Clarence Wijewardena (Sinhalese: ක්ලැරන්ස් විජේවර්ධන; 3 August 1943 – 13 December 1996) was one of the most respected Sri Lankan musicians in Sinhala music,who pioneered the use of electric guitar in Sinhala music. He is said to have revolutionized Sri Lankan music in the 1960s and is often named as the father of Sri Lankan pop music – having influenced performers in ranging from W. D. Amaradeva, Premasiri Khemadasa to Athula Adhikari. His music is often characterized by simple melodies built around a melody that features the electric guitar – this style may be best illustrated by the song Malata Bambaraku Se.
Clarence Wijewardena was born on 3 August 1943, in Haputale, Sri Lanka, to an estate medical practitioner. His family moved to Batugedara, Ratnapura, and abandoned a budding planting career to pursue music full-time. He is married to Sheela Wijewardana and they have one daughter Amila Wijewardana.
Wijewardena formed the Moonstones at the age of 21 with Annesley Malewana as lead vocalist. Managed by an advertising icon, Sri Sangabo Corea, the group recorded several songs to be aired on the Saturday Star program in 1966. The young musicians were mentored by Sri Sangabo Corea together with veteran Radio Ceylon/SLBC broadcasters Vernon Corea and Vijaya Corea. Their 1968 debut EP Mango Nanda was released on the JVPC007 Philips label selling up to 5000 copies. It included the songs “Mango Nanda,” “Ruwan Puraya,” “Seetha Ude” and “Menike.” The sophomore release More Hits by the Moonstones came out November that year on the Sooriya label and included the hits “Kalu Mama”, “Rosa male”, “Ramani” and “Goyam Kapanawa.” “Mango Nanda” was selected the best Sinhala song by the Hit Parade program on Radio Ceylon. In 1969, the Moonstones welcomed female vocalist Indrani Perera who sang lead on the best selling “Dilhani.” Wijewardena himself only sang lead on “Dileepa Podi Puthu,” an adaptation of a poem written by Karunarathne Abesekara to his son.
During the ‘Moonstones’ era, Wijewardena, who performed as a composer and music director, became a singer. Wijewardena took the initiative to start a three-man band, he was only the finest self-taught guitarist, and as yet unknown. However, later the ‘Moonstones’ were formed with Annesley Malawana playing the key role as lead singer. Since then this exceptional man and his music dominated the Sinhala pop music industry. He is regarded by many as a pioneering Sri Lankan musician in the realms of Sinhala popular music.
After he left the Moonstones in 1970, he held a musical show in Moratuwa with Shanaka Perera and Wijith Peiris and the show was named as “Breakaways from the Moonstones”.
Wijewardena departed the Moonstones and formed a new music group called the Golden Chimes, with ex-Moonstones bassist Chanaka Perera and Lankika Perera in January 1971. Their first release included “Kimade Nawe”, “Mage pelpathe”, “Sihin Sinawai” and “Samanalayo.” Subsequently English language vocalist Anil Bharati joined. The second EP on Philips label contained “Malai Velai”, “Sihil Nuwan”, “Surangana Vesvala” and “Mage Viyowen” and third EP contained “Iru Dina”, “Sandai Tharui”, “Muhudu Rella” and “Thakkita Tharikita.”
At this time Wijewardena found a professional lead guitarist at a wedding. He was the maestro Dixon Gunaratne.
When Christmas bells chime this man is never forgotten with the breeze in December. The Sinhala channels take the lead with the popular Christmas hit “Bethlehempure”. He is none other than the popular man who emerged from another Wijewardena group “Golden Chimes” – Anil Bharati. Clarence is a man who found new talent into Sinhala pop scene. Anil was one of them.
After evaluating Anil’s performance for one year, Wijewardena decided to enter him into the Sinhala pop music scene. Wijewardena composed “Ada Wei Iru Dina” for Anil which became an all time hit followed by the lovely Christmas song “Bethlehempure” and “Maa Adarai Nangiye”. Clarence offered him another all time hit “Tikirimalee” with “Ma Mulin Liyu Pem Pathe”, “Desa Vidala”, “Bambaraku Aduna”, “Sarojini” and “Iru Dina Pamanak”.
