Geared for style and a taste for Sri Lankan calypso, the 60’s were the decade for feet-tapping, head-nodding original calypso beats of the Los Caballeros. A set of trend-setters much like acclaimed bands of that time such as La Ceylonians, Los Caballeros was one of the first ever pop groups in the country.
The group was formed on May 1961 and was led by the veteran musician Neville Fernando who was known for his uncanny talent with classical guitars. He was responsible for all music arrangements of the group and was gifted with a wonderful voice that suited this genre of music and the talent to play the guitar.
When Los Caballeros entered the music scene in the 60’s, their music was fresh, creative and caught on with people like wildfire. The band’s music was influenced by the Los Paraguayos from Paraguay. They added a refreshing change in the existing culture of music and the songs proved to be irresistibly catchy. The name ‘Caballeros’ is ideally pronounced ‘Cabayyaros’ as the Spanish pronounce the ‘L’ as ‘Y’. It is also a little known fact that Neville Fernando first formed a group with Meril Fernando and Bemadin Fernando which took the stage name of ‘Fernando Trio’.
Much like a hand that needs all five fingers to grasp an object, the band needed all five musicians to create their magic. All five members of the group joined in on vocals with Neville spearheading the music arrangements and singing. Harold Perera added to the group as an excellent percussionist and Leopold Perera championed the bass guitar while Vernon Perera and Clement Roland doubled teamed the rhythm guitar. Recalling about the band’s journey.
One of the band’s highlights and incidentally Neville’s first recordings, “Gayana Gayum” was for the film ‘Devlovak Athara’ directed by Dr. Lester James Peiris. True to its meaning, the song evokes singing, dancing and laughter. It talks about new beginnings with each sunrise shaking away one’s worries and sorrows. Another famous song “Samuduru Devi” brings to life ‘Samudra Devi’ the coastal line express train running from Colombo Fort to Galle. The song speaks of the beauty of Sri Lanka as seen from a train with the ocean breeze brushing past you as you ride along the South Coast of Sri Lanka, the ocean spreading for miles on one side and inhabited land expanding further inlands on the other.
In the film ‘Kalu Diya Dahara’, Neville Fernando sings the famous song “Master Sir” written by Nimal Mendis. The song is set in colonial Sri Lanka and talks of social justice and class differences that undermine the dignity of labour. He also sang “Mal Bara Himidiriye” and “Sandak Nage Sandak Gile” with Rukmani Devi, songs that still resonate within the Sri Lankan music circuit.
Neville Fernando and Los Caballeros greatly influenced the music industry of Sri Lanka. Their origin was a fresh idea that spun into other groups that were inspired by their styles such as La Ceylonians, Los Flamincos, La Bambas, The Moonstones and The Dharmarathna Brothers. Together all these groups wove calypso style music and harmony into the fabric of Sri Lankan music industry.
Marking a tragic loss in the music industry of this era, Neville passed away at the age of 38 due to leukemia.
At a time when the Colombo music scene thrived without the distractions of modern televisions and the likes, bands such as Los Caballeros who performed in live shows and the radio are appreciated and remembered as a form of unwithering entertainment for those who still relive the impact of these great musicians.