Niranjala Sarojini phenomenal vocalist, radio artiste, television host in an effervescent voyage of five decades in stardom – By Sunil Thenabadu
Niranjala Sarojini Abeywardena nee Peiris hails from a rare celebrated musical family in Sri Lanka as the fourth daughter among six siblings in all to catholic parents living in Nugegoda. Sisters been elders Malkanthi, Nirmala,younger Sakuntala while she had an elder brother Kumar and younger the famous Manoj.Father Harrison Peiris a veteran journalist famous writer and poet was the Chief Editor of catholic ‘Messenger’ for three and a half decades. Mother had been strict on the siblings’ while father had been tolerable it was revealed. Both were in the habit of saying prayers every evening with the siblings, thereafter all had to sing ‘hyms’ with father playing the Button Accordion and mother playing her Japanese Mandolin ,both very well conversant in playing music instruments. The family used to sing regularly in the Church ‘choir’. All siblings apart from Kumar and Sakuntala are famous vocalists in the country.Kumar has had no interest in music while Sakuntala was more interested in participating in drams and Teles.Niranjala’s maternal grandmother had been a Persian lady English speaking Roman Catholic while paternal grandfather who had worked in an oil company in Persia.Her mother had been born in Baghdad is huge fan of Sinhala music. It is reported that she was three months pregnant when they migrated to Ceylon then.Niranjala and the siblings have had a happy childhood with a wonderful teenage life, was educated at St.Joseph’s convent Nugegoda.
Niranjala with the singing background at home and with hereditary affiliations to the parents’ duo with innate musical abilities had followed the path of elder sisters Malkanthi and Nirmala at the Karunaratne Abeysekera’s celebrated ‘Lama Pitiya’ at the SLBC.Niranjala was in the habit of rushing to the SLBC after school in school uniform itself to watch the singing activities of her elder sisters developing a passion for music then. This was the beginning of her illustrious singing career until the demise of her beloved husband Abeywardena Balasuriya on the 20th March year 2010.Niranjala had seen how the husband she loved so much for nearly four decades, married for twenty nine years succumb to death at the ICU following a nervous syndrome ,unable to breath and his voice diminishing away beginning from the year 2008.This doctors have attributed for over exercising in the home gym he had performed daily for four hours , which Abey had been performing from his Air Force days, but had been a complete teetotaller .At that moment she had made up her mind to sojourn singing as a huge mark of respect to Abey as a ‘Gee Sathi Pooja’.All her songs are now sung by her nieces Anuradha Nandasiri and Sewwandi Ranatunga at functions and overseas tours too.The recent instances had been in ITN ‘Siyapath Pokura’ and Charana TV ‘70 we Lankare’ when the duo sang splendidly. Niranjala to date is very contented and pleased to make her voice too silent as a massive tribute to Abey.Niranjala has happened to commence work at the SLBC and thereafter at SLRC with Abey since year 1974.Abey had joined SLBC in year 1972 had been visiting home to meet her sister Malkanthi and brother in law Sangeeth Nipun Sanath Nandasiri.After some time the close friendship for few years had developed to a love affair until their marriage took place on August 26th 1981 at the Hotel Holiday Inn.Niranjala had added that on the day of Nirmala sister’s wedding day only Abey had pronounced his love to her, which was of course in her mind too rigidly textured.
