Local scene...
Susil Fernando in the footsteps of MS
Like father like son

by Prasad Gunewardene
He was a man who reigned the world of baila till the time of his death. He died while performing on stage one night at Kirulapona. That dark, stoutly built man was none other than baila maestro M. S. Fernando."M.S." as he was popularly known moved many an audience for forty years. He earned the title of "Emperor of Baila" for his contribution to the baila scene for many years. The calypso style on baila was introduced by M.S. and his composition in baila was quite different to what existed in the days of his predecessor Wally Bastian. The Sinhala music scene has been fortunate as these popular men left the legacy to their sons to follow. The sons inherited the talents of their old men and they continue in the scene today. The "Watch Out" today speaks about the talent of yet another son in the footsteps of his father. This man in appearance, voice, style and dance resembles the old man. He is Susil Fernando, the son of much loved M.S.

Susil began to go in the path of his father from his teens. There were times that showmen tried to embarrass the father and son. M.S. charged rates according to his demand and talent. Some showmen who couldn’t meet the demand of M.S. tried other means to drag the son though they advertised M.S. was billed to sing. One such occasion was traced by M.S. and Susil was given a beating not to repeat. Young Susil confessed to his father that he obliged showmen who came home in the absence of his father for the love he had to sing the way the father did. M.S. knew that Susil would never give up singing like him. He did not want Susil to sing while he was in the scene. One day he told the son, "Look here young man, if you want you start a music group then you can begin to back me". This was the beginning the father gave the son.

Susil a good guitarist lost no time in forming a group called "Super Tharanga" which hit the peak a few years later. He started to help the old man in music composition and making new melodies. "Super Tharanga" led by veteran musician Lal Thenabadu backed M.S. for the popular film song "Kodi Gaha Yata" during that time. Susil started to sing the songs of M.S. in places where the old man was not booked. The entry of Susil as a musician was well known in the music scene as his group backed M.S. even at the one hour show of M.S. at "Mahapola". Late Lalith Athulathmudali who knew M.S. closely chose to give him this exclusive one hour programme at every Mahapola. Whenever Susil pleaded with the father to give him some shows to sing his numbers, M.S., a tough man replied, "I have told you to learn more before to come to my stage". Susil was an obedient son who feared to disobey the old man. M.S. was a man who would punish anybody anywhere if he knew that the man was wrong.

Susil who did not get an official break into the singing world from the father decided to leave for Oman in 1975 when the situation in the country too was not favourable due to political unrest. He worked there for eight years and returned in 1983 to recommence his group "Super Tharanga". He continued with this group for some years and again decided to go to the Middle East as there was no big break for him in the music scene. While working as a Documentation Controller in the US Defence Authority in Saudi Arabia Susil received a fax message from Colombo on April 09,1994 that his father had expired.

M.S. while performing at a show at Narahenpita that night suffered a serious heart attack and collapsed on the stage. He was pronounced dead on admission. On reading the fax, Susil rushed to Colombo tendering his resignation as the company there did not give him leave to attend his father’s funeral and return.

The funeral of M.S. was a well attended one like that of H. R. Jothipala who was a heart throb of music lovers. After the funeral of M.S., Susil wanted to return to the Middle East for another job. His mother persuaded him to return saying that he should take over the mantle of his father in the baila scene. With the greatest reluctance Susil listened to his mother. Fans of M.S. too pressurised Susil to follow the path of his father. The unique style and voice of M.S. was inherited by the son. Filling the void of his father in the music scene, Susil did two Compact Discs of his father’s popular hits within months. He also did several new songs of his own.

The style, voice and appearance of his father is in Susil. Once when Susil was performing in Kandana, the veteran musician and group vocalist, Priya Peiris of "La Bambas" listening to Susil and the way he was moving steps to the calypso beat quipped, "He is just the father and it shows his pedigree". This is ample proof of inheritance from father to son. Susil recalls the help given to him by his uncle, Walter Fernando who is also a baila man to build up his career. He has much gratitude to his friends Saman De Silva, Priyantha Fernando, Priyankara Perera and Anil Bharati who have flanked him throughout his career giving him strength. The fans of M.S. are blessed with the same voice his son has inherited. Susil will be in concert with Priyantha Fernando in Australia soon to give the best to the fans of M.S. and C.T. now domiciled there. Susil is a friend of all in the music scene. He has a large heart to share with everybody. He is a down to earth man like his father. He now lives at 33, Pragathi Mawatha, Walana, Panadura. His contact number is 038-37255. This young man has many more years in music and fans will ever remember the lovely songs of M.S. as long as Susil is in the scene. This is another story of a "like Father, like Son".