Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I got this mail yesterday and think that you should read it. I do not know whether everything written here is true, but I believe the western musician in SL could do better and get treated better.

It was not so long ago that during the 50’s and 60’s saw imported Sudda bands playing at Galle Face Hotel and some of the oldest Hotels in our country where even Queen Elisabeth came to dine, vine and dance. As those Suddas wanted to earn a little extra money they taught locals their music and by the guidance of those veterans who learned from Suddas and the well talented who had the natural knack for music started the western music industry in Sri Lanka.

These veterans namely WHEELS COMBO, JETLINERS, BEACONS, HAROLD SENEVIRATNE COMBO were on the lime light of music as every music lover of our country were mesmerized and amazed to book them for any function that they considered a band should play. As most did not consider music as a profession during that time, most of these musicians performed for pleasure than earning money while doing their day time jobs.

Apart from that, Late Mr. M S Fernando and Late Mr. C T Fernando were rocking the western music scene with their guest spots at all popular night clubs backed by the western bands. Even Los Cabeleros, Amigos Romanticas, La Bambas, La Cylonians, Samanalayo, Moon stones and many others were bringing out a new music era in our country. (Their songs are still sung at many functions)

During this time, the top management posts of most of the hotels were handled by foreigners and the locals were getting trained by them to take over when the time is right.

The foreign managers knew very well that entertainment and service could make a difference to a hotel as any alcoholic beverage tasted the same anywhere in the world.

This knowledge and attitude of these hoteliers saw some of the best entertainers such as Erin de Selfa, Mignone, Dalreen, Noeline, Desmond De Silva, Alston Coch, Conrad De Silva, Sam the Man, Roger Menezis, Peter Prince, Harold Seneviratne, Maxie Rosario, Antionette, Claude Fernando, Claude Severatnam, Raja Jalaldeen, Cecil Rodrigo, Raj Seneviratne, Sohan Peries, Sooriyakumar Weerasingham, Loretta Coch, Priyanthie Manamperi, and many others coming to the lime light of Sri Lankan music industry, so that the western music field is well established and people of Sri Lanka have recognized it to be a profession. (Pardon me if I have missed out any names. You all were great).

Along with these star grade singers and musicians we had the chance of seeing some of the best bands in Sri Lanka namely Jetliners, Wheels Combo, The Beacons, Savages, Gabo And The breakaways, Spitfiers, Fire flies, Sam The Man and his Gaylords, Harold Seneviratne & combo, Peter Prince Combo, The Bohemians and many more.

The trend continued to bring Estelle, Judy, Corinne, Mariazelle, Sonali, Manilal, Larry Landers, Sohan Weerasinghe along with bands like Amazing Grace, Cascade, Moon Stones, X-Periments, Pearl, Super Golden Chimes, Gypsies, Arabesque, Lotus, Upekha, Mirage, Super Pink ‘N’ purple, Kings, Steelers, Ecstasy and many more top artistes and bands to the fore front of the western music industry during the 70’s and 80’s.

Just for the sake of giving you an example of a fine hotelier, most of these bands performed in one place on a regular basis and the hotelier brought the crowd by way of advertising, special theme nights, or special promotions and the bands kept them entertained until the closing time of the place.

All these artistes were properly promoted by top hoteliers who knew bands and artistes are money making assets to the hotel industry. Further these hoteliers were part of organizing mega music events like Jay Cee show, Many beach Carnivals, Observer Talent Search, Times music Awards, Island Music Awards and Observer Music Awards. They just supported their bands to the tee, so that these bands and musicians will remain on top. We need to recognize the print media too for their support for giving our local bands and artistes maximum publicity.

