She has that voice, the intense kind with a lilting smoothness that charms anyone who listen to it. She evokes true feelings in her listeners by merging music with emotion. She is none other than, Visharada Neela Wickramasinghe.
She first got involved in music from her time at the Kesbewa Government private school. She was blessed with the opportunity to study music under reputed teachers such as Maestro Vincent Somapala, Ananda Jayasinghe, Amara Athukorala, Sarath Dassanayake and Premadasa Mudunkotuwa. Her talents were first showcased in 1959 when she sang her first song on Radio Ceylon for the programme ‘Amateur Voice’. In 1967, still a young girl of about seventeen, she recorded her first song with Radio Ceylon, “Sende ambare nisha mal yata” which was composed by Dalton Alwis with music by Lionel Algama. So began her long and prosperous career as a singer. She studied North Indian Classical Music and graduated in 1974 with a Sangeeta Visharada degree. Her voice exudes classic femininity while her songs capture the Sri Lankan spirit through a mainly local folk music genre.
Neela Wickramasinghe is famous for being a versatile playback singer. She has voiced songs in as many as sixty seven films. “Viyo gee” from the film, ‘Golu Hadawatha’, brings to life the sorrow of two young lovers, who can never be together and yet wishes for the other’s life to be filled with light and happiness. It was composed by maestro Premasiri Kemadasa and “Master Sir”, composed by veteran musician Nimal Mendis deviated from her usual genre and showcased her skill in singing songs of diverse traditions. Her first encounter with Sooriya was for a long play album titled “Songs of Old Sinhala Theatre”, then a duet with W.D. Amaradewa and again in 1979 when she paired with T.M. Jayarathne to bring life to the album “Best of T.M. and Neela”.
Going beyond being a singer, Visharada Neela imparted her knowledge of music to the future generations by teaching music in schools for twenty eight years. After her retirement in 1998, she held many audiences spellbound by performing abroad for the Sri Lankan expatriate community who crave the rich blend of Sri Lankan culture she evokes through her music. In commemoration of the 45th year of her musical career, Neela started the solo concert named “Master Sir” on 2012. She has won the hearts of many and entertained generations of music lovers.
Giving back to the society has always been a goal of her life. In 1989 she collaborated with UNICEF to eradicate polio in Sri Lanka. She sang a song for this campaign which carried the message across radio and television. Furthermore she founded “The Mother” organization which was established to help the children, elderly and veteran artists of the field.
Neela Wickramasinghe is passionate in what she does, whether it is singing, teaching or giving back to the society she lives to show that passion is power. This passion has endeared her to her fans and etched that beautiful voice and charming smile in the hearts of many Sri Lankans.
WRITTEN BY THARAKA RANCHIGODA
EDITED BY NADEESHA PAULIS