Local Scene
Melroy in Music ...
Man of Melodies

by Prasad Gunewardene
Today the "WatchOut" speaks of a man who not only became popular in music.This man is an all-rounder in many fields. He did music, drama and journalism on a free lance basis. In journalism he became the first man to review English films in Sinhala to national newspapers twenty five years ago. In music, he was a vocalist and a silent composer for several popular artistes in the Sinhala pop scene. He is Melroy Dharmaratne who led the famous "Dharmaratne Brothers" in the late 1960’s when the Sinhala pop group fever spread islandwide. There was no mushrooming of musicians in the era like today. They all emerged through talent contests. It was a difficult task even to reach the fifth position then as talent was enormous and the panel of judges were independent and competent people.

In 1966, there was a talent contest at the Methodist College fair. Melroy and his brother Ronald (now deceased) appeared for this contest while their niece baby Shiromi Fernando too appeared for the childrens contest. The two uncles and the niece reached the finals. This was the breakthrough they made in music. Shiromi sang the song "Konda Namagena" about the grand mother composed by Melroy. That was an instant hit if one recalls that period. Having reached the finals, Melroy, Ronald came home with the niece in a jubilant mood. Melroy’s mother fond of the four sons had proposed that they should form a group together called the "Dharmaratne Brothers". Melroy gained talent as a chorister at St. Lucia’s Church choir as a child and it was blessing for his future in music. These four obedient sons of the old lady formed the group and they were looking for shows when showmen Malcolm Andree and Jayatissa Hettiarachchi invited them to many.

The four happy brothers then looked for a break in the then Radio Ceylon channels. It was a time when the "Moonstones" of Clarence Wijewardene and several groups were regularly heard over the Radio Ceylon channels. Who gave these four brothers the break at the Radio Ceylon? Once again it is none other than Vijaya Corea who had done a lot to popularise Sinhala pop on English channels. Sinhala pop musicians owe a lot to this man Vijaya. If not for him, Sinhala songs would never have been heard on English beams and these people would never have been entertained to the Radio Ceylon in an era oriental muscians hated the box guitar music. Vijaya was instrumental in getting Melroy and his brothers to put out the first disc on the Philip Label with four songs-"Wessa Wahinawa", "Punchi Huratala", "Kandukare" and "Nondi Kira" - The lyrics were by Melroy while Ronald composed the music.

The inspiration given by Vijaya Corea was a tremendous strength to the four brothers to move into success. As the first four numbers became popular on both English and Sinhala beams thanks to Vijaya, Gerald Wickremesooriya of the "Sooriya Label" offered a disc to the Dharmaratne Brothers. Here they hit the popular "Varsity Kollo" along with a birthday song and two more. There was a song written by Melroy "Gaganodare" sung by Maxwell Dharmaratne which became another hit of that time. Not stopping at that the four Catholic brothers thought they had a duty by their God who brought them to the music scene from the choir at St. Lucia’s Church ,Kotahena by the side of their Alma Mater St. Benedict’s College. To fulfil this obligation they did the disc "Bethlehem-pure" for the Philip Label where they composed a song to say the four brothers were singing in the music scene.

As Melroy’s compositions hit the peak, disc producers began to approach him for compositions for solo artistes. By this time, their niece, Shiromi Fernando was the most popular baby artiste. Several other young girls below the age twelve began follow the trend. The "New Sound Record Bar", a popular disc producer approached Melroy for four songs to the giant of the Sinhala music scene and the leading film playback singer H. R. Jothipala. The lyrics were written by veteran Karunaratne Abeysekere. The popular song "Durakathanaya" of Jothipala was first offered to Clarence for a melody. Clarence took it home but a melody did not emanate to suit it. He did melodies for the lyrics on "Malpidena Vasanthaya" and "Irata Muwavee". He brought the lyrics on "Durakatanaya" and gave it to Karu. This was given to Melroy to put a try. Melroy took it home and first styled it in the waltz beat. At rehearsal he decided to put it on Bossonava scale. The recording engineers were happy and Jothipala made it an instant hit where English bands too started to play the song on instruments.

Melroy from there onwards composed hits for popular singers like Desmon De Silva, Milton Mallawarachchi. The song for Milton-"Mee Mai Gaha Yata" will speak to the ability and testimony of this musician Melroy Dharmaratne. He produced originals and not copies or off shoots of compositions of others. Take for instance the song "Egoda Gode Mal Ethana" for the Prince of Baila Paul Fernando. The music, lyrics and melody suited each other and the music was composed to match the silent flow of water in a river. These are talents of born muscians. Melroy is a disturned man today as his composition "Durakatanaya" for Jothipala had been pirated and recorded by a man who calls himself a singer in the present day. "They should have the courtesy to ask me", Melroy lamented. We have repeatedly said about monkey musicians and music pirates who rob, copy voices of great singers like Clarence and Jothipala. These great men are not allowed to rest in peace. Even Stanley Peiris’s creations are in danger as these rogues may try to destroy them. These music pirates are a shameless lot who have no self respect. Stringent laws must be enacted to bring them before the law and punish them.

The Dharmaratne Brothers came on stage together after a lapse of 15 years when popular singer — showman Annesley Malawane introduced the ‘Stars of Seventies’ in 1997. The four brother’s are now three in member as Ronald passed away ten years ago in a road accident. But still they sing the song — "Api Sahodarayo Hataradenek Geetha Gayanawa."

Melroy who completes thirty five years in music will be felicitated on November 01 (Friday) at a ceremony scheduled at the Colombo Public Library under the patronage of popular media personality Dharmasiri Gamage. We wish Melroy all success and many more years in music.