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Susil Premaratne:

Last voice of the old Radio Ceylon vintage

Susil was a multi-talented artiste. He excelled as a vocalist, painter and artist. His trademark was his soft, deep crooning voice. He composed original tunes and sang them. The highlight was Roo Rese Andina Lese the track which he sang with Lata Walpola

Susil Premaratne who died last week, aged 83, was a complete artist: singer and painter. His baritone reminded you of India’s reputed film singers K. L. Saigal and Mukesh. The painting brush rested easily in his fingers - he was the only son of the famous painter of Buddhist murals M. Sarlis; nephew of newspaper and book-cover artists G. S. Fernando and G. L. Gautamadasa.

While GS was artist and caricaturist at Lankadipa under the newspaper genius D. B. Dhanapala, Susil was his uncle’s both protege and understudy. Soon the diminutive, shy bespectacled crooner was on his own.


Susil Premaratne

At the rickety old Radio Ceylon down Cotta Road where the ancient grandma mansion had only two studios to accommodate the stalwarts Ananda Samarakone, Sunil Santha, C. T. Fernando, W. D. Albert Perera (Amaradeva) and P. L. A. Somapala, Susil was the new arrival with the soft, deep crooning voice, the voice with a difference.

Soon he was pushed up to the front ranks with another new find - Lata. She was Jennie Fernando - Susil christened her Lata, after the celebrated Lata Mangeshkar of India.

Susil Premaratne (mercifully) did not follow the old gramophone style of music - parroting Hindi film songs substituted with inane Sinhala lyrics. Susil composed his own melodies and sang them.

He was no virtuoso like Samarakone, Sunil Santha and Amaradeva but he created original lilting songs that became instantly popular, beginning with Suwanda Sukumali and Pem Kusume. His original creativity in music peaked with the melodising of the classical Guttila poem Roo Rese Andina Lese which he sang with Lata Walpola.

The national television in one of its rare good programs featured Susil painting one of the Sigiri-like damsels on an easel standing singing solo the same Guttila verse-song. It was a splendid TV frame - the painter finishing off the lovely painting simultaneously with the singer completing the song.

The unique thing about Susil was he was an independent singer. He did not indulge in Bajavu musicals and hardly appeared in public performances of pop music. Sometimes he came to Ananda College and sang before student audiences. He was the retiring kind yet he was unpretentious. Seated inside his car he would croon into the little micro fan which was like a miniature mike to him.

He had a natural voice. Meeting you on some Fort street he would not hesitate to entertain you with few bars from Roo Rese... he was an unassuming man.

Susil also contributed prolifically to pop cartoon art magazines. He was a major artist at the Times drawing illustrations to all the newspapers and occasionally turning out a political cartoon when uncle GS was absent.

Perhaps the climax of his singing career was when he sang for the late Maestro Mohamed Ghouse in B. A. W. Jayamanne’s Sangawunu Pilithura.

The Naushad Ali of Sri Lanka (Mohd. Ghouse whom BAW dubbed in the titles Prof. Mohd. Ghouse in his only second Sinhala film after Asokamala had composed some haunting melodies for the film-songs like Pem Loka Rajani, Manahara Geetha Gayala - which Susil sang with the late Rukmani Devi.

They were classics, like Ghouse’s creations in Asokamala, including Susil’s solo Maa Hade. Susil was a super grade artiste at Radio Ceylon when the Jayamannes contracted him to sing for Sengawunu Pilithura. Perhaps Ghouse Master too was satisfied with Susil’s singing.

At a musical show in Kolonnawa organised by Siri Aiya, Susil was singing squatting on stage. Behind the orchestra sat Mohamed Ghouse before a foot-bellow seraphina.

He was smiling benevolently trying to pick Susil’s strains on the seraphina. P. L. A. Somapala was helping the maestro with the peculiar native nuances of the Susil melody. No doubt the Naushad Ali of Ceylon was impressed by the young man. The result was the playback stint with Sengawunu Pilithura.

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