In 1972, Wijewardena and Dixon Gunaratne left the Golden Chimes and they both formed a new band known as Super Golden Chimes also with the support of Annesley Malawana in 1973.
The Super Golden Chimes
Wijewardena formed the “Super Golden Chimes” back in the company of his lifelong friend Annesley Malawana. It was one of the most productive music groups in Sri Lanka and together they hit the number one slot in the Sri Lankan music charts on both the Sinhala and English Services of Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. For many years they enjoyed the reputation as Sri Lanka’s number one group in the 1970s and 1980s. After three years Wijewardena decided to go solo when Annesley Malewana announced his plans for marriage. The late Mike Gunasekara took over the Super Golden Chimes after Clarence left the group.
Experiments in Music
Wijewardena, like the Beatles, experimented with sitar music and introduced the sitar to some of the songs of the ‘Moonstones.’ Wijewardena was a musician’s musician. He had the ability to grasp new trends in modern popular music. For the first time (for a recording) he used a guitar wah wah pedal for the song ‘Pemkathwawa.’ Also the song ‘Sigiriya’ was the first Bossa nova beat song in Sri Lanka & later he used this beat for the songs Piyaneni, Mage Palpathe, Muhudu Rella, Renin Piyabanna, Maliniye, Ramya (Previously sung by Wijewardena in 4/4 beat), Ran Monarun (Winslow Six), Lalitha Kala (Chithra Somapala) etc. Also he used two guitar players to play lead parts and counterparts of songs such as Sumudu Mal Pipinu, Dileepa Podi Puthu etc. For the first time in Sri Lanka he used the blocked guitar tone for the song ‘Kusumalatha’. Wijewardena introduced some of the guitar techniques through his songs via a single guitar harmony style in the introduction of “Dellepa podi puthu” and arpeggio styles in “Sihina Lowak” and “Malata Bambareku Se”.
“The Twist” was a dance in the 1960s, inspired by rock and roll music of the West. It became a worldwide craze, enjoying immense popularity among young people and drawing fire from critics who felt it was too provocative. Wijewardena composed a song Ma langin for this style and released the song in “Ugayen ugayata” cassette in 1989.
For “Dineka me nadee thira” he used mute guitar technique for the introduction. Some of the guitar techniques Clarence used in his songs are alternate picking, Chicken picking, Carter Family picking, Cross picking, Flat picking, Golpe, Hammer-on, legato, Pick tapping, Pinch harmonic, Pull-off, Slide guitar, Sweep picking and tap harmonic.
Wijewardena has composed and directed music for a number of songs for the daughters and sons of his friends and relatives. He composed ‘Piyaneni’ in memory of the late Reverend Canon Ivan Corea who was the father of Radio Ceylon broadcaster, Vernon Corea. Wijewardena had met Corea in Maha Nuge Gardens in the 1960s during his visits to meet with Vernon Corea. The song became an instant hit in South Asia and to this day it is sung by Annesley Malewana on his world tours.
Wijewardena composed a song for the son of Mr and Mrs. Vijaya Corea and it was titled as “Viran Bilindhu Puthe” After that Wijewardena changed the chorus part of the song and sang that song as Kiri Muhuda Kalabala. Also Wijewardena composed a song for the son of Chanaka and Lankika Perera and it was titled as “Sihina Pathum Wimane” Also the song “Bethlehempure” which was written by Sri Lanka’s famed lyricist, Mr Karunaratne Abeysekera, became an instant hit on the island. It was one of many songs capturing the Christmas spirit and the birth of Jesus. Wijewardena also composed ‘Naththal Seeya’ in the early 1970s.
Wijewardena’s first solo is ‘Dileepa podi puthu’ was written by Radio Ceylon broadcaster, Karunaratne Abeysekera for his own son. Wijewardena appreciated the work of Karu and wrote an instant song Seetha Pawan to express his gratitude on the day of the funeral of Karunaratne Abeysekera.
