He brought a new rhythm to Sri Lankan Baila music back when the genre was raging in Sri Lanka. He could entertain an audience in Sinhala, English, Tamil, Hindi or Malay. His simple lyrics would touch the hearts of any common man. His toe-tapping melodies and his style of performance would draw you to the dance floor. He is none other than M.S. Fernando.
Mahagamage Samson Fernando better known as “Sunny” or “MS” was born on the 4th of March 1936 in the coastal fishing town of Moratuwa to Laron Fernando and Lilee Gomes. He attended St. Anthony’s College, Mt. Lavinia and Christ Church College in Dehiwela.
Young Sunny used to attend Baila shows staged near his hometown and eventually developed an interest towards Baila music. Even at the young age, he saw ways in which this style of music can be improved.
With this inspiration, he studied traditional music under Visharadha J.A. Sathiadasan and soon he was the melody maker for every occasion at his hometown.
M.S. then entered the radio as a singer for the ‘Amatuer-hour’
He made his debut with the song “Malak Kada Konde Gasala”, a duet with Pushparani Ariyaratne, written by Karunaratne Abeysekera. The popularity he received paved the way to become a playback singer. The beginning of an unstoppable career.
His maiden film song “Ayammata Aluth Fashion Ona Unada” was for the film ‘Jeewitha Poojawa’ directed by B.A.W. Jayamanne.
This was followed by “Sili Siliye Nawa Suwandak” for the film ‘Sasaraka Hati’ which was screened on 2nd of October 1964. Lyrics by Karunaratne Abeysekera with music composed by R. Mutthusamai.
Lyrics and melodies of his songs were mostly his own. He also composed many songs for his brother Walter, who was his biggest supporter, of which “Pulligona Purudukaraya” became highly popular. “Mama Bohoma Baya Una” one of the most popular numbers of Maxwell Mendis is again a composition by M.S.
In 1969, Sooriya recorded M.S. Fernando on Sinhala pop including the most famous song “Pol Pol”.
He released two more albums on Sooriya label, the first included an English number “Call Me Fisherman” and the second included a Hindi song “Lankawallah”.
His songs were backed by the best artistes of the era: The Spitfires, Claude Fernando, Bella Kirkes, Duncan Clyde and Edgar Perera to name a few.
The film ‘Adare Hithenawa Dakkama’ directed by Neil Rupasinghe in 1972, marked the most number of songs M.S. recorded for a single film. M.S. sang songs for nearly 150 films and also played a few minor comedy roles in about 25 films and several tele-dramas. The tele-drama “Udagira” known by many to be the highlight.
“Simon Aiyai Martin Aiyai”, “Obata Thiyena Adare Mama Kiyala Denna”, “Manike Mama Aye Gedara Enawa”, “Mal Yahanawaki Loke”, “Punchi Panchi Kale”, “Guwan Gabe”, “Pem Lowa Nindedi”, “Ron Rasa Berena”, “Kakiri Palena”, “Me Irida” are a few of his evergreen hits.
In 1973, he was honored by the ‘Golden Lotus’ (Ran Nelum) award by the then President William Goppallawa for his contribution to Sinhala music.
M.S. has won 159 Silver trophies for his Baila performances on stage and earned the title ‘Baila Chakrawarthi’ (Emperor of Baila). His concerts were not limited to Sri Lanka. He entertained fans in the UK, France, Australia, Canada, Singapore and the Middle East.
M.S.Fernando was married to Tulin Fernando and was a father of six sons.
After an illustrious career, the great singer passed away on the 9th of April 1994 due to a heart attack while performing at a stage show at Narahenpita. Yet, even today, he continues to live in the hearts of the common man through his evergreen songs.