Today you do not find hoteliers of this calibre any more. The very reason for this downfall of standards is they do not have any sense of music though they are much more qualified on paper than hoteliers of earlier times. They do not have any concept for making an outlet profitable. A classic example of what we are writing here is a well known and one of the oldest night spots opening and closing their club due to lack of patronage many a times during the recent past. (Presently closed) Their final conclusion is ‘those days are gone’. We have a question then; how come still there are many night spots which run by non hoteliers as well as hoteliers, getting super crowds almost everyday? The top night spots of this country are run by people who take these places on lease or by former musicians. On top of having no sense of music, consider the following for understanding of the problems that western musicians face today.

1.    The hoteliers want to cut cost by terminating the verbal contracts of top bands. Recently a top band leader told me that this happened to him in a Colombo suburb hotel. If a hotel wants to cut cost, it should come from the top management and the top mangers should decide that they will start collecting half of what they get for a period of time until things settled. It should not be the other way of stopping your top money spinning band or an artiste for the purpose of cutting cost.

2.    Another incident was that a top most hotel informing the bands performing there to reduce their charge by half to cut cost. The bands who were performing at this hotel said no. Another Colombo hotel grabbed the opportunity in grand style and got most of these bands to play in their hotel finally making the former hotel to bring a Filipino band to play at their lobby. We do not know about the cost of this band as they were given, full board by the hotel. (Hope the cost it is less than what they were paying our local bands.) The laughing and sad part of the story is these Filipinos are trying their best to sing our great songstress Mariazelle’s ever popular Sinhala songs to entertain the locals. We wonder whether this hotel is so bankrupt to hire the original singer of these songs as she is still living hail and hearty in Sri Lanka. Hope you will realize the sense of music of these people. One pioneer band leader jokingly said that he is waiting to meet Paris Hilton when he goes to LA next time.

3.    The hoteliers are in to taking bribes from bands. One of the agents  who provide and promote bands and artistes in Sri Lanka recently accused, top hoteliers taking bribes to play his bands on contract at their hotels. Dear Hotelier, where is your sense of music? All hoteliers should tap their hearts and ask whether they have got the best of entertainers in their hotels or not. Also they should ask themselves, what they have done to promote these bands and artistes who perform at their hotels.  Especially when they see a super musician playing alone without a band backing him, the hotelier should tap his heart and ask himself, “Is it because I did not do anything to promote this guy?” Sorry I cannot give you any hints on this as some people might loose face or even his/her job if I do that but the director boards of hotels should be aware of this.

4.    Though we have top money spinning Casinos in this country a band will get paid very little where still, these musicians travel by bus, no way of updating their sound equipment, no way of putting a new set of strings on their guitar, and everyday they think of having less musicians on stage. Most of the talented musicians today are playing alone or having a duo or trio to cut cost which brings the western music industry to a pathetic situation faster than we realize. If someone knows our BOI Chairman Mr. Dhammika Perera’s mail address please send this mail to him, may be he does not know about this or he does not realize this or may be worse, he does not care. The musician is deprived of EPF, ETF, Service charge or any other benefit you can think of. When a disaster takes place in our country the first to get affected is the musician. When Tsunami came the Calypso music industry of SL went to such a state, that these musicians were performing in trains for hat collections to feed their families. (The reason was that their contracts were all verbal) The top music gear importers are now importing cheap Chinese gear as the musician in Sri Lanka cannot afford to have the best anymore.

5.    Down south hotels used to pay a band during the 70’s more than 4500/=. During that time a hotel room was between 12 to 18USD a day. Today a hotel room will cost more than 100USD and the bands are getting paid 6500/=. Still the contracts are available only for duos and trios as they do not want to have a top band by paying them good money. These hoteliers have increased all cost except entertainment cost during the last 40 years. How do you like that? Do you realize where musicians stand with the hotel industry?

6.    A top hotel gave auditions to many bands during a certain month without any payment (not even transport was paid and we believe they saved a lot of money by doing that) just to recruit one band for a week day. After a month long auditions the bands were not even thanked for performing for the audition or not commented why they have decided against them. They simply forgot they ever gave auditions to bands. In the same venue they wanted to bring down the volume level of performers. Sure they did that except for one top band whose band leader was a personal friend of the top most manager of the hotel Not soooooo Grand man, eh!

7.    The latest we hear is a hotel sending home almost all the bands performing at their hotel on a regular basis just to change the concept of music to be more classical type than any other. We wonder whether these managers have done a market research before coming to do a change like this or they are over confident to believe that the customer will take anything they decide is best for them. We request all who like it classical to climb the mountain.

8.    Another hotel that had a successful pub running had got in to a major problem after finding out that the manager and the staff were cheating the customers as well as the hotel. They sacked manager and the 5 staff members involved. As the public got to know about this, it became an isolated place. In the meantime the band who played there for two years successfully was also sacked as the members of the band were friendly with the manager who got sacked. To get the crowd back hotel did nothing, no explaining no re launching or any kind of advertising. Got a new band and played them for three months before terminating their contract also due to lack of people putting the blame on the band. These managers should be sent to India to learn a few things from them.

9.    Luckily we still have got a few who have worked with the hoteliers of yesteryear in the hotel industry. One such place has got a pioneer out fit who were reformed to play 4 nights in the week while offering them full board and all facilities plus all kinds of promotions. We are sure when time to come some of the new hoteliers will open their eyes to see how an unknown outlet of a top hotel have become the talk of the town. (By the way brothers do not send money to run this hotel anymore and they are on their own and doing fine).

10.When the management change came to Ceylon, first thing they did was calling back the band who played there a long time to perform at their hot bar once again. By doing this now this bar is a happening place during the whole week. See how a well timed decision of a hotelier who has sense of entertainment could make room for many musicians and artistes to do their job and earn a living without the fear of loosing their job tomorrow.

11.See the beautiful happenings at R & Bros company. There are no hoteliers there but, they have got something to offer for everybody who walks in there. This place will be an eye opener for all the hoteliers who have closed there night spots due to so many reasons but never willing to admit that they have no concept to run their outlets like that due to lack of sense in entertainment.

To overcome these issues our hoteliers should have a minimum knowledge of music for sure or at least they should be music lovers. If possible they should be sent to Vegas, Atlantic City or Niagara falls to learn how to use and safeguard the entertainment industry while recruiting the best for their respective venues. (In these places everything is based on entertainment and entertainment brings their revenue). They should know when they have the best; everybody will want to patronize that particular venue. By practicing this, most of our top musicians who are playing one man, duo or trio will think of returning back to the music industry with a band. The music industry will once again do well.

On the other hand, it is high time we Sri Lankans give enough room for the musicians and artistes of this country to have their own union to look in to their grievances. If by this time we had a music union, no Filipino band will try to sing Mariazelle’s Sinhala hits here or perform in SL on a regular basis, or no hotelier will ask for bribes, or no hotel will have any verbal contracts, no casino will pay peanuts to the most valuable musicians who are playing with less members to cut cost. Even down south hotels will think of upgrading the life style of their musicians by paying good money while charging the foreigner. (At least next increase of prices will be done having the musicians also in their mind). When a hotel wants to cut cost they will hire more affluent bands & entertainers to increase their revenue by organizing many eye catching events, while collecting half of salary until things are running right. (Mind you, this happened during insurgency in SL and we should be thankful to those managers who sacrificed their perks for the safekeeping of the industry).

This is prepared by a music lover and a lover of music, and a yesteryear hotelier who thinks that it is time that we recognize and appreciate the musicians and hoteliers of our land once again. I thank all who helped me to do this research as they had to break rest to meet these fine human beings just to collect their ideas & views and thank you for taking time to read this. Though this article runs in to 6 pages I have collected information where I could write a two hundred paged book.

“Music is a feeling conveyed from the player to the listener, let him convey it happily”.

If you pass this on, your email address won’t be robbed and you are doing a favour to all musicians and hoteliers to fine tune their act. As Sri Lanka is the safest country in the world today, let’s collect the harvest now so that the next generation of Hoteliers and musicians will not go through with what these fine men and women had to go through.