Wijewardena entered the film music industry at that time. The first film with music directed by Wijewardena was ‘Sikuruliya’ and the sound track was supplied by the Golden Chimes – the film includes a scene where Wijewardena and the Golden Chimes perform at a party. Also for the music of the songs of Sikuruliya film, Wijewardena used western musical instruments as well as eastern musical instruments. The song ‘Wasanthaye Mal Kekulay’ which was composed by Wijewardena was the first song that consists of five lines in the chorus part of the song. He directed music for the films in a different and unique style of his own.
Wijewardena showed his outstanding music skills during this time. He composed and directed music a song named as “Maha Balwathune” for the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement held in 1975 in Sri Lanka. He composed and directed music a song for the SAARC Conference as well. At the same time he sang the song “Duwani Sirima” when Hon. Former Prime Minister Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike arrived as the chief guest for the opening ceremony of Ceramic Corporation. Also Super Golden Chimes supplied music for that opening ceremony. Wijewardane certificated as the most popular composer in Sri Lanka for the years 1974 and 1976 by a pop poll conducted by Pop and Teen Fanfare. The song “Kataragama” which was composed by Wijewardane also certificated as the best song in Sri Lanka for the year 1974 by a pop poll conducted by Pop and Teen Fanfare. Wijewardena composed most number of songs for God Kataragama.
In the early 1970s, Wijewardena invited Radio Ceylon broadcaster, Vernon Corea who had mentored him from the start to write the notes on a Lotus LP sleeve. Vernon Corea wrote: “We have all shared the treat of your lovely Lyrics, your tuneful compositions, your friendly presentation and your spontaneous sense of sharing with your followers, your treasury of talent. Keep going, keep growing, keep glowing”. In 1976, when Vernon Corea was invited to present the first Asian radio programme in English on BBC Radio London called ‘London Sounds Eastern’ he played the music of Wijewardena and Annesley Malewana, introducing them to a whole new audience in London.
Wijewardena started to sing for the Sinhala films under other music directors. Subsequently a cassette tape known as “Any Time Any Where” was released in Colombo. In 1979, Wijewardena left the Super Golden Chimes and started a solo career.
When the Sri Lankan cricket team entered the world of test cricket in 1982, Wijewardena produced an album called Test Cricket Souvenir. This album was published because we got test cricket status and it had 11 songs about Sri Lankan cricket. “Thana nilla dige” of Saman De Silva became a super hit during the season of test matches and every big match in Colombo. Also Nihal Nelson, Vernon Perera, Mariazelle Gunathilake, Freddie Silva, Saman De Silva and Wijewardena vocalized this album.
Wijewardena was very worried and made a statement to Sathsara (an art magazine in Sri Lanka) regarding the song “Thana nilla dige” and its singer Saman De Silva for not giving the due credit for the ownership of the song and publishing full page article about the song in a newspaper not mentioning the name of the originator.
Wijewardena joined Sing Lanka Ltd. and acted as the General Manager. Sing Lanka recording studio was the first recording studio in Sri Lanka with multi tracks and Wijewardena was the pioneer to introduce this recording studio. During that time he directed music for a number of artists in Sri Lanka. He also produced a cassette tape named “Clarence with the Rising Stars”.
Directing music for tele dramas
Wijewardena directed music for the tele dramas Susima and Nidikumba Mal. He was the composer and the music director for all the six songs of Susima tele drama. During this time he got a special chance. That he was able to compose and direct music for Pandit Amaradewa. That song was Sasara Gewa Yana Diwi Gamane which contained in tele drama Nidikumba Mal. Also he composed and music directed a song which says about child abuse and other prohibited things happen in present society. That song was “Daesawan Dase” which contained in the Sihiwatana II Cassette Tape. When the royal tusker of the Temple of Tooth Relic died, Wijewardena composed and music directed a song about the royal tusker and it was named as “Kandu Sikarin Wata Senkadagala Pura”. It was vocalized by the Ananda Perera who was the leader of the Siha Shakthi music band.
