The Late Great Tom Menezes, second from left, on Trumpet.
In the beginning, there was the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon. Without that broadcast we would never have had the golden opportunity of listening to and enjoying English pop music in the 60’s.
Each morning would always start with the breakfast show, followed by Housewife’s Choice at 2pm and then the rest of the delightful music programs thereafter. Sunday’s were special cos of the long and enjoyable Sunday choice in the afternoons that went on from 2pm to 5.
Music, automatically entered our veins and we used to try to play on anything we found in the house and also sing at the top of our voices, much to the annoyance of our neighbors.
Mum used to play harmonica and also sing us to sleep, each night. Her favorite tracks were “Prisoners Song”, “She’ll be coming round the mountain”, and “Auld Lang Syne”.
My love for rhythm and drums was always aching to hit on anything that came my way. First, it was Mum’s wooden ladles and clay pots. I used get chased out of Mums kitchen even by the many Ammey’s who came to help with the cooking. Then came bongo drums and congas.
All our cousins used to gather at Grandma’s place every Sunday for a game of cricket and lunch. This was the opportunity to try and make music with all of them. We had almost two cricket teams between us. We sure made music.
Close to home was the Bambalapitiya Flats. Many were the awesome musicians who lived there. I remember the Latif Miskin Combo playing every week night at the Koffee House on the ground floor next to the Milk Board in the flats building facing the Galle Road. Papa Miskin on Trumpet, Farook Miskin on drums and the late Ahamed Miskin playing double bass and doing the vocals with those memorable Jim Reeves songs. Gazali Amit the famed guitarist joined them on many occasions. We used to stand outside and watch through the glass window.
Other musicians at the Bamba flats were Sunil Abhayasinghe, now in LA, Loranjan Dias Abeygunewardene & his lovely sister, the late Shiromani Mackeen, who was a brilliant pianist. Many were the gigs we did on Radio Ceylon as a trio. Shiro passed away some years back in LA and Lora has moved to Ireland where he plays great music with a gig up there.
Then came The Royal College Swingtette, in the 60’s, thanks to Mr Amerasinghe who had returned from USA to take up a teaching position in Colombo and chose to introduce jazz music to the naughty boys. This brought in a flock of very talented musicians like the late Gabo Pieris (Drums/Percussion), Charlie Gulasekharam (Trombone), William Solomons (Double Bass), Geoffrey Labrooy (Drums, now in Australia and also played with the late Raddy Ferreira, Dallas Achilles & the rest), Arooz Sheriff (Drums), and the one and only Ishan Bahar (Guitar/Vocals). Another wonderful musician from school is Puvanendrarajah, a true lead guitar maestro in the shades of the great Hank Marvin of the shadows. He later went on to take the stage name of Indra Raj and played with the famous Jetliners and still plays his music in Europe.
A short stint with “The Faizal Hathy Combo”, comprising Faizal Hathy on Piano, Afzal (Apple) Hathy on Trumpet and their lovely sister doing the vocals followed. More gigs with other lesser known pop/rock bands kept the scene alive.
It was at time that I had the great privilege and honor of meeting with and knowing the best of the best from Papa Menezes, Mickey Menezes, Tom Menezes, Harold Seneviratne, Sam the Man, Saybhan Samat, The Manicavasager brothers, Cass & Faleel Ziard, Peter Prins, Mario Manricks, Cecil Rodrigo, Wadham Dole, and so many other great jazz musicians.
Working at Chartered Bank in The Fort, in Colombo, was a sensational experience in the early 70’s. Meeting folks like Mr. Gerald Wickremasooriya and his lovely wife, their son Netaji, at Childrens’ Bookshop every lunch hour and tea break became the order of the day. Many were the top musicians of that era who gathered at this little kiosk, on the corner of Upper Chatham Street, to enjoy a cup of tea and indulge in musical chatter.
That was the time I bought my first used drum kit for Rs 500 from a close friend who also worked in one of the private sector companies in the Chartered Bank building. The pride of owning a kit was sensational. It was a glitter green Olympic set. Life had just begun for me.
Moving on deeper into the music scene we managed to set up a jazz/rock band named “The Spiritual Recipe” comprising Ezmal Lye (Bass), Dylan Lye (Lead Guitar), & Rasmar Lye (Percussion), Dr. Nalin Jayatunge (Sax), Rumi Bathusha (Rhythm Guitar/Vocals), and the late Lakshman Weeraman (Sinhala vocals & sound manager), may he rest in peace. Practice was on weekends at the Lye residence in Borupana. Most of the gigs were performed at the “Padang” in The Malay Club in Slave Island. It was the 70’s and the era of Santana, Osibissa, James Taylor, Woodstock & Psychedelic Flower Power. The music scene in Colombo was simply bursting its seams.
And then the eventual “karumey” of marriage hit me. Life must go on. Children joined the clan. And we eventually packed up our bags and left the island in search of greener pastures in the Middle East in 1979. Yet, the lure of the sticks and snares never faded away. Many are the wonderful musicians we came to meet, know and play with, from so many different parts of the globe. Michael Feegrade from Goa in India, now settled in Hawaii in the USA, is one of the most talented bass players I have ever known. Some of the others are Captain Mike Williams (Sax), Jun Manabat (Guitar & Vocals), Giovanni Mascarenhas (Guitar/Vocals), & Ali Maghrabi (Keyboard/Vocals), all from Riyadh with whom we used to swing at the Riyadh Intercontinental Hotel ballroom, for strictly high net worth private gigs in the mid 80’s.
We played, jazz, rock, pop and even Arabic music as our own taste of music evolved into many interesting international deeper coves.
Looking back over almost 60+ years of music the road has certainly been a beautiful melody combined with so many talented musicians crossing our paths. When I ponder over the drum lessons I now give to students in Saudi Arabia my mind always goes back to the Sunday morning lessons that the late great Tom Menezes used to give me at his beautiful home in Dehiwela.
As awesome as the music we enjoyed then, are also all those beautiful music lovers and musicians we met along the way.
Keep the music playing, people.