CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode of the story of my career, I will write about a music legend. Uswatta Liyanage Ivor Sylvester Sunil Perera left us this month, saddening generations of Sri Lanka music lovers around the world, including me. Many tributes have been written about him during the last few days. Therefore, in this tribute, I will focus on my entertainment collaborations with Sunil during six short years three decades ago. It was a period when I was closely involved with the western music scene in Sri Lanka.
First Meeting in 1972
In early 1972, when I was a trainee waiter at the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Hotel, I was asked by the Food and Beverage Manager to work at a special beach party. A new band formed in 1970 with a young, eighteen-year-old lead singer performed at that event. I was thrilled with the energy of their performance. For nearly 50 years since then, I was always entertained when I listened to the music of the band Gypsies, led by Sunil Perera.
Since then, I occasionally saw Sunil and Gypsies, performing at weddings, dances and music shows. They released a string of pop hits enhanced with dynamic stage acts and various props. Sunil was the mastermind in such innovative initiatives. Inspired by Sunil’s creativity I was convinced that hospitality is very much like showbiz. Entertaining and pleasing our customers is common in showbiz and hospitality. That concept had an impact on my decisions on the event calendars throughout my career as a hotelier. Event creation, planning, organizing, choreography and creativity in promotion, all are exciting and enjoyable work in the hospitality business.
Second Meeting in 1986
I spoke with Sunil for the first time at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel in 1986. Gypsies were performing at a wedding and I was the Director of Food and Beverage of this five-star 500-room hotel. Sunil liked to talk a lot. He was often out-spoken about his ideologies. Topics for our quick chats after that included music, entertainment, shows and my desire to make Le Galadari Meridien Hotel the centre for food and beverage events and entertainment in Colombo.
I was concerned that after the wedding season (June and July) there were four months when the banquet business went down considerably. I commenced brainstorming with my team of managers and supervisors, finding creative ways to fill our large banquet rooms with additional events. Among other ideas, I decided to get into music show production to increase the income of the departments I managed. This concept was fully supported by our in-house musicians and bands including Sohan and The X’Periments, Apple Green, Dream Team, Burn, Noeline, Dalreen, Suriyakumar, Judy, Kanthie and a few others. Gypsies were not a part of the in-house musicians I had under contract, but Sunil fully supported my showbiz ambitions and music show initiatives.
The first show I produced with input from a galaxy of musicians was ‘The Musical Stars of 86’. It included several weekly competitions for aspiring musicians from all main cities in the country. We ended the season with a grand finale show which featured the winners of the weekly competitions and the leading western musicians in Sri Lanka. Sunil helped me as a judge and a performer. His support was encouraging.
A Seminar for Musicians
In 1987, led by musicians under contract at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel and Sunil, the western musicians of Sri Lanka formed a dynamic association – Sri Lanka Association of Musicians (SLAM). Noeline Honter was the first President of SLAM. I worked closely with SLAM to organise a seminar for professional musicians and also produced their first fund-raiser show. I invited Sunil to join the seminar panel, which included, Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Harold Seneviratne and a few other well-known musicians. Surprisingly Sunil declined my invitation, but instead, offered to perform a ‘fun’ act to enhance the seminar. Sunil’s performance with his band members in the characters of his 1987 top of the pop songs, – ‘Uncle Johnson’ and ‘Lunu Dehi’ were the highlight of that seminar. Sunil was a master in always being in the limelight.
‘Lunu Dehi’ (Lime and Salt) were the ‘fun’ characters most popular among Sri Lankan kids at that time. On the day of the seminar, when he heard about Sunil’s act, my (one year old) son, Marlon, insisted that I must take him to the hotel to meet his idols. At age one, Marlon, like many Sri Lankan kids, was a fan of Sunil. That made Marlon’s day, but he was a bit scared when he realised how big his favourite characters were!
Star of the Shows and the Producer – Late 1980s
Encouraged with the popularity and the financial success of my maiden music show – ‘Musical Stars of 86’, I produced a string of stage shows. We sold out around 1,000 tickets for each of these shows staged at the packed Bougainvillea Ballroom of Le Galadari Meridien Hotel. Sunil became a key performer and a main attraction for most of these shows. My productions included shows such as ‘A Farewell to Priyanthi & Raja’, ‘Noeline – A Celebration’, ‘M1’, ‘Slam 1’ and the first-ever ‘Model of the Year’.
Impressed with quality of my productions at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel, Ivan Alvis who was in charge of the teen/music page of the Island Newspaper, invited me to produce their annual awards show. I conceptualised, produced and promoted the largest four annual ‘Island Music Awards’ events for the Island Newspaper in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1992. Ivan Alvis chose the judges for the selection of winners and I looked after the production of the show. Sunil was a key member of my creative team for those four events as well as for a dozen other music shows/events I produced in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1993.
The Show Goes On – Early 1990s
After doing two short contracts for the Oberoi Hotel chain in Iraq and the Schiller International University in the United Kingdom, I returned to Sri Lanka to manage the Mount Lavinia Hotel as the General Manager. In 1991, Ivan Alvis contacted me and checked if I would like to produce the ‘Island Music Awards’ event in Mount Lavinia. As I was also the General Manager for the catering operation at BMICH – national conference centre, I told Ivan, “Let’s make the show bigger by staging it at BMICH for an audience of over 1,500.” We agreed and I contacted my friends Sunil and Sohan first to seek their support. We took the show to a new level, and achieved the target of a full house. That year Sunil won the main award – ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ and I was the first to congratulate him.
More Collaborations with Sunil
1) Six New Year’s Eve Dances – In 1991, Mount Lavinia Hotel set a record by being the first and only hotel to organise six New Year’s Eve dances. We held dances at the Terrace and pool deck, Empire Ballroom, Regency Ballroom, Little Hut Night Club, Paradise Beach and the Roof Top. I contracted Gypsies as the main band at the main dance. Sunil was a tough negotiator and insisted that I approve a larger fee for Gypsies, stating that, “New Year’s Eve is the entertainer’s bonus day!” I eventually offered him a little less than what he was demanding, and also got him to sign the contract stating that he will do guest appearances at the other five dances. Sunil was our key attraction and it worked. Mount Lavinia Hotel attracted a record-setting 3,000 people to usher in 1992 from this historic hotel.
2) The Show – In 1992 I produced my biggest show. I worked with a diverse team of 157 professionals (musicians, stage managers, choreographers, dancers, ballerinas, set designers, special effects engineers, lighting and sound technicians). At one point during the production process, owing to a delay in completing an important task, I decided to replace a set designing company. I refused their appeal for me to re-consider my decision. They then had approached Sunil, who called me on their behalf. Sunil guaranteed that they would honour the contract as per my deadline. I finally agreed. Sunil always acted on behalf of other entertainers and service providers. He was more like an ambassador for his profession.
3) More Shows at the Mount in 1993 – Sunil became a lead performer for other shows I produced at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Each performance was unique, innovative and extremely entertaining.
4) The Story Board for a Controversial Song – By 1993, I had gained experience in song writing and music video productions for TV. My first video direction – for my friend Sohan’s popular song ‘Whispers in the Sand’ was nominated for the ‘Music Video of the Year’ Golden Clef Award. Soon after that Sunil invited me to write a story board and then direct a music video for his popular song – ‘Wine, Women and Song’. I immediately worked on it and created a detailed story board and short-listed a group of well-known comedy actors to perform in the music video. Unfortunately, this song faced some censorship challenges due to Sunil’s controversial lyrics. We decided to drop the video production.
5) Profit-sharing – In 1993 I managed to convince the two top bands in Sri Lanka (‘Gypsies’ and ‘Sohan and The X’Periments’) to perform without a fixed fee to usher in 1994 in a venue never before used for a New Year’s Eve dinner dance – BMICH. I negotiated a three-way equal profit-sharing contract between the two bands and the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Unfortunately, owing to a management change, this did not materialise.
6) The ‘Fitness Fever’ Cassette – In 1993, the fourth song I wrote was recorded. I convinced twenty leading singers in Sri Lanka, including Sunil and his brother Piyal to sing ‘Fitness Fever’. I organized a competition and the fans who were able to name all twenty singers were given season passes to the Little Hut, which by then had become the most popular night club in Sri Lanka. The song rose to the number one slot in pop charts soon after its release and remained so for a long period. Soon afterwards I produced a cassette and donated all proceeds to Ranvirusevana (fund to rehabilitate soldiers wounded in the civil war). Sunil fully supported this initiative and encouraged all artists to attend the cassette launching event at the Little Hut Night Club.
Thank You for the Music!
Sunil and I had mutual respect for each other and he was a friend of mine, as well. Sunil was the first to hug and congratulate me when I won the Island Music Award for the Composer of the Year (jointly with Noeline Honter) in 1993. In early 1994 I left Sri Lanka to embark my international career. I followed Sunil’s remarkable career and innovative contributions to the world of entertainment with great pride. I remained an ardent fan of Sunil.
Under the leadership of Sunil, Gypsies became the most successful Sri Lankan band of all time and toured the globe to entertain their ever-growing numbers of fans with Sri Lankan heritage. Sunil cannot be described simply as a successful bandleader, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and composer. He was larger than life and was an icon. He was easily one of the most famous singers of all time, in Sri Lanka, as well as one of the most recognizable faces. He elevated Sri Lanka’s Baila genre, and gained the nickname “Baila Chakravarthy” (Emperor or King). Sunil inspired generations of musicians. There were many celebrations in the recent years when Gypsies completed 50 years in the entertainment industry and when Sunil turned 65. It was a heart-warming testimony to Sunil’s popularity among peers, when a new song and a music video was released by western musicians in Sri Lanka about Sunil as one his surprise presents for his special birthday.
Dear Sunil, thank you for the music and innovative entertainment over fifty years! I was fortunate to have the opportunity to artistically collaborate with you for a short period of time. You were the undisputed champion of showbiz in Sri Lanka! Rest well, my friend!
Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security
The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :
‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’
The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.
Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.
But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.
Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”
And that :
“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”
These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.
Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
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