Abey had been described as a person with unique humane qualities in several ways like his humbleness, etiquette, humanity, helping many with jobs and in other numerous ways sans expecting anything in return.Niranjala describes him as a person who was preprepared for anything he did in life, in office or outside ,even for a recording he is one of the first to arrive at the studio, one who knew his Sinhalese vernacular well, hence was well conversant with the denotation of lyrics which he had explained to Niranjala many times.As a son of a village Headman’,”Ralahami” was at a time stubborn who took rough decisions never allowed to be changed, yet he was an emotional individual .Abey who was called ‘Punchi Ralahami” in his village in Chilaw, may have inherited father’s robust qualities. He disliked injustice when he reveals he becomes wild and very impulsive losing his temper.Once at a musical show in the Lionel Wendt conducted by Premasiri Khemadasa just before the curtain call a youngster had run on to the stage had offered a slipper to Premasiri Khemadasa. Seen this scene unable to resist, Abey had run on to the stage, caught him and dragged him out of the stage. Abey had given jobs to thirty six persons at the SLRC alone and to some in other institutions. One of them was late Shantha Deshabandu a lyricist who had written his first lyrics for the first song sung by Niranjala” manamaliya wee heta dawase” Abey has had a huge work load while at the SLRC even had to oblige the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa too with his dire requests.Niranjala had not bothered him with kitchen work but he had given protection to her, had been very interested in keeping the dwelling clean along with the garden. He had also built the second house along Buller’s road.The duo had lived together sans much conflicts. Niranjala reminisces that Abey had never brought his salary home as it was spent on entertaining colleagues at the canteen. Niranjala had articulated in the television collaboration that though she was anxious to marry early, but Abey had wanted to build their own house so that they could go into occupation to their own house after marriage .The house built at Yahampath Mawatha, Maharagama had been the only upstairs house that time in the entire vicinity.Just after the marriage they had gone into occupation in August 1981.Before the marriage Praneeth Abeysundara then a journalist in the ‘Kumari’ newspaper, had published what Niranjala had replied to a question he posed. In this world everything could change suddenly. Though Abey was one in a million, a perfect individual what would you do if the marriage ruptures, Niranjala had had lamented though it would never happen, then she will remain single as she will never find a person in the same mould and calibre of Abey. Abey was unselfish he allowed Niranjala to duet with any vocalist which he too received the similar consent from Niranjala having a rigid mutual understanding. The duo had no jealousy with each other in climbing the ladder to prominence.
Niranjala had joined SLBC just after school had met senior contemporaries Sumana Jayatilleke, Suneth Gokula, Asoka Tillekeratne, Mahinda Algama who were all producers of Childrens song programs who had worked as a cohesive unit teaching the basics to young Niranjala. Niranjala’s first children’s’ song was” Muwantissa Kumarayage gee”,lyrics of Ajantha Ranasinghe and the musical score by Sangeeth Nipun Sanath Nandasiri. Niranjala had strode gingerly from, as a child singer, vocalist, ‘A’ grade singer, radio drama artiste, dubbing artiste, SLBC news reader, producer of many commercial programs,news reader at SLRC and playback singer. When Niranjala was just twelve years old Nanda Malini had visited home to take permission from her mother to allow Niranjala and sisters to join in her “Gee Nataka” recitals like “Ruwa Ethi Landak” via which her voice had become much improved to expected standards. Niranjala had been auditioned by an Indian Chanceller Deepal Nar to become a ‘A’ grade singer in year 1974 Initially Niranjala had been bit backward and hesitant as her voice was a bit rough. But it was Nanda Malini ,Premasiri Khemadasa and Daya De Alwis among many others had groomed her to be the competent vocalist, she is today. In the SLBC initially Niranjala had been a phenomenal member of ‘Sangeetha Peetaya”, “Sangeetha Sandyawa” “Lama Gee”, Geetha Kanda” from where she had sung’ ‘Probudda Gee” subsequently. Some of the radio plays that Niranjala was involved in were Gaja Muthu, Muwan Pelessa ,Monaratenna,Pahan Siluwa and Muthu Adare Andare a very popular radio drama produced and directed under mentor at SLBC legendary Kusum Peiris.The senior counterparts of Niranjala then were Geetha Kanthi Jayakody,Damayanthi Jayasuriya,Lanka Rajini,Pushpamala Subasinghe, Shamila Livera. From the SLBC’s classical four songs which she gets every six months she had become the fabulous singer she is now.Those songs have been recorded into cassettes, EP’s and CD’s.
From the around four hundred classical songs she and Abey had sung, were songs that were utilized for cassettes then the compact discs .It is learnt that some of the duets of Abey and Niranjala sung are at SLRC but not recorded. These songs were under distinct themes like classical, love and patriotic. Some, of these songs are forty years old but still heard over the airwaves and television channels. Many participants in reality and chat programs in various television channels sing endeavouring to imitate Niranjala not successfully though, who is now a legend.
Now she is silent had said she attends to musical events ,participates when invited to musical recitals, takes active part as a adjudicator in many reality Judge boards. In addition she opportunely airs back what she had achieved, added her fans could view and hear as her songs over four hundred of them some duets with Abey are still popular She has admitted she is happy now thinking very contented of amazing feats she had achieved individually and jointly with Abey.In her house there is library area where all Abey’s belongings, books, files, personal stuffs are preserved and kept for posterity. Though she is a Roman Catholic she has a Buddha statue as well to which she worships. She had lamented that as Abey was a staunch Buddhist and the wedding was not taken in a church, the parents had desisted from attending. Though later on the parents’ duo had patched up well.Niranjala had added that all her siblings though staunch Roman Catholics had married Buddhists.The duo had gone together to temple and church to worship.
Niranjala reminisces her counterparts at the SLBC who were all veterans and heavyweights namely Lalith S Maithripala,Hudson Samarasinghe, Ariyasiri Vithanage,Dharmasri Wickremasinghe,Premanath Jayatilleke,Gemuu Wijesinghe all stalwarts and household names to many listeners. In spite of all these seniors Niranjala recollects that she had been overloaded with more commercial programs while her tenure at the SLBC.Abey and Niranjala had joined the SLRC from its inception, where Niranjala excelled as a presenter and news reader, while Abey was entrusted with a heavy work load in producing many programs ,the one which became very popular was ‘Nandana Vindana’ his sole concept.
Niranjala had said she has had a strong bond with announcer cum journalist Daya de Alwis whom she described as a teacher, mentor and friend by whom she had been groomed with other senior colleagues ,while in the present day when one often hears that senior never cooperate. Daya had been initially close to Malkanthi later after her marriage to Abey had become closer to Niranjala in her work at the SLBC. In year 1974 was the first time Niranjala had been given to sing the four classical songs at the SLBC.One of the songs was titled” Akalata Wata Maha Warusa”,the lyrics were by Daya De Alwis the meaning is the woman within is a very strong person.The music composition was by Nanda Malini,which incidentally is the first time three women had been involved in the compiling of a song.Daya De Alwis had since too had scripted many songs for Niranjala She had been very fortunate to sing many songs written by famous lyricists in the likes of Lucien Bulathsinghala, Premakeerthi de Alwis, KDK Dharmawardena,Ajantha Ranasinghe,Dharmasiri Gamage,Rathnasiri Wijesinghe,Sunil Ariyaratne,Dharmasiri gamage and lately Mahinda Kumara Dalupotha etc. Also Niranjala had been very privileged to have been backed up by prodigious reputed musicians like Victor Ratnayake, HM Jayawardena, Premasiri Khemadasa, Lionel Algama, Stanley Peiris,Samantha Perera etc.Niranjala had stated that Victor Ratnayake had been responsible for composing music in nearly ninety percent of their songs which are well over five hundred in number including those in compact discs.Niranjala had affirmed that none of the lyrics of all songs had been the penned by the respective lyricists with their independent views not at all been influenced by the duo.However all of them had known the family backgrounds of the duo very well
Late Premakeerthi de Alwis had been initially a close associate of Sanath Nandasiri, but after the duo Niranjala and Abey tied the nuptial knot had become a close friend of the Niranjala duo.Premakeerhi had been given a punishment political transfer to the Ruhunu Service, but they used to meet often in Colombo.Thr trio were used to visit Kataragama may be thrice a year or so.When Abey got his appointment to the SLRC they had planned to visit Kataragama .It was on the insistence of Premakeerthi that Abey had approached the Chairman of SLRC MJ Perera to recruit the former to SLRC.The classical songs program for artistes are given approximately once in six months.Once for Niranjala a song that was promised to be scripted by Premakerthi owing to his pressure of work had forgotten.AS the other three songs were ready the trio had met on the previous evening at the SLRC canteen had reminded Premakeethi about it.After apologising Premakeerthi had picked up a cigarette packet aluminium foil paper from the floor ,had scripted the lyrics within five minutes the song was “ oba deka daneewe aramuna” which Niranjala had been puzzled but Abey said it has a lovely meaning not to worry.The following day at 8.30AM was the recording scheduled.Had contacted maestro Victor Ratnayake who had asked to come at 7 AM to compose music.The duo had gone there to at 7 AM when not only the music composition was made practiced and the song was sung at the SLBC successfully.Niranjala in a television collaboration had added that it was on the 31st July 1989 that she had read Rupavahini news despite death threats received by both of them during the peak of the insurgency era.On this issue the duo had warned Premakeethi to be cautious to which he had lamented ‘who is there to kill me”.The request made to leave the country was not heeded by him.That day the duo had gone to Malkanthi’s dwelling to sleep.The following day Victor Ratnayake had conveyed the tragic news of Premakeethi. The Abey Niranjala duo had soon left to UK for six months until the situation became normal.
At a recent two hour program where Niranjala participated in the ITN “Siyapath Pokura some popular songs of Niranjala were sung by Sewwandi Ranatunga, Anuradha Nandasiri,Devika Chathurani, Mangala Guneratne while the duets were sung with Jagath Wickremasinghe.In this program Niranjala narrated many stories behind some of her songs, the meanings, the names of lyricists and musicians.The names of these songs were her first song “Akalata Wata Maha Warusa”,”Me ganga meduru Katharagewa”,”Oba deka denewee”,”Lowa Nisasala Wee”,”Bamberuka Handuwa” .Some of Niranjala’s few other songs are ‘Oba atha Denai”, “Malak Nela Genewith”,”Oba Asi Piyanalana”,” kedineda Kudu Hadannata” the list will go on and on as there are well over four hundred songs of her sung to delight all audiences. Having heard of lyricist Visharada Nihal Gamhewa at the NYSC who had composed lyrics and music for many in the 1990 decade Abey duo had approached him to launch three songs which too had become hits. As a tribute to Abey a few of his songs are reminisced like “Kalpana Lowa mal Wane”, Boda meedum”, “Manukathare Minispure”,” Piyaneni Mama Newatha Uppannoth”,”Man Nethi Da”.The first duet Niranjala sang with Abey was prior to her SLBC first classical songs program was “Kawda Awe” lyrics by Sunil Ariyaratne and music by Victor Ratnayake.In year 2000 Nirajala was requested to sing a song for the women’s commemorative day..The song she recollects was “Sireepade Wandanawe” like all her other songs this song too became a hit though sung over two decades ago, music by Gunadasa Kapuge and lyrics by Rathnasri Wijesinghe.Niranjala regrets though Kapuge was a fantastic musician she was unable to have got him to compose a song until then for the duo as he was stationed in the outstations. This song was dedicated to all mothers to be devoid of children.Many had even telephoned to convey that they listen over and over again until they became pregnant.Some have added that after listening they were blessed with a male child who was long overdue. Niranjala and Abey duo too as all are aware are devoid of children but they were contended in life.Even Abey’s mother had not had any compassion for it but treated her similarly after marriage.
The Abey and Niranjala had travelled widely to all countries for music concerts where Sri Lankans are domiciled, the number been around to twenty-five countries. In addition to songs recorded in cassettes and EP’s they have altogether around fifteen compact discs They are named as Niranjala Sarojini one, two ,three, Bambareku Handuwa, Api Geyu Premge Geetha.The duo Abey and Niranjala had been adamant to have a concert to sing exclusively songs composed by Premakeerthi de Alwis.But with the demise of Premakeerthi and Abey the proposed concert had not got off the blocks.But courageous Niranjala had achieved this on her own to fulfil the wish of the duo to a packed audience.The CD’s had been pressed to the highest quality at music studios in Australia and Singapore.As there are so many bogus men who copy CD’s in a rough manner , the duo had sold most of them when they were overseas at concerts .Even still Niranjala sells to those genuine buyers who call her and come to buy to avoid the racketeers from duplicating.
These days Niranjala is busy in writing two books containing hers and Abey’s songs with the assistant of a reputed journalist.From the above anyone would conclude the courage of Niranjala which is ideal to imitate for many.All fans would wish her good health and longevity
Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane
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