A popular singer who started young

by Kalinga Weerakkody
Dhanapala Udawatte a popular singer over three decades was among the many local artistes ignored by the state media.

He began his education at Egoda Uyana primary school and later completed it at Sunanda Upananda College.

His first guru in music was Anura Mahanama who encouraged him to participate in musical concerts and stage dramas. He remembers when he was only 17 years carrying away the best sector’s award offered by the Education Department for his role in a stage drama ’Gahanu Gataya’.

He was so musical minded that he used to sing even inside the classrooms and be punished for it.

After leaving school at the age of 20 he took to singing on open stage.

The leader of the SEAC group, a well known band in the 70’s, and one of our best Hawaiian guitarist’s, Hemesiri Silva of Nalluruwa, Panadura impressed by Dhanapala’s talents introduced him to the late music maestro R. A. Chandrasena, then head of the ’Chandrasena Music Academy’ situated in David Road, Maradana.

Chandrasena Master directed two songs ‘A Neela Warala Peerala’ and ‘Kiyayi Mihiri Katha’(in the early 70’s) on behalf of Dhanapala for his debut records which were the R. A. C. recording company.

In 1968 he succeeded in the baila examination conducted by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and in 1993 categorised as a Grade A singer by the SLBC.

He later formed a one man concert ‘Nelum Ville’ and ‘Suranganavi’.

His first film song was ‘Jeevanthi’ directed by Hemasiri Sellapperuma. His second ‘Ma Ma Kuturu Bodanga’ a duet with late H. R. Jothipala also directed by Sellapperuma.

His father Edwin Peiris was a comedian during the Tower Hall era. Dhanapala had a change of name after his role in a school drama as ‘Udawatte Mudali’ that he was recognised as Dhanapala Udawatte instead of his real name Wymon Peiris.

He has held musical concerts in 13 countries and will be leaving for Cyprus and Singapore on May 3 on the invitation of his fans abroad.

He thanks Franklyn Dassanayake who gave him the chance to sing in stage dramas as well as in tele dramas namely ’Kiri Daruwo’ and ‘Missaka Pawwa.’ He is married to Shiromi Damayanthi and has two sons Gayan Sangeeth (9) and Shameen Pemgeeth (7).

He also thanked the SLBC and also the private media stations for recognising artistes of his calibre.

But expressed his great disappointment about Rupavahini and ITN for their biassed attitude.

He said political stooges who don’t know the value of artistes ignored not only him but also top class singers like H. R. Jothipala, Clarence Wijewardena and Nihal Nelson.

He lamented that for the past 34 years only two of his songs were recorded by the SLRC and ITN.

He added that most of the artistes who made their debut in the early 70’s are now at home with nothing to do. They are the cream of the local music scene.

His first cassette comprised 14 songs and was produced under the ‘New Sound’ label.

The second was under the ‘Sisaara’ label produced by Sing Lanka.

So far he had put out 23 cassettes.

The first song to be sung on behalf of the military was by Dhanapala which became an all time hit "Ma Aderaneeya Mage Amma Wethatai" with music directed by veteran music director Lal Thenabadu. The lyrics were by Hector Wijeyasiri and the melody by Vernon Perera.

He thanked Mrs. Chandrasena, K. Ariyawanse, Rohana Weerasinghe, Vernon Perera and Gamini Mendis (Lanka Cassette) for extending a helping hand in his music career.

He said today no institution is there for the welfare of local vocalists. Those who stooged for politicians benefited.

In conclusion he said that artistes like himself were compelled to live in rented houses for the rest of their days.

When a true welfare society for local musicians is formed he said there wouldn’t be any of them alive.

He expressed his hopes over the recently established welfare association for local artistes known as Outstanding Songs Creators Association (OSCA) under the patronage of Jayantha Dharmadasa.