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Farewell to a Master

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Late lyricist Nimal Mendis Late lyricist Nimal Mendis

Among the hundreds and thousands of Sinhala songs, Neela Wickremasinghe’s Viyo Gee Gayenaa Hade, Ran Tikiri Sina and Master Sir, Milton Mallawarachchi’s Upul Nuwan Widahaa and Amaradeva’s Nim Him Sewwa are invaluable. Although the lyrics are popular in Sinhala, they were originally written in English. Two days after Sinhala Avurudu, comes the sad news of the passing of lyricist Nimal Mendis who penned these songs, leaving an irreparable void in the Sri Lankan Music industry. Mendis passed away last Thursday (16) morning, at the age of 81.

His song ‘Master Sir’, which he wrote for the film Kalu Diya Dhahara (Column of Black Water) is among the Sinhala songs which is still a hit although it was written more than 30 years ago. Master Sir narrates a story about the dignity of a laborer during the Colonial period of Sri Lanka. Mendis tried to speak about the social injustice of labor through the song. The song was recorded both in English and Sinhala.

The English version of the song was sung by Mendis himself and Sandra Edema, the Sinhala version was sung by Neville Fernando and later by Neela Wickramasinghe. Lyrics of Master Sir were translated into Sinhala by Karunaratne Abeysekera. It is said that Mendis wrote the song following an incident he faced in England where he was assaulted by a group of Englishmen merely for being black. Added to this, his experiences in working with the laborers at a plantation when he returned to the motherland after completing his education in England, prompted him to pen this song.

His composition Ganga Addara (By the Banks of the River), translated into Sinhala by Augustus Vinayagaratnam and sung by Vijaya Kumaranatunga, for the film of the same name (directed by Sumitra Peiris), is equally popular. The hit Ran Tikiri Sina was written for the same film and sung by Victor Silva and Nirasha Perera. In 2013 a new version of the song Ganga Addara was sung by Surendra Perera and used as the theme song for a teledrama series of the same name. Upul Nuwan was another classic composed for the 1978 Lester James Peiris film White Flowers for the Dead.

According to the Wikipedia page dedicated to Mendis, he has 22 songs released in Britain. ‘Kiss Kiss Kiss’ was Mendis’s first song that was recorded in Britain and sung by Mary Marshall under the Columbia label. ‘Kandyan Express’, ‘Cherry Blossom Tree’, ‘Oh My Lover’, ‘Butterfly in the Rain’, ‘Champagne Blues’, and ‘Goodnight Kisses’ were among the number-one hits in Sri Lanka in the late fifties, all penned by Mendis. Nimal Mendis was also one of a handful of Sri Lankan musicians to appear on the BBC Television programme Top of the Pops.

He spent a better part of his life in England, and returned to Sri Lanka to direct film music with Rohan Weliwita’s maiden film Suseema and continued to work with the young musicians in the country, guiding them. He rendered his service as a singer, composer, a music director and a lyricist for almost five decades. Although we bid farewell to this exceptional musician, the essence of his work will remain in the industry for a very long time.

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