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Prince of Sinhala Pop — Annesley Malewana

by Prasad Gunewardene
One could describe him as a hidden gem in the gem city of Ratnapura discovered to revolutionise the Sinhala pop music scene in the mid 1960s. Although this lad was from Ratnapura, he was educated in one of the leading schools in Colombo-St. Joseph’s College. In 1966, the legend of Sinhala pop music, Clarence Wijewardene moved to Ratnapura from Matale to start a music group. Clarence had in his company, Monty Wataladeniya and Dhammika Wijesiri to start a group. The main item lacking the formation of the group was a lead vocalist as Clarence then was only a lyricist and a music director. Clarence sent out his friend Premasinghe Marambe who knew the length and breath of Ratnapura to search a young man who could sing. When the offer was put on him, Marambe’s thinking at once struck about a young lanky lad known to him. This lanky lad at that time now turned burly is the "Prince of Sinhala Pop" Annesley Malewana.

Annesley’s inclusion to the band of Clarence was a source of strength to Clarence in his career in music. This man Annesley was gifted with a voice unparalleled in the annals of Sinhala pop music. When Marambe introduced him to Clarence, the latter had no hesitation in making him the lead vocalist in his maiden group, the "Moonstones" which later became the fabulous "Moonstones" with the hits of Annesley Malewana. He came out with the popular "Mango Nanda", a song composed by Clarence to spike the domestic aide of his fiance’s home who sneaked about the love affair Clarence had with his wife Sheela in the early days. Even the song "Dilhani" was first sung by Annesley before it was later decided to record with Indrani Perera. The record book of Clarence notes that the song "Kimada Naave" which was composed for his wife Sheela was initially sung by Annesley though it was recorded years later by Clarence and Priyanthi Senaratne during the days of "Golden Chimes" led by Clarence. All these proved that Clarence heavily depended on Annesley for the popularity of his musical groups. This fact will be amply demonstrated down the lines in this feature on Annesley.

The Moonstones in its five-year span under Clarence devoted ninety per cent of its compositions to the voice of Annesley. Indrani joined him in several popular duets like "Gon Wassa", "Sumudu Mal" and "Pem Kathawa". Annesley sang hits like "Kalu Mama", "Kusumalatha"," and "Ruwanpure" to mention a few. As it happened to many pop groups in the good old days of that era, the Moonstones also experienced a vibration when it was at its peak. Clarence decided to start another group and that was the "Golden Chimes". Many in the pop music scene thought it was the end of Moonstones. But, it was not to be so. Annesley who had by then gathered a wealth of experience in the music scene decided to lead the group. He got the services of Mike Gunesekere, another versatile musician. Mike composed "Dunhinda Manamali" and "Thotiya" for Annesley. These became overnight hits and fans wondered whether they were compositions of Clarence as the style, beat and lyrics looked similar to productions of Clarence.

Be that as it may, Clarence and Annesley were an inseparable duo in music by its nature. They made friends through music, they remained friends in music and music was their bond of friendship. As Annesley sailed with the Moonstones, Clarence forged ahead with the Golden Chimes. However, something made these two men feel that there was a void in all what they did in separation. When one listened to the other they felt things could have been marvellous if they were together. The Golden Chimes performed at Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte where Annesley was in the audience. Clarence on stage spotted Annesley and during the break wanted to meet him after the event. That evening Annesley and Clarence met at a venue in Dehiwala. The long felt absence of the two friends in music together was the topic of discussion. "Why don’t we join together?" asked Clarence. The answer was a positive. "Yes ... let’s do that". This meeting was the beginning of the ever popular "Super Golden Chimes" with Clarence and Annesley back in the scene.

If one recalls his memory, the Super Golden Chimes opened with four scintillating hits, - "Kataragama", "Pasal Kaale" sung by Clarence and Annesley getting top of the pops with "Vana Bambaro" and "Udarata Niliya" which are still between the lips of music lovers. These were followed up by other hits like "Sathuta Senesuma" and "Pena Bubulai", a few in the memories. The combination of this duo made a Sinhala pop group make the break into the hotel chain in bookings. After a spell of four years with the Super Golden Chimes, Annesley thought to end his bachelor days. Clarence decided to go solo as the exit of his dear friend from the group music was a void impossible to fill. This proved the point that they were inseparable in any form of pop music groups. Annesley settled down after marriage with less participation in the music scene. The most difficult thing for a person in music is to divorce himself from music. A musician may even opt to divorce his partner but not music. Music is an ingredient that runs through the veins of those who are granted that heavenly gift.

The less participation in music by Annesley began to increase. He came back not only as a singer but also as a Showman and Presenter. He had a love and affection for all Sinhala pop groups that existed in the 1960s and 1970s. He committed his valuable time to trace these people. He succeeded and that was the introduction of the "Stars of Seventies", a popular musical feature as a showman and presenter. He also held two successful events - "Annesley and Indrani in Concert" - at the BMICH to bring back memories of the Moonstones and other songs of the duo. Annesley has organised a number of shows islandwide and abroad. He had featured in many countries both in the West and other parts. The recent "Original Pop Trio in Concert" that featured Annesley, Clarence and Indrani at the BMICH, a show packed to capacity with many disappointed as tickets were sold out before hand was also the brainchild of Annesley. He has a large heart with a quiet and a pleasing character. Gratitude is his priority in life with respect to everybody. These qualities led him on the path to popularity and success to be known as the "Prince of Sinhala Pop".