chorus part of the song later for the heartwarming single Kiri Muhuda Kalabala. Malai Walai, Muhudu Rella, Sihin Sinawai, Sudu Menike, Bethlehempure, Ada Wei Irudina, Tharikita Thirikita and many other songs with his musical contribution began to top the charts during this period, catapulting him to the heights of fame.

Clarence with his wife, Sheila, and daughter, Amila

His entrance to the film music scene took place with Sikuruliya for which the music was supplied by the Golden Chimes. He used a blend of western music instruments as well as eastern music instruments for the music proving that he has a different style of his own concerning music.

He later took to rendering his voice for the background vocals under other music directors in Udarata Maniketa (Sihasuna), Kolomba Sanniya (Kolomba Sanniya), Loke Jeewathwannata and Suwadak Danewi (Janaka Saha Manju), Male Male Nuba Nadan (Sivuranga Sena) and many more.

Zenith of fame

In 1972 Clarence and Dixon left the band to form the ‘Super Golden Chimes’ with their former companion Annesley.

Many incidents took place to shift Clarence to the zenith of fame as he came across opportunities like composing and directing music for a song for the SARRC Conference and composing a song for Former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike as Duwani Sirima.

Topping the list as the most popular composer in Sri Lanka for 1974 and 1976 at a poll conducted by Pop and Teen Fanfare was another example of the devotion of his fans. His composition Kataragama was also certificated as the best song in Sri Lanka at the event. Significantly he is also the musician who has composed the highest number of songs for God Katharagama.

Also his background melodies for the movies Mangala and Apeksha (Sonduru Lovata Mal Wahela, Sanda Thaniwela, Kalak Awamen, Okanda Wela Sitha Okanda Wela etc.) were instance hits. He even directed music for a couple of teledramas such as Susima and Nidikumba Mal.

Another noteworthy fact about Clarence is that he redirected music for the songs of Rukmani Devi. He even took to directing children’s songs and emerged with winners like Konde Digata Dala, Kiyanna Sulage, Punchi Punchi Bonikko, Kolomba Nuwara, Podi Kale and Hisa Bokutui.

Clarence spearheaded the project to introduce the first cassette to Sri Lanka, a product under the ‘Tharanga’ label named ‘Any Time Any Where’. In 1979 Clarence Wijewardane left the Super Golden Chimes to start a solo career. He introduced the first recording studio in Sri Lanka and directed music for many well known artistes in the scene.

He also introduced a cassette titled ‘Clarence with the Rising Stars’ for which vocalists like Desmond Rodrigo, Mervin Mihidukula, Sri Kantha Dasanayake, Hilda and Kamal Swarnathilake rendered their voices.

Apart from his voice and melodies Clarence was also famous for his catchy jingles. Many famous brands advertised with his music in the backdrop.

Clarence was said to have directed music for more than 115 artistes during his lifetime and more than 1000 songs. He even penned a few songs like Gamen Liyumak, Hiruge Lowedi, Kanda Surinduni and Malata Bambaraku Se and formed another band named ‘Madhara’ with Rookantha Gunatilake, Mariazelle Gunatilake, Raju Bandara, Keneth de Silva, Prabath Bandara and Ajantha Dhampa Gamage.

The gifted musician who hails from Haputale as the son of an estate medical doctor married Sheila, a daughter of a landlord. Many of his songs were inspired by her and their daughter Amila. He died at the age of 53 on December 13, 1996.

It is tragic that about 40 percent of his songs, released after his death, entered the market without giving their composer due credit for his work.


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