He is none other than our own Desmond de Silva aka the King of Baila.
This well-liked icon of a singer who now lives in Australia was in town for a short span to hold a show at BMICH to celebrate 40 years in showbiz.
Daily News T&C interviewed de Silva amid his busy schedule. The legendary vocalist greeted us with his trademark smile that still has a boyish touch.
Q: Yours was an exclusive showmanship and a unique voice that mesmerized fans of an era. You recently had a sold out concert at BMICH.
We primarily did this show to uplift the spirit which was pretty low subsequent to Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. My 75th birthday coincided with it.
The concert was my wife’s brainchild and Damayantha Kuruppu collaborated. I got really up-close with the audience in this show.
Q: Who inspired you to become a singer?
The gentleman called Ishan Bahar of the Jetliners fame was the one who motived me to become a singer. While watching him performing, I thought, “If he can sing…why can’t I”? (laughs)
It was the 1970s era. Our band ‘Fireflies’ formed by Milroy de Silva played at Ceylinco at the time and Bahar with ‘Jetliners’ played at Coconut Grove. We called them Sundown dances. At that time we only sang English songs.
Q: You came into the limelight with ‘Chuda Manike’.
A person called ‘Podi Mahaththaya’ approached me and suggested recording ‘Chuda Manike’. That was the first Sinhala song I recorded. It was an instant hit.
That’s the start of my Baila singing career. After that I took off as a different kind of entertainer. Many lyricists and music directors approached me afterwards.
‘Yanna Rata Wate’ and ‘Polkatu Handa’ were written by Hudson Samarasinghe. ‘Polkatu’ was a true story and we collaborated with Hudson to write it. He was very clever to design the lyrics to match our story.
Ananda Seneviratne wrote ‘Kollupitiye Junction’ and ‘Mamma No…Pappa No’.
The word ‘Singlish’ came into the vocabulary via these songs.
Q: What do you think of these lyric writers and music directors who came your way?
I was fortunate to work with them. It’s the singer or rather the entertainer who gets the recognition and accolades when a song becomes popular.
People tend to forget the ones who wrote it and did musical arrangements to make it a hit.
To coincide with my 50th anniversary, Rajiv Sebastian and Vernon Perera got together and wrote a song which mentions ‘Chuda Manike’ and ‘Mamma No Pappa No’. That too is a nice song.
Singing on stage some years back
Q: ‘Sumihiri Paane’ which is very popular now was not a hit then.
True. It was just another song in my kitty at the time.
Mahesh Denipitiya eventually reproduced it for a TV program and Sunil Perera joined hands with us. We did it with an act to make it a hit after decades.
The audience sang it along with me enthusiastically at the BMICH concert.
Q: You can also replicate songs of Eddie Jayamanna and Wally Bastiansz.
It’s called ‘impressions of another person’. Apart from Jayamanne and Bastiansz I would do impressions of Dean Martin, Elvis or Engelbert.
We admire these people so we try to emulate them to take people down memory lane. This reproductive imaginative power is a totally different talent.
Q: You also did songs of other genres apart from Baila, even Gramophone songs. Romantic songs like ‘Kirilli Ran Kirill’i and ‘Nilwan Muhudu Theerey’ were very popular alongside your Baila songs in the 1970s.
That was my answer to the critics. As you come to a certain point in your career, many people admire you but some would not say very complimentary things.
But the funny thing is, without knowing these facts these critics have endorsed my Baila singing by saying, I can sing only Baila.
I told Vernon and Stanley Peiris, let’s do something different and they arranged these songs for me.
In my opinion, the collection of Gramophone songs is the best of my work. I love the picture in the ‘Gramophone Express’ cassette with me playing a Serpina.
Q: You contributed to the films; ‘Mage Amma’, ‘Podi Malli’ and ‘Seetha Devi’.
In the song ‘Enawa Nokiya Enawa’ (‘Mage Amma’) you can also see me performing a Latin American dance, wearing a bell-bottom. At the time I was leading the band, ‘Desmond and the Clan.’
In Prof Sunil Ariyaratne’s film ‘Podi Malli’, I sang ‘Ranchu Gesi Panchi Kawadi’, an Avurudu song.
The ‘Seetha Devi’ film song was composed by Nimal Mendis. Maestro Amaradewa sang the Sinhala song and I sang the English version that goes as, ’When did I meet you my Love’.
Q: Tell us about your contemporaries
I always admire Manoharan and Sunil Perera. Sunil went in a different direction which the people loved.
Manoharan being a nice person even sang my songs in Tamil. He passed away last year and I really miss him. He could sing in Tamil as well as in Sinhala to entertain both communities alike.
M S Fernando being a senior had charisma, a unique voice and his own way of dancing.
Q: Many bands reproduce your songs as non-stop ones and the younger generation think they are originals of a particular band.
The more you sing my songs, the more popular they will become.
However there is a thing called common courtesy. I would prefer if bands have the courtesy to keep me informed.
I have no issue. But underline the word – ‘Common courtesy’.
Q: Sooriya show was very popular among the elite crowd in the bygone era.
The brainchild of ‘Sooriya Show’ Mr Wickramasooriya initiated it to give upcoming artistes a break. He had a vision.
He had this shop near the clock tower called Sooriya Record Bar at the inception.
We had many shows at Nawarangahala at the time in regular intervals.
Q: Wally Bastiansz inspired you to sing Baila.
When I got into singing Baila and wanted to do his songs, I sought permission from Bastiansz.
One fine day he came to my residence at Mt Lavinia with his guitar and recorded his songs in a two-in-one recorder until the cassette ran out.
He called me ‘Son’, endorsed my singing talents and offered me with the privilege to sing any of his songs.
Receiving recognition and compliment from Bastiansz was my motivation.