Melodies for jingles
Wijewardena became famous for his melodious and catchy jingles aired over the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. These jingles were Elasto, Bata, Astra Margarine, Bristol Cigarettes, Arpico, Dot Toffee, Singer, Edna Chocolate, Thultex, Ice-Cream Soda, Development Lottery, Dasuna Cartoon Paper, Atlas pens, Orex pens, Building Materials Co-operation (in Sinhala and English), Keels and Health Joy Soap etc. The song “Sigiri Ru Ladun Paradai” which he composed for the beauty queen contest became an instant hit.
Discovering new Sri Lankan music talent
He formed the Sri Lankan band “Madhara” in 1985 with Rookantha Gunatilake (keyboards), Mariazelle Gunatilake (keyboards/female vocals), Raju Bandara (lead guitar), Keneth De Silva (bass guitar), Prabath Bandara (lead guitar), Ajantha Dhampa Gamage (drums) and rest of the other members of the group. During the 1980s, he composed and directed music for a number of songs and performed with well-known music directors in Sri Lanka.
All of Wijewardena’s compositions have been recorded at some of the island’s best recording studios and under the best producing labels in Sri Lanka. Some of the early 1960s recordings were at Augie Ranaweera’s studio in Bambalapitiya.
Wijewardena organised three musical shows with his lifelong friend Annesley Malewana and Indrani Perera at BMICH in Colombo.
Wijewardena proved to be quite a hit in London when broadcaster Vernon Corea broadcast his music on BBC Radio London 206 on his popular radio programme, London Sounds Eastern. Wijewardena and Annesley frequently toured the United Kingdom in the 1980s playing to huge audiences in London.
However,due to the popularity of his songs (which has grown since his death), they have also become the subject of a lawsuit over illegally recorded renditions sampled by other Sri Lankan artists. Wijewardena’s widow Sheela Wijewardana in 2001 filed suit against Rajiv Sebastian, hoping to recover a portion of the income earned through the use of her late husband’s work.
Sheela is planning to sue Hambantota District United National Party Parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa, aspiring to be the next UNP leader. Mr. Premadasa sang the ever green number of late Clarence Wijewardene-“Malata Bambareku Se”(Like a Wasp to a Flower) over a private TV channel recorded at a political event recently.
Sri Lanka’s musician, Clarence Wijewardena, composed and sang over 1000 of songs but 40% of them were not released because the master recordings were under the custody of record producers. Some of the songs were released to the market without any authorized label after his death. They did not get the attention of his fans because they were considered to be illegal and most of the FM broadcasting channels in Sri Lanka were not aware of them. It is unfortunate that most of these songs are not released officially and Wijewardena did not get the due credit for them.
Wijewardena spent more of his composing time for his fellow singers and he had never been offered the credit for them.
In the course of his career, Wijewardena wrote several songs that became classics in his own time – among these; Gamen Liyumak (Translated: A Letter From the Village), Hiruge Lowedi (Translated: In the World of the Sun), Kanda Surinduni (“O Lord God of the Mountain”),Piyaneni (“Father”), and Malata Bambaraku Se (Translated: Like a Bee To a Flower)
Sri Lanka’s ‘King of Pop’
Stone memorial (Tomb) of Clarance Wijewardana at Borella cemetery
Wijewardena died on 13 December 1996, at the age of 53, in Sri Lanka after a brief bout with cirrhosis of the liver. He also suffered from diabetes. Many of his songs are considered classics, and continue to enjoy ample airtime on Sri Lankan television and radio broadcasts and on some overseas radio stations. The songs such as Rasa Pirunu Katha, Geeyakin Kese, Eatha Ran Wiman composed in mid 1970s are very popular among present generation which again demonstrated his talent in composing music (also as a lyricist) for the future. He will always be remembered as a pioneering musician from Sri Lanka and one of the island’s ‘greats’ in terms of popular music. He was undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s ‘King of Pop.’
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia