BAILA KING & I: 1987-1993
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!
Enduring nexus between poverty and violent identity politics
The enduring nexus between poverty or economic deprivation and violent identity politics could not be stressed enough. The lingering identity-based violence in some parts of India’s North-East, to consider one example, graphically bears out this causative link.
At first blush the continuing violence in India’s Manipur state is traceable to inter-tribal hostilities but when the observer penetrates below surface appearances she would find that the root causes of the violence are economic in nature. On the face of it, plans by the state authorities to go ahead with extended economic quotas for the majority Meitei tribal group, for instance, who are considered the economic underdogs in Manipur, have intensified hostilities between the rest of the tribal groups and the Meitei.
It is plain that perceptions among the rest of the tribal communities that they are being unfairly treated by the state are accounting in considerable measure for the continuing ethnic tensions in Manipur. That is, the fear of being deprived of their life-chances on the part of the rest of the communities as a consequence of the new economic empowerment measures being initiated for the Meitei is to a considerable degree driving the ethnic violence in Manipur. It would be reasonable to take the position that economics, in the main, are driving politics in the state.
Sri Lanka, of course, is no exception to the rule. There is no doubt that identity issues propelled to some extent the LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces over three long decades.
However, it was perceived economic deprivation on the part of sections of the Tamil community, particularly among its youthful sections, that prompted the relevant disaffected sections to interpret the conflict in ethnic identity terms. In the final analysis, economic issues drove the conflict. If Lankan governments had, from the inception, ensured economic equity and justice in all parts of the country the possibility of ethnic tensions taking root in Sri Lanka could have been guarded against.
Even in contemporary Sudan, the seeming power struggle between two army generals, which has sowed destruction in the country, is showing signs of taking on an ethnic complexion. Reports indicate that the years-long confrontation between the Arab and black African communities over land and water rights is resurfacing amid the main power contest. Economic issues, that is, are coming to the fore. Equitable resource-sharing among the main communities could have perhaps minimized the destructive nature of the current crisis in the Sudan.
Sections of the international community have, over years, seen the majority of conflicts and wars in the post-Cold War decades as being triggered in the main by identity questions. Identity politics are also seen as bound up with an upswing in terrorism. In order to understand the totality of the reasons behind this substantive change one may need to factor in the destabilizing consequences of economic globalization.
The gradual dissolving of barriers to international economic interactions that came in the wake of globalization in the eighties and nineties brought numerous material benefits to countries but in the case of the more traditional societies of the South, there were deeply destabilizing and disorienting results. This was particularly so in those societies where the clergy of particularly theistic religions, such as Islam, held sway over communities.
In these comparatively insulated societies of the South, unprecedented exposure to Western culture, which came in the wake of globalization, was seen as mainly inimical. Besides, perceived alien Western cultural and religious influences were seen by the more conservative Southern clergy as undermining their influence among their communities.
A Southern country that reacted quite early against the above forces of perceived decadence was Iran. Iran’s problems were compounded by the fact that the Shah of the times was following a staunchly pro-US foreign policy. It was only a matter of time before there was an eruption of militant religious fervour in the country, which ultimately helped in ushering an Islamic theocracy in the country. Needless to say, this revolutionary change in Iran impacted drastically the politics of the Middle East and beyond.
Militant Islam was showing signs of spreading in Central Asia when the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan occurred in 1979. This military incursion could have been seen as an attempt by the Soviet authorities to prevent the spread of militant Islam to Afghanistan, a state which was seen as playing a principal role in the USSR’s security.
However, radical Islamic opposition to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan came in the form of the Mujahedin, who eventually morphed into the present day Taliban. However, as could be seen, the Taliban presence has led to the spread militant religious sentiment in South and South-West Asia.
Fortunately, there is substantive political science scholarship in South Asia currently which helps the observer to understand better the role poverty and material backwardness play in sowing the seeds of religious fundamentalism, or identity politics, among the youth of the region in particular. A collection of papers which would prove helpful in this regard is titled, ‘Civil Wars in South Asia – State, Sovereignty, Development’, edited by Aparna Sundar and Nandini Sundar, (SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.) In some of its papers are outlined, among other things, the role religious institutions of the region play in enticing impoverished youth to radical identity-based violent politics.
While there is no questioning the lead role domestic poverty plays in the heightening and spread of identity politics and the violence that goes hand-in-hand with it, one’s analysis of these questions would not be complete without factoring into the situation external military interventions, such as those of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have aggravated the economic miseries of the ordinary people of those countries. There is an urgent need for in-depth impartial studies of this kind, going forward.
Russian ambassador’s comments
The Russian ambassador to Sri Lanka in a response to my column of May 18th , 2023 titled, ‘Containment Theory returns to West’s ties with East’, takes up the position that the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, beginning 1979, was not an invasion but an operation that was undertaken by the Soviets on the invitation of the then government of Afghanistan. This amounts to contradicting the well-founded position of the majority of international authorities on the subject that the Soviet push into Afghanistan was indeed a military invasion of the country. This is the position that I have taken over the years and I do not have any reason to back down from it.
The subsequent comments made by the ambassador on my column are quite irrelevant to its thematic substance and do not warrant any replies by me.
Man of the Globe International …branching out
Kalum Samarathunga came into the spotlight when he won the title Man of the Globe International (Charity Ambassador) 2022, held in Malaysia, last year, and also Mr. Sri Lanka 2022.
A former sales and marketing co-coordinator, in Kuwait, Kalum is now into modelling (stepping into the local modelling world in 2021, when he returned to Sri Lanka), and is also focusing on becoming a professional presenter, and an actor, as well.
Kalum made his debut, as a presenter, at the ‘Ramp Comes’ Alive’ fashion show, held in April.
He also mentioned that he has been involved in music, since he was a kid…and this is how our chit-chat went:
1. How would you describe yourself?
I’m just an ordinary guy on the road to achieve my humongous dreams.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There was a time where I was very insecure about myself, but everything is fine with me now, so I wouldn’t consider making any changes.
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Nothing at all, because I’m blessed with an amazing family.
Indian Public School, in Kuwait, where I was the leader of the school band, playing the keyboards, and a member of the school dance team, as well. In sports – under 19 long distance runner (800m, 1500m and 5000m), and came second in the inter-school Kuwait clusters, in 2012,
5. Happiest moment?
My happiest moment is that moment when my parents teared up with joy after I called them, from Malaysia, after winning Man Of The Globe International Charity 2022. Seeing my parents crying out of joy was the happiest moment, more than winning the title.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It doesn’t matter what you do in life as long as it makes you happy. For example, I was born in Kuwait, living a lavish life, a great job and an awesome salary, but I was still unhappy and that’s because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to.
7. Are you religious?
Let’s just say that I’m a God loving person and I live my life according to that. I believe that I’m nothing without God and I have experienced God’s blessings in my life
8. Are you superstitious?
No, because I have never experienced luck in my life. All that I have achieved, in my life, is purely out of hard work.
9. Your ideal girl?
There no points looking beautiful if you can’t keep up a conversation, so “communication” comes first for me; a woman who respects and loves my parents; loyalty and understanding; her voice should be attractive, and she doesn’t have to be someone in the same field I’m in, as long as she trusts me and respects the work I do.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
My mom and dad are my role models, because the man I’m today is because of them. They went through a lot in life to raise me and my siblings.
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
My piano, my first and only friend that was there for me, to make my day. I was a bullied kid in school, until Grade 10, so playing the piano was the only thing that kept me going, and made me happy.
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
Sri Lankan actress Rashiprabha Sandeepani. I admire her qualities and principles. And, most of all, she was unknowingly there for me during a bad storm in my life.
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
My ex-girlfriend’s mother catching us kissing, and I also got slapped.
14. Done anything daring?
Taking a major risk, during Covid (2021), by leaving everything behind, in Kuwait, and travelling to Sri Lanka, for good, to finally follow my dreams .
15. Your ideal vacation?
I’ve actually forgotten what a vacation feels like because I’ve been so focused on my goals, back-to-back, since 2020.
16. What kind of music are you into?
I don’t stick to a single genre…it depends on my mood.
17. Favourite radio station?
No special liking for any station in particular.
18. Favourite TV station?
I do not watch TV but I do watch TV series, and movies, on my laptop, whenever I can. And, thanks to Sinhala teledramas, on YouTube, I’m able to brush up my Sinhala.
19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?
If this ‘next life’ is actually true, I wouldn’t mind being born as anything, but, most importantly, with “Luck” on my side.
20. Any major plans for the future?
I am planning to invade and destroy Earth…just kidding! I don’t want a top seat in my industry – just the seat I deserve, would be fine.
Anti-ageing foods for younger-looking skin
It is a rich source of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, which helps in the removal of harmful free radicals from your system. Broccoli is also a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and hence, it prevents your skin from looking tired and dull. So, do not forget to pick some broccolis the next time you go grocery shopping.
Rich in vitamins A and C, spinach keeps your skin healthy and also helps to repair damaged skin cells. It is also rich in lutein, a biomolecule that improves the hydration, as well as elasticity of the skin. So, add this super-food in your diet for a healthy and soft skin.
It is rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that help in improving the elasticity of the skin and in providing wrinkle-free skin. It also add natural glow to your skin and make you look vibrant.
This super-food is loaded with an age-defying ingredient called lycopene. Lycopene shields your skin from environmental damage, prevents wrinkle formation by neutralising free radicals, and also improves its texture. So, consume tomatoes in the form of salad, juice, soup, or anything else. Just do not forget to make them an essential part of your diet.
These tiny powerhouses are rich source of selenium, which protects newly-formed skin cells from damage, caused by pollutants, as well as harsh UV radiation. Selenium is also believed to be helpful in preventing skin cancer. Furthermore, mushrooms are also packed with vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6. All these vitamins facilitate the growth of new skin cells. Also, our body requires copper to produce collagen and elastin, which are important for maintaining the strength of skin. And, mushrooms are one of the best sources of it. So, to have a youthful skin, make sure you add this plain-looking food in your colourful diet.
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