by Thilak S. Fernando

Two popular names in Sri Lanka (not so long ago) Ronald Williams (Vocalist) and Isuru Sandaruwan (Base guitarist/ keyboard player), have formed their own musical posse in London, Sounds of Lanka and are emerging as one of the vibrant and up coming groups among the Sri Lankan community.

Ronald is no amateur to the business. Singing has been his life from the age of ten. His first singing experience commenced from Ceylinco Akasa Kade, partaking in his cousin’s band, The Rebel Children. As a young kid, he loved singing Shirome Fernando’s songs. When the Rebell Children team members dispersed to various parts of the world, the band died a natural death, yet Ronald’s enthusiasm for singing surviewed. He formed a small band in his school, St. John’s Nugegoda, and continued his singing with Shantha, son of the late M. S. Fernando, the ‘Baila King’.

In 1990 he formed his own musical band, The Flower Friends, which consisted of six members including Lasantha, Superstars lead guitarist today. Ronald recollects the emergence of Flower Friends when at a friend’s house he saw a group of young boys doing band practice. Having identified their talent, he arranged professional practice lessons for them, paying out of his own pocket and suggested later that they played the music while he sang. Thus The Flower Friends was born and became popular in down South and suburbs of Colombo as an ‘ English Band’. As pages of their order book started to fill up with new bookings they started performing in various tourist hotels such as Hotel Riveria, Gosvins, Negombo Beach hotel, Blue Ocean and several discothèques.

After two years Super Stars drummer Mahinda Silva broke off from the Original Super Stars team and joined up with Ronald Williams to form Super Stars 2. Soon Ronald became busy with his own band, The Flower Friends, and Super Stars 2, where he did outdoor road shows with them as well as artiste backups. During his peak of singing, he came out with a Tamil Wrap song, which entered the Sri Lankan Top 20 chart and climbed up to No 2 .

When Ronald arrived in London, he met Isuru quite by accident. Isuru Sandaruwan on his own right had become a popular artiste in Sri Lanka as a Base Guitarist playing for his cousin’s band Angels and subsequently with Rhythmians, a three-piece band that consisted of Malan as the vocalist, Dilhan at the Octopad, Isuru at the Keyboard, supplemented by electronics. Later he played the keyboard for the Mirage Band. Like his band-colleague Ronald, Isuru Sandaruwan had been inspired to take up music at a very young age, influenced by his mother who gave him all the encouragement having seen him playing the Organ keyboard at home.

Ronald was picked up in London by the Rising Waves, which is an equally popular Sri Lankan band and was exposed to the London community by Denzil Larzarus. Ronald Williams makes no bones about it and pays tribute to his London guru.

Ronald and Isuru are now geared up with their own band, Sounds of Lanka and have invested on expensive sophisticated electronic equipment. Why have they decided to go as a duo- band? I paused the question to them. Both in one voice explained its advantages as being primarily a low cost operation to their customers and their ability to perform even at house birthday parties in confined spaces.

Having 5 to 6 players on a band is pleasant to the eye of the audience Ronald says but ‘duo-band’ is the most cost effective operation as far as the customer is concerned. ‘Today with the advanced technology we are able to deliver colourful and rhythmic music’ he maintains. True to his words, he has transformed many old Sinhala songs into pulsating beats, which can draw young as well old limbs on to the dance floor. One of his favourite hits is the Sinhala version of Never on Sunday which goes as, “ Reta Kamu api wambotu, wambotu, wambotu pethi kapala; Eeta narakada kos ata, kos ata, kos ata hodi hadala”. Another advantage of being a duo band , according to Ronald, is that they are able to perform continuously at a dance without taking excessive breaks thus eliminating the use of a second band or with DJs. ‘Customers pay good money in hiring us, and it is our duty to give them money’s worth’ says Ronald and Isuru. ‘When we bring an enjoying crowed to a climax it is not fair to suddenly kill their enjoyment by taking breaks half way through’, Ronald emphasised. In Sounds of Lanka performances, a unique feature is the continuity of music throughout the night. Most importantly whether a tune is Sinhala or English, musical beats make no hindrance or difference to the dancing feet.

There is no doubt that Sounds of Lanka is rising up to the occasion in London and their order book is being filled day by day. They have been playing at the Visakian Night, Sri Lanka Night, as well as the Sri Lanka Food Festival at Forum Hotel. Every Friday night they are being hired to play live music at the Hopper Nite at Lihiniya Restaurant. Recently they performed at the Josephian Night and are looking forward to their big occasion in Summer at the Festival of Cricket, the most coveted Sri Lankan festival in England which has been running for the past several years.

Sounds of Lanka received their first international exposure recently when they featured in Sriyani Amarasena’s 2nd tele-film, shot entirely on location in London, which had its premiere show on 11th March 2001 at the Commonwealth Institute. The film, which will be shown in France, Italy, and Australia, will be screened in Sri Lanka later in the year as a seventeen-episode tele drama.