Iconic Sinhala Pop Band ‘Samanalayo’ at 50 years

Raymond Fonseka, Nihal Silva, Cecil Fernando. (Picture by Desh Fernando)

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  • Band Members were Originally Studying to become priests in 60s

  • Band was named after ‘Butterfly’, after one flew into Radio Ceylon

  • First Sinhala Song to be played in  English Beam

  • New Album Recorded this year 50th anniversary in Canada

St. Aloysius’ Seminary, in Borella, Colombo-8 Ceylon, was the place where Raymond Fonseka, Nihal Silva, Roy Fonseka and Patrick Corera were studying to become priests. For various personal reasons they all left the seminary in the early 1960’s. Patrick Corera inherited from his parents, Gowri Corporation, which held, among a variety of other businesses, a franchise for Philips Records. Patrick was toying with the idea of producing phonographic records. So he contacted his ex-seminarian friend Raymond Fonseka and they thought it was a good idea to record four songs ( in Sinhala ) onto an EP vinyl record. Raymond got the ball rolling.

File picture of the band. (Courtesy Nihal Silva)

He contacted Nihal Silva and Roy Fonseka, his cousin. They all met at Patrick’s house in Borella and started putting together four songs. Raymond came up with a song called ‘ Paddhie Me` Oruwe` complete with lyrics and melody. Nihal had a couple of melodies in his mind to which Raymond,the expert lyricist, wrote some words and Bingo! the four songs were ready for recording. Nihal Silva, at that time was a well established guitarist playing for the Patrick Denipitiya Combo, which had a long contract with Rohitha Jayasinghe, owner of Seac Entertainments that provided live music for all the Lottery Draws held every Thursday. Nihal talked to Patrick Denipitiya about the new group and their songs and asked him if he could provide the music for the recording. Patrick gladly obliged. They started rehearsing the songs at Patrick Corera’s place. Then they were looking for a studio to record the songs. Patrick Denipitiya was working at Lake House Bookshop. Close to this book shop was a recording studio. The Lewis Brown Recording Studio.

Tony Fernando was the owner of this Studio .Patrick Denipitiya and Tony Fernando were good friends. Tony agreed to record the new songs in his studio. Patrick Denipitiya hired top notch musicians from the Radio Ceylon Orchestra for this recording. T.F.Lateef ( Clarinet player ) A.J.Kareem ( Clarinet player ) M.W.Peiris ( Flutist ).Other musicians were from Patrick Denipitiya’s band. Neville De Silva ( Drums ) Hector Fernando (Electric Bass) Nihal Silva (Acoustic and electric Rythm guitar)Patrick Denipitiya (Hawaiian Electric guitar) From 1969 to 1972 Nihal Silva was was a member of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation as a guitarist.

YELLOW BUTTERFLY

After the recording was done, the master tape was sent to Singapore for pressing the vinyl records because there were no facilities in Ceylon those days for pressing records. This happened in May of 1967. At the end of September 1967, Patrick Corera received the first Sample disc of the recording. There was no writing on the blue label except the word ‘ Philips’ in Bold letters. Patrick Corera called Raymond and handed him the disc. Raymond called Nihal and together they took the sample to Radio Ceylon to give it to be broadcast.

Raymond Fonseka, Nihal Silva, Cecil Fernando. (Picture by Desh Fernando)

As they were sitting in the lobby of Radio Ceylon, a yellow coloured Butterfly fluttered into the lobby. Nihal said to Raymond,’ The name for our Group just flew in!’’ Raymond took out his ball point pen and wrote in big Bold letters, ‘’ SAMANALAYO ‘’ The record was played that same night on the program called ‘’ Radio Journal’’ by Jimmy Barucha in the English beam. The very first Sinhala Song to be played in the English Beam. The song was NELAWENA MAVU UKULE`.This song went on to become a mega hit. It was even recorded by the Jetliners and many other popular singers. The song Netum Guruwarie which Raymond wrote for his then girl-friend( Now his wife ) was also fairly popular. Nelawena Mavu Ukule` apparently has been selected as one of the best 100 songs of the century. The Samanalayo went on to record a total of 13 songs. One more with Patrick Corera, one with Sooriya Records owner Mr. Gerald Wickramasooriya and the last one with RAC Records, owner, Music Director Mr.R.A. Chandrasena.Even though the other songs did not do that well, the Samanalayo were always busy working with Mr. Rohitha Jayasinghe & the Ceylon Tobacco Company. In 1970,when there was a vacancy for a keyboard player in the Seac Band Nihal asked Mr.Rohitha Jayasinghe to hire Raymond for the post. In 1972 Nihal left Ceylon to settle down in Canada. With Nihal gone, the Samanalayo sort of dwindled down but the song Nelawena Mavu Ukule` never faded.

File picture. (Courtesy Nihal Silva)

In Toronto, Ontario-Canada Nihal played guitar for a German Band named ‘ The Continentals ‘ another Toronto based band called the ‘ Singalongs ‘ and a Portuguese band known as “ The Midnight Stars “Nihal also joined the Toronto Musicians’ Union and at present he is a member of the Songwriters’Association of Canada since 2002.

Raymond continued as keyboard player and vocalist with Seac band for 12 years. In 1983 he joined the band named Seranade led by the late Mike Gunasekera and toured Switzerland ,Germany, Denmark and Leichenstein. He gained valuble experience in the field of Western music until the year 1985.He returned to Sri Lanka and started a one man band playing almost every night at the tourist resorts down south until the devastating Tsunami in 2004.Raymond and Roy continued to sing as Samanalayo every now and then in 2012, Roy Fonseka passed away leaving Raymond as the sole member of Samanalayo in Sri Lanka.
When Nihal Silva left for Canada, his spot was occasionally filled by the versatile singer, Cecil Fernando appearing as one of the Samanalayo with Raymond Fonseka & Roy Fonseka, mostly for Seac Shows.
Cecil had made quite a name for himself by singing at places like The Coconut Grove, Kandy Lake Club Hill Club, Akase Kade and many other interesting musical shows. That famous song called.’’ Revula-Vavennay, Revula Kapannay ‘’ was actually recorded onto an EP by Cecil Fernando in the mid 70’s.Famous Hawaiian Guitarist Hemasiri de Silva who was the lead guitarist for the Seac Band, directed the music for this album with the assistance of Lal Thenabadu.This was recorded at the Gypsies’ Recording Studio and this recording was Dayananda Perera’s first attempt as Sound Engineer ! He was a great success! Cecil also enjoyed the privilege of singing a Duet with the late Great Rukmani Devi only seven months prior to her most unfortunate death.

NEW ALBUM FOR 50TH

Now, in 2017 things have taken a different turn. Cecil Fernando, the latest addition to the Samanalayo, who came to Canada in 1985, decided to produce a new album of the Samanalayo to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Cecil, who went to Sri Lanka in December 2016 for a holiday, met Raymond. After serious talks, he invited Raymond to come to Canada. On July 23rd Raymond came to Toronto with his wife. Raymond also brought music tracks recorded in a fine recording studio in Sri Lanka. The music tracks are for the eight songs that will go on the New Samanalayo 50th Anniversary Album. Out of the eight songs two are in English, one titled Niagara, the other titled Toronto ( Lyrics and melodies of both songs by Nihal Silva) One brand new song by Raymond titled Olu-Nelum-Manel.Two more new songs by Nihal -Suduveli Paara Digay and Landesi-Vendesi. Three oldies, Tea-Rubber-Pol, Kandugeta Pasukara and of course their best song so far, Nelawena Mavu Ukule.`

Raymond Fonseka, Nihal Silva, Cecil Fernando. (Picture by Desh Fernando)

The vocals were recorded in one of the Best recording studios in Canada ( 5th best in North America) named Metalworks Studios ,Mississauga, Ontario Canada, where Super Stars like Celine Dion, Drake, Justin Beeber, Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner, David Bowie etc have recorded their songs. The voice recording was handled by recording engineer Devon Brooks assisted by Angelo Angelicoes. The final Mastering engineer was Chris Crerar. Some ideas for the songs have emanated from the imaginative and creative mind of Cecil Fernando. Incidentally Tony Fernando, husband of Mignonne Fernando is the first cousin of Dinalee Fernando who is the wife of Cecil Fernando. What a small world !!

The music tracks for the entire album were supervised by Raymond with assistance from the versatile musicians Mahinda Bandara and Vajira Ratnayake. The entire band of musicians gave their very best for the project. Sandaruwan from Studio Sage,the quiet engineer did a magnificent job handling the sound tracks. The production of this new venture is by Cecil Fernando to whom the New Look Samanalayo owe so much gratitude. The support extended to the Samanalayo by Chitral de Silva, Thilak Perera and Rolinson Ferdinando is greatly appreciated. Special thanks go to the Wives of the New Samanalayo, Charmaine Fonseka, Pathma Silva and Dinalee Fernando for their opinions ,patience, encouragement, understanding and care.