25th November 2001

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Kala Korner by Dee Cee

Down memory lane with Clarence

It was a trip down memory lane. A packed audience at the BMICH earlier this month paid tribute to Clarence Wijewardena, the man who created a new trend in Sinhala music thirty five years ago. The voice Clarence picked to sing his compositions - Annesley Malewana back in 1967 - was there to bring life to the early songs from the days of the Moonstones, the first group that Clarence formed. Annesley's voice is still the same and we, who had admired and appreciated the duo's efforts in the pioneering era, were taken back to those memorable days.

We missed Clarence of course, yet when young Rajiv Sebastian came on stage and started singing, many wondered whether he was back. One could close one's eyes and 'see' Clarence singing. An ardent admirer of Clarence, Rajiv confessed how from his school days he had adored Clarence and followed him to his concerts. He was ever so grateful to Clarence's wife, Sheila (she was present at the show herself) who supported him in his endeavour not to let Clarence's fans forget him. Rajiv deserves a big 'thank you' for doing a marvellous job, with his 'Clan' to back him.

Just as much as Indrani Perera gave life to 'Dilhani' followed by 'Amma' paying tribute to the mother, in the late sixties, she reminded us that these numbers would never fade away. With Annesley she made the show come alive bringing back sweet memories.

Looking back
Compere Vijaya Corea did a grand job in tracing the progress of Clarence as a shy young man then. In fact, the show was structured to illustrate that progress with prominent singers from the different eras lending their voices to sing popular numbers. There was Anil Bhareti joining Rajiv to present a medley from the Golden Chimes era, which was followed by the Super Golden Chimes era. Vijaya reminded us that the first time Clarence lent his own voice was to sing 'Dileepa podi putha' - a song he composed about veteran lyricist Karunaratne Abeysekera's son.

With pride, Vijaya looked back at the time he gave a break - a big one it turned out to be - to the Moonstones featuring them on the English service of Radio Ceylon, the State radio channel. The group had also cut 45 rpm gramophone disks, first under the Philips label and later under the Victory label. Clarence's work reached homes across the country through the Sooriya label records.

The highlight of the evening was the ever so popular Kataragama song - Kanda Surinduni - sung by Rajiv and Manoharan - the latter singing the Tamil version which he originally did with Clarence. There were guest artistes who came to pay tribute to Clarence - Chandralal Fonseka, Shyami, Lilanthi and Ranil who presented a medley of Clarence compositions originally sung by his late father, Milton Mallawarachchi.

The Old Anandians Sports Club led by their energetic president Manju Fernando and the hardworking project manager Gilbert Mendis, put up a grand show once again for a worthy cause - the development of college sports. Old Anandians and others had rallied round to make it a success, just as they did for the earlier show, 'Amara Uvasara' featuring Pandit Amaradeva.

In the news
Pandit Amaradeva continues to be in the news. The Ramon Magsasay Foundation has written to tell him that he made such an impression during his lecture tour in Manila when he went to collect the Magsasay Award that the Foundation continues to get letters of appreciation from music lovers. The Manila City Council has passed a resolution felicitating Pandit Amaradeva and other recipients of the Award this year, a copy of which has been forwarded to Amaradeva.

Meanwhile, the Ceylon Bloomesbury Group in London which has been promoting Sri Lankan artistes, is planning to hold a seminar on arts sometime next year featuring Pandit Amaradeva, drum expert Piyasara Silpadhipati and Rohan de Saram. Dr Sivasambu, the live wire of the Group, has written to Amaradeva and Silpadhipati (de Saram is in London) seeking their co-operation to present lecture demonstrations during the seminar.

A similar seminar was organised in 1988 when Amaradeva accompanied Dr Sarachchandra and presented the varying traditions of Sinhala music through the ages and the modern trends.

Dance of the drum

A repeat performance of the ballet "Berahanda" by Vajira, Sri Lanka's foremost danseuse goes on the boards on December 2.

Berahanda is the mythical story of the origin of the drum, an integral part of Lankan culture, based on Bandula Jayawardena's stage play, which has been brought vividly to life by Vajira. Her skill as a dancer, performer, teacher, choreographer and producer has resulted in an audio-visual treat of exceptional brilliance reflