People are born. They die.
Among them there are those who leave behind that which is immortal.
Gerald Wickramasooriya is one such individual.
He left behind or rather gifted many unforgettable to that distinct genre, ‘the Sinhala song.’
That was as a producer. To be more precise, as the man who turned the last few syllables of his surname into a brand: Sooriya Records.
What’s so special about this name? Simply, because behind that brand name there was a man, a brave, unwavering man. A man who knows music very well.
The Gadfly decided to write about Gerald Wickramasooriya because in that long narrative that is the story of Sinhala music, there has to be one page reserved just for him.
Gerald Wickramasooriya didn’t wait for others to develop singers.He nurtured them. He made them. Indeed there is something called ‘group songs’ in this country because of the Sooriya label and because Gerald Wickramasooriya never gave up despite endless invective from detractors, well-meaning or otherwise.
Of course it was not just group music.
Sunil Shantha, Amaradewa, Nanda Malini, Victor, CT, Jothipala, MS., Sanath, TM, Amitha, Dalugama, Paul Fernando, Shiromi Fernando, Dalrene Suby and many others came to the limelight thanks to the Sooriya label.
Then there were children’s songs, the ‘daha ata vannama,’ Sinhala folk songs and drums, the traditions of the southern part of the island and even the national anthem.
The last, produced with permission from the Cultural Department, requires special mention because it featured TM, Priya, Thilani and Clarence all together.
Clarence arranged the music and among the instruments used we even heard the sound of Dixon Gunaratne’s lead guitar.
There were times I would visit the Children’s Book Shop. Gerald Wickramasooriya would reminisce.
Those conversations were marked by innumerable anecdotes.
At the time this book shop was located opposite the Regal Cinema in the Fort.
One had to cross the road and walk down towards a line of shops Gerald Wickrmasooriya, his wife and another person would be there.
He had lost his eyesight by that time. And yet, he was determined to turn the records he had produced into CDs.
The first step was the launching of the CD title ‘Sooriya Show.’
The Gadfly still has a copy of that first CD which Gerald himself gave him.
Gerald Wickramasooriya knew music.
He had an excellent ear. He had a very good instinct. This is the secret of his success. This is why we still have the Sooriya label.
He was a student of Ananda Samarakoon. This was in 1938.
His instrument was the esraj. Later he would join his teacher in radio programs.
Having moved to St Thomas’, Mt Lavinia from Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda, Gerald developed an interest in pop music.
That was the beginning of a long story of music, a history marked by a series of wonderful songs.
The first production of the Sooriya label was the Moonstones EP record. This was in 1968.
The catalog number was CHB001.
By the time this journey ended, Gerald had opened the door to the music world for a plethora of artists.
Dharmaratne Brothers, Mendis Foursome, Golden Chimes, Super Golden Chimes, Three Sisters, Samanalayo, La Bambas, Los Flamingos, Winslow Six, Stanley Peiris and the Fortunes, among others.
The stories he related were as wonderful as the music he produced.
Clarence just could not compose a melody for Jothipala’s popular song ‘Durakathanayakin.’
Finally Clarence himself had asked Gerald, ‘Shall we give this to Melroy?’
And that’s how that unforgettable melody came about.
Annesley had been practicing the song ‘Dilhani Duwani.’
Gerald had insisted that a female voice would be best. So they had gone looking for one. And they found Indrani Perera.
Gerald was never anxious about new voices. He was unafraid to introduce new voices.
Clarence, who had been asked to train the Winslow Brothers had been skeptical: ‘These kids can’t sing Sinhala songs, they have strong western accents.’
Gerald didn’t give up. Eventually they would perform at the BMICH with Gerald in the audience.
At the end of the song, the lead singer Dr Manela Joseph recalled the incident and asked, ‘Mr Wickramasooriya, we didn’t have an accent, right?’
It was a triumphant expression that materialized on Gerald’s face.
He was criticized. Some asked him how he, a student of Ananda Samarakoon, could end up producing ‘thuppahi’ songs.
He had his opinions about all this.
‘What would have happened to these songs if I was discouraged by such criticism?’
If they were thuppahi songs, what would you call the songs produced now, how would also ask.
The correct answer to the questions Gerald put to the Gadfly are embedded in his songs he gifted this nation.
He would love to talk about Clarence.
Clarence had come to see Gerald after leaving the Golden Chimes
Mr Wickramasooriya, Lankika and others have registered the name “Golden Chimes,” he had said.
Gerald had a simple answer.
‘So what? You can call it Super Golden Chimes!’
That’s how Super Golden Chimes was born.
He also spoke about Dixon Gunaratne and Srikantha Dassanayake often: ‘they both played with their wrists.’
You will find CT Fernando’s songs in any shop selling music, but few know how those songs came to be recorded.
Gerald told the story to the Gadfly once. This was in the month of June in 1996.
‘It was I who first invited him to record one of his songs.
However, for some reason I couldn’t do it.
It was the company Lewis Brown that first recorded CT’s songs.
They were released under the ‘Colombia’ label.
After CT passed away there was a need to obtain these songs for the benefit of his fans.
The ownership was with an Indian company.
With the permission of his widow, I went to India, obtained the master tapes and cut new records.’
Having gifted a rich vein of Sinhala songs Gerald bid goodbye to all of us on the 9th day of January in the year 2006.
Even today when I hear songs from the 1970s, I remember Mr Wickramasooriya.
This is because of all the fascinating stories he told me about the songs he produced.