Date: July 20, 1973. Venue: Lumbini Theatre, Havelock town - the popular venue of Sinhala plays and concerts. That evening it was a musical treat. A young musician presenting a solo performance - the first time music fans were getting a taste of such a recital featuring a single artiste.
Date: December 17, 2009. Venue: BMICH. The same musician, 36 years 'younger' presenting the identical show. He is performing for the 1400th time. The same songs are sung. His voice has hardly changed, though of course, his face is no longer youthful.
The artiste, as you may have guessed by now, is Victor Ratnayake - a leading name in the Sinhala music scene over the past four and a half decades. The show 'Sa' has been a household word for three and a half decades.
How does this show go on and on for such a length of time still drawing full houses, I wondered. The answer is simple. It's clean entertainment. Even at the recent show, Victor never changed his original setting. He sits in the middle of the stage.
The 15-member orchestra (five violinists, two flutists, two sitarists, two tabla/drum players, two guitarists, a cellist and a keyboard player) are behind him on either side smartly dressed. The simple backdrop only displays the logo 'Sa' in Sinhala. The feel is that of a star studded sky.
What a relief it was to listen to the singer undisturbed by dances which very often take precedence over the songs in most musical shows today. In 'Sa' there wasn't a single dance to accompany the songs. The audience could concentrate on how the singer performed and enjoy his rendition.
Thirty five years is quite a long period of time. A significant feature was that apart from Victor, there was at least one member in the orchestra who had performed right through. He was Victor's brother, the grey-bearded Somapala Ratnayake, a renowned musician himself, playing the cello.
As a father, Victor must have felt quite elated that his son, Jayantha had matured as a musician to conduct the orchestra in addition to playing the keyboard. It was a treat to watch the father and son combining to present the ever-popular 'podi kumarihamiye' with Jayantha playing the harmonium accompanied by Hemapala Gallage on the drums.
In the chorus were several regulars including Lakshman Wijesekera, Ananda Weerasiri and Niranjala Sarojini.
The vast repertoire of songs served as a gentle reminder of the golden era of Sinhala music when we were treated to real quality stuff - prior to the 'raping' of Sinhala music, as Victor himself publicly declares. You name his most popular numbers - he sang every one of them with the crowd acknowledging with thunderous applause.
Victor paid tribute to his bosom friend, the talented lyric writer Premakirthi de Alwis whose untimely death put an end to a longstanding relationship. Most of Victor's songs were written by him. Victor made special mention of how he wrote a moving song on the mother while Premakirthi's mother was in hospital. Victor was particularly touched by the way Premakirthi had linked the lullaby 'doi doi doi doiya putha' into the melody and demonstrated the impact.
Victor also made mention of compositions done by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne for him.
It was a fine gesture to record the names of all the musicians, chorus singers, lyric writers and technical staff who had participated in the shows throughout the 35-year period, in the brochure distributed among the audience. It's an impressive list of accomplished artistes who have contributed much in the field of music. Some of them are no more. Among the others many turned up for the landmark event sponsored by Sirasa TV.
From the moment Victor started the show with the much-loved 'Api okkoma rajavaru' until he ended with the same song, he went on without a break for two hours. It was time well spent. It was superlative entertainment.
Victor - our wish is for the show to go on and on….