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Photographs - Nimal Nawaratne

Over 240 music lovers from different strata of the British Sri Lankan community, were treated to an exhilarating evening’s entertainment, thanks to the launch of Dr. Kusum Subesinghe’s maiden CD Kokila Gee.

I have been some what bold, but I believe justifiably so, to label this event, held on the 2nd of November 2013, at the Auditorium of the University of Westminster as being “unforgettable” the title of a song made famous by the great Nat King Cole.

“Unforgettable- in every way, and for ever more, that’s how it’ll stay....

Never before, has some one been more… Unforgettable” the song goes on.

The event had so many elements and unique features, all of which contributed to an efficient, well organized programme with an easy gentle flow, but yet diverse in it’s content; pleasing on the eyes and ears, and at the end of it coming in for praise and acclaim without exception.

This was an ideal occasion to show case Kusum’s talent with her vocals, and Nyanis’s skill on the keyboard along with the rich and harmonious sound of the alto saxophone and the trumpet played by their doctor sons Manil and Sujith. They were ably supported by Denzil Lazarus on the keyboard, Gamini Abeyawardena on Tabla and Andrew Siyambalawatta on Dolak. I have not witnessed such an array of musical instruments at a SriLankan show in UK, especially the saxophone and the trumpet.

Before dissecting the musical side of things, I would like to make an observation about the organization of the event. Ample car parking facilities were available. Kusum had used her good offices to obtain a concessionary rate for parking for £2.50 for the duration of the event. Her close friends had taken full control of matters outside the stage and performed their delegated roles to perfection, displaying what teamwork can achieve. Kusum’s way of saying thank you for the support extended to her by those attending was to give a snack box, with some delicious Sri Lankan snacks which went down like a treat, even, remembering that there were vegetarians amongst us, and catering accordingly. This truly exemplifies to what extent, Kusum has gone, to ensure the comfort and well being of the attendees.

The auditorium itself had superb accoustics and the audio-visual experts were able to utilize the facilities to the maximum.

The scheduled start at 3pm got underway 10minutes later, just to give the guests time to come in and settle down. Anura Hegoda and Asiri Bandara compered the whole show in their own inimitable style, with wit and humour thrown into the mix along with dialogue and more serious content concerning the lyricists and the musicians on the one hand as well as low down on the speakers on the other. Their dulcet tones and the command  of the language and the ease of the delivery was something to admire.

Kusum’s opening number ‘Shrini Vibhushitha Lanka’ was rendered with such great emotion and feeling, that it reduced a few number in the audience to tears. Although we are all domiciled in the UK for several years, a show of gratitude and appreciation for mother Lanka was foremost in Kusum’s mind and that is to be applauded.

She herself addressed the gathering both in Sinhalese and English mindful of the fact that in the audience were her Tamil, English, Indian and Bangladesh friends. This too was a fine example of being mindful to the sensitivities of the audience and to make them feel inclusive.

She went on to pay a tribute to late Stanley Peiris, Wijeratna Ranatunga, Hemasiri Gallage and other musicians who were part of the original recording who have sadly passed on. She then went on to pay a tribute to her late mother through her own composition (both lyrics and melody) ‘Dasa Masa Kusaye’ to which Stanley Peiris had provided the musical arrangements. The first two songs sung with the live band, brought out the best in Kusum’s singing and although appearing more animated, singing with a live band, Kusum maintained her feminine composure, moving away from the recent trend of having dancers to dance to every song.

The first speech by The Head of the London Buddhist Vihara Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thero, highlighted the invaluable service Kusum had rendered the LBV in particular and to the Buddhist and Sri Lankan community, generally over the past 25years or so. The Nayaka Thero wished her well and preyed for longevity and good health to enable her to continue to serve the community.

Mr. Neville de Silva the deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in UK, traced his personal interest in Sinhala music to the times of Ananada Samarakoon and Sunil Shantha. Although aware of Kusum’s talents he had not been privy to any of Kusum’s previous performances and was quite excited at being present to absorb and enjoy the full flavor of the afternoon’s performance.

Kusum went on to sing three songs in succession all to her backing tracks including ‘Kokila Gee Raave’ the title of her album. This song is sung as a duet with late Stanley Peiris, to whom Kusum paid a generous tribute, for having provided the melodies and musical arrangements to 13 of her 18 songs. She also expressed her indebtedness to Stanley for obtaining the lyrics from a renowned lyricist the late Premakirthi de Alwis for the song ‘Kiri Suwandak’. These songs were sung with gusto and verve much to the delight of the audience whose applause and acclaim was testimony to her striking a chord with the music lovers. The fact that the speeches and the songs were nicely interspersed proved to be a winning formula to avoid audience boredom. Douglas Wickremaratne of the Sinhala Sangamaya spoke of the special service Kusum, Nyanis and the family had rendered to his organization by providing music for their fund raising events.

Mr. Janaka Alahapperuma traced the contribution the Subesinghe family led by Kusum had made to the Sri Lankan community over the past 25 years or more. Along with Troy Anthony, Janaka had a brilliant video made including footage of the boys when they were probably 8 or 10years blowing away on the trumpet and clarinet, dressed in their Batik sarong and shirts. 20 years on the boys are now doctors, and still performing as a family outfit which I felt was quite poignant, as it is a rarity to see members of the same family (who are not professional musicians) but humble NHS doctors strutting their stuff for close upon 3 decades. It exemplifies the concept that sharing common interest amongst family members and indulging in these activities as a family unit, must be the right way of preserving the integrity of a family.

Janaka’s video presentation enabled many in the audience to appreciate the enormity of the contribution Kusum and her family have made, through their music.

Kusum went on to sing a couple of more songs including ‘Akurata Nogiyoth’ written by Hector Wijayasiri and set to music by Rohana Weerasinghe which tugged at my heart strings. Here Kusum, tells the story of a single mother denied of education for herself, who escorts her rich employer’s children to school in the city whilst her own daughter is attending the village school. The advice given to the daughter, with Wijayasiri’s piercing lyrics complimented by the powerful singing cries out and demands social justice to a disparate society.

Dr. Nihal Gunasekara, a batch mate of Kusum delivered excerpts from Professor Carlo Fonseka’s glowing tribute paid to Kusum in a feature article, which appeared in the “Island” newspaper recently. Spicing up his speech in his unique style, Nihal managed to send ripples of laughter throughout the audience with his wit and humour.

The visual of ‘Samanala Siripa’,  which brought back nostalgic memories of Sri Lanka, transported the entire audience to Sri Pada, the water falls, the lush mist laden tea estates, the paddy fields and Anuradhapura. The rhythm of the song the lyrics and the delivery, evoked a profound emotional response, which I can unashamedly say caused a tear or two to roll down my cheeks.

Daya  Ananda Ranasinghe , a veteran journalist gave a longer speech in which he traced the conception of the idea of the CD ‘Kokila Gee’, and his involvement in the project along with Anura Hegoda. He went on to say about the abundance of talent found within our community in all spheres, within the arts and fervently hoped that Kusum and her contribution would not be forgotten in the years to come.

The band returned to play a beautiful lullaby ’Ape Mal Gahe’, which was so soothing to the ears, that anyone who closed their eyes could be excused for going in to sleep mode and in to the dream world. Kusum rounded up the evening’s singing with a catchy Kaffringa song ‘Seethala Gangul Thale’ and capped the evening’s performance with the icing on the cake, a passion evoking robust rendering of ‘Peradiga Muthu Atayayi’ (Pearl of the Orient) with many in the audience participating to good measure.

Nyanis brought the proceedings to a close with a well constructed vote of thanks, and describing both a sense of achievement and relief at its conclusion. He acknowledged the role each and everyone played. Whilst Kusum and the band took centre stage, his words reminded me of the saying that “it is not the lofty sails that move the ship, but the unseen wind”, referring to the many who helped to bring all the elements together to make the evening a tremendous success that it was.

I did come to hear about Kusum’s talent at Devi Balika Vidyalaya where she had sung along with (late) Mallika Perera of the Three Sisters fame, at the Colombo Medical College to which Professor Carlo Fonseka had alluded to and on the London stage for well over 25years, facts which were not well known to many in the audience.

Video by Tissa Madawela

To have sung duets with Victor Ratnayake, T.M Jayaratna and Stanley Peiris is rare privilege that very few can boast of and to have an array of lyricists of the highest calibre. and musicians like Victor Ratnayake, Rohana Weerasinghe, Sanath Nandasiri and Stanley Peiris himself arranging and directing the songs is a rare feather in the cap.

It is worth mentioning that when Kusum first submitted her cassette recording to the SLBC, all the 12 songs were approved for broadcasting by the censor board, as was a requisite and the practice, which prevailed at the time.

Kusum has undertaken a musical journey charting the course as she went along, without asking for special favours. She has been blessed with a very pleasing voice which through her CD she has shared with her numerous admirers and listeners, and it is my hope and prayer that she, like a little candle that throws its  beams afar,  will shine with her good deeds in this weary world, helping in the best way she can, through her singing.

We all wish you well and my congratulations and thanks for a wonderful evening.

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Photographs - Nimal Nawaratne

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