Member of : La Bambas
Genre : Group Harmony
Coming from a family with musical background with his grandfather being an organist, Priya’s first step to music was a harmonica gifted by his parents when he was only seven years of age. He played the Harmonica during the school holidays while at his parents’ estate in upcountry, as he schooled at St. Thomas’s College, Mt. Lavinia.
During the Christmas holidays Priya played hymns on the harmonica which he learned by instinct and was also praised by the family members.
With this interest in music, Priya made a habit of listening to harmony done by the college choir, thus leading him to become an expert in harmony at a very young age.
Priya was eighteen years of age when he made his first appearance for the ‘Maliban Talent Contest’ (commonly known as ‘Maliban Guwan Thotilla’) singing a hillbilly melody by Ned Miller: “Sunday Morning Tears”. Priya appeared for this to a request made by his uncle, Brian Fernando who already had identified Priya’s talents.
In 1966 Brian formed the band ‘La Bambas’ with Priya and few other friends and entered performing at hotels after being selected by the ‘Observer Talent Contest’. This followed their debut recording in 1968.
Priya was one of those rare composers who composed hit songs in both Sinhala and English Language.
He was nineteen years when he composed the songs “Nuwara Menikela” and “Cock-a-doodle-do” for the La Bambas album on Sooriya label. The song “Kurullan Piyabala” composed by Priya became an instant hit, reaching the top in Sinhala hit parade for two consecutive weeks.
He also composed songs dedicated to the country; songs “Welcome To Sunny Lanka” and “Ayubowan” recorded for the La Bambas fourth album, the song “Wake up in Sri Lanka to a nice hot cup of tea” dedicated to the Sri Lankan tea industry. However this song was not accepted by the tourist board or the Ceylon tea board at the time.
With his ability in identifying the talents of others, Priya promoted many personalities to the music field; Priya introduced Paul Fernando to Vijaya Corea where Priya backed on music with few friends from La Bambas for Paul’s first performance as there was no band to back his singing. Priya’s compositions “Maala” and “Pan Mama” brought Paul instant fame as ‘Prince of Baila’. Priya also introduced Paul to Gerald for recordings. Stanley Peiris and the Fortunes were also introduced to Vijaya Corea by Priya which lead them to record on SLBC and eventually on Sooriya label.
During the time, Priya worked in the tea trade and then in the rubber trade. The tea company, Summerville & Co. was located in Fort in front of The Children’s Bookshop. Priya reminisces how he used to visit the record shop often with friends where they listened to records, met fellow artists and fans.
This versatile musician is also a knowledge hub when it comes to music and its origins around the world; songs in English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, French, German, Japanese, Hawaiian, Latin American, authentic Caribbean Calypsos, American Cowboy, Plantation and Dixieland favorites, Negro spirituals are to name some.
At times when unable to get together with his group La Bambas, Priya appears solo on stage to bring back the nostalgic memories of that era.
With the help of La Bambas members, he initiated a series of music workshops for Army musicians. Priya’s efforts were for his passion towards music, a service to the Sri Lankan music industry.
In 2014, Priya was honored as ‘Kalabhooshana’ state award for his services rendered towards the development of music industry of Sri Lanka. He was also awarded as the winner of ‘National state literary arts festival 2014’.