Were you influenced in music by your father or anyone else in your family?
I remember my father was very fond of Tower Hall dramas. But he was not involved in music or singing as a profession. He did not get in to it even as a hobby. But he liked singing. But there is no one in my family who is involved in drama, music, singing or films.
I have heard about the story of how you went to a party and played the serpina, Can you tell us something about it?
In actual fact, that incident is why I became the musician I am today. Those days I was in the habit of lying on my back on the mat and singing songs to myself. It was because, there was a tent near my house, where they used to show movies. We used to hear the music and songs to our home. Even my father used to enjoy it. I got used to it. The Railway quarters were situated opposite our house. One day there was a show there and I was watching at the fence. There were three Serpian, mandaline and Table players. After a while they got up and went into the house. I went there and sat on a chair opposite the harmonium. It was a pedal type one. You cannot find that type today. I tried to play it. I was only about 9 years at the time. That was the first time I played a musical instrument. The musicians, who went into the house, came out immediately and gave me a knock on my head and chased me away. My father heard about this incident.
After about a week he brought me a similar piano. A doctor had sold it to him on installment scheme. I think it cost about 300 Rupees. My mother told me after that, then he bought it for me because of the insult I suffered. That was the beginning of my career. I did not have a teacher. I learnt the serpina on my own. I learnt to sing by ear. After some time, a friend of my father who worked in the Railway Department called D.A.D.Dharmasasa taught me the techniques of the serpina. He knew music. I am happy to say that he still lives near Kalutara. He is the man who taught the classical aspect of music. For example the Ragaya Bilwal and Swaranjani. I didn’t like it at that time. So all his efforts were in vain. I realized their importance only much later.
So I like to stress that I became a musician and a singer after that incident.
Where were you born?
Both my parents are from Siyane Korale. That is in the Gampaha Province. But I was born and brought up in the Up Country. I lived there till I was a young man. We lived in Kadugannawa. It was because my father worked in the Health Department. He worked most of his career in the Up country. That is why we spent most of our early life in Kadugannawa. There were ten members in our family other than my parents. Five sons and five daughters. I am happy to say that all ten of them are still in good health Other than that there is nothing more I can say about them.
How were you influenced by the singer R.A.Chandrasena?
It was long after I did my Ordinary Level exam. Mr R.A.Chandrasena used to present musical programs at the Lake Club in Kandy. He used to live in Colombo and travel twice a week to Kandy. He used to bring along with the most popular artists in the country. Mr. Balasuriya was the owner of Lake Club. He is the one who used to get them down artists like Rukmani, Dharmadasa Walpola, Latha Walpola, H.R.Jothipala, Sujatha Attanayake, J.A.Moilton Perera, C.T.Fernando and M.S.Fernando In the meantime, Mr. Chandrasena had an idea of helping up and coming artists. Therefore he wanted to have a musical program for them and advertised it in the paper. I applied for it, and for the first time went to the Lake Club for an interview that day, Wimal J.Sriyaratne who is still a very close friend of mine (the brother of Shelton Premaratne) played the Dolki. We faced the interview as novices. The musician M.K.Roksami played the violin. R.A.Chandrasena played the Harmonium. I couldn’t believe it. That I was able to sing before such distinguished people. I think it was a privilege. Later I was able to work closely with M.R.Rocksamy, R.A.Chandrasena and Wimal J.Sriyaratne. I passed the test and I was able to sing as a novice at the Lake Club. Also he helped me a great deal to learn the violin. I am still grateful to him.
Where did you study?
I studied at Kadugannawa Maha Vidyalaya. Today it is a Madya Maha Vidyalaya. I studied there from the time I was small.
What kind of person were you in school? Were you good in sports? Or were you good in aesthetics?
Actually, I was not good in sports. Even today I am only a sports fan. I remember, my desire for music grew when, I went to school. The music teacher at Kadugannawa Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. K.M.Sugathapala was a student of my music teacher Cyril Perera. Cyril Perera is the father of Ananda Perera who is the leader of the Siha Shakthi Group. Even though I didn’t study music in school, my teacher in school knew that I could sing well because he was a neighbor of ours in the village. Therefor I was selected for a n Inter School singling competition in 1959. I secured the first place.
Did you first sing for the Radio Broad casting corporation or for a musical group?
Actually I sang my own song for the Radio. This is how I got that opportunity. An actor named, Mr Udayaratna Brahmanayake, gave me the opportunity of providing the music for a drama called “Sahodrayo” (Siblings) staged in our village. He was also attached to the Radio Broadcasting Corporation. He was a close relative of Sarath Wimalaweera who was attached to the Radio Broad Casting Corporation. Udayaratne is still around. A then popular artist called Abeypala from Kadugannawa, provided the music for the drama ‘Sahodarayo’. I had the opportunity of creating the theme song of the drama and singing it . That was the first song I sang for the radio. In around 1962-63, there was a radio programme called Half-hour for novices. Karunaratne Abeysekera directed it. My song was broadcast on that programme. The lyrics of the song were written by Udayaratne Brahmanayake and Upajeeva. That was the first song of Victor Ratnayake, which became popular. I was called D.V. Ratnayake in school. My school friends still call me D.V.Ratnayake.
Whom would you identify as your contemporary?
Sanath Nandasiri was one of them who started at about the same time as I, when I took part in a singing competition. When he was on holiday here, he sang a light song called ‘Avilunu Ginedel’. That was the same time when my songs like ‘ Sihil Sulang Ral’ and ‘Mayurasana matha Wedahindina’ became popular.
When you used to sing light songs, what kind of styles were used?
I can mention artists like Amaradeva, Sunil Shantha, Suriya Shankar Molligoda and Ananda Smarakoon as people you were very creative. Rupasinghe Master on the other hand has become popular because his songs are based on Hindi tunes. He had studied music and earned a reputation as a good singer. C.T.Ferndando was one person who had developed his own style of singing. He never imitated Hindi songs. He had developed his own identity in the filed of light music. Amaradeva and Sunil Shantha were influenced by Indian classical music, which was evident even in their light songs. Thus they had their own identity based on it.
When did you get involved in music for films?
At that time, I had become very popular as a light musician. In 1969-1970, I had sung many popular songs. We only had the Radio Broad Casting Corporation then, There was only one channel. Then, an actor called Sathischandra Edirisinghe had decided to produce and direct a film called ‘Matara Achchi’ (Grandmother from Matara), and he came to see me with some of his friends. I still remember that day. Then I was teaching and used to travel to Colombo to further my studies in Music. On one such occasion, when I was in Colombo, Sachischandra met me at Sena Jayantha Weerasekera’s home. Before that, I had provided the music for his drama ‘Athikka Mal Pipila’ He had used the same theme of the drama, for the film.
You began the musical performance called’ S’. Isn’t that a milestone in your singing career?
I began the one-man show called ‘S’ at Lumbini Theatre on July 20th 1973. I had to have it for three continuous days due to popular demand. At that time, the duo Nanda Malini and Amaradeva also had started a recital called ‘ Sravana Aradhana’. It was then that I started ‘S’ as a one- man show.
Did you think that ‘S’ will become so popular?
No. Not at all. I felt the need to do a one -man show. That enthusiasm and determination was also due to my friends. I must mention that. My friends like, the late Premakeethi de Alwis, K.D.K.Dharmawardena, Bandara K.Wijethunga, Harischandra Weerasinghe, R.R.Smarakoon and Chinthana Jayasena gave me a lot of encouragement. ‘S’ is a result of that effort.
What about your personal life? Can you tell use something about your marriage?
I got married on the 1st of November 1966. My wife Chitra and I knew each other from our school days. Mr. Jayasekera who was a sergeant in the police was a friend of my fathers and he invited me to join them on a pilgrimage to play the serpina. I met Chitra’s father there, who was also a sergeant in the police.
When we talk about your life as a singer, what has brought you greater fulfillment? Is it ass a singer or as a writer of lyrics?
Actually I am very happy to be both. I started off my career as a violinist. I played the violin for music directors in films like R.Mutthusamyu, M.K.Rocksamy, Premasiri Kemadasa, Somadasa Alvitigala, Amaradeva, Sarath Dasanayake, Shelton Premaratne and Lionel Algama. Then I became a singer under those same music directors. The experience I gained as a musician was very useful to me later on as a music director. Even thought I am no longer popular as a musician, the experiences I gained as a musician helped me a lot to improve my style and techniques as a singer.
For how may films have you directed music so far?
I haven’t directed music for many films. May be for about 15 or 16 films.
How many cassettes have you produced?
I have commercially produced, I think about 10 – 12 cassettes. I do not do it regularly for example once a year or for the festival seasons.
How many songs have you sung so far?
I cannot give an accurate answer. Most of my songs are those I sang for the radio. But not all of them are popular. Neither have all those songs been put into cassettes or CDs. if you look at from 1964, maybe I have sung over 2000 odd songs.
What about the songs for which you have provided the music?
A I is difficult to tell for how many songs I have provided the music. I have done the music scores more recently for the songs of more recent artists like Nirosha Virajini, Karunaratne Divulgane and Athula Samitha. I cannot exactly recount the number of songs.
Can you sum up your life in one sentence?
It was a belief even long ago that the artists are poor. But my parents identified my talents when I was a child. An artist is not a poor man. He is wealthy, not materially, but he is spiritually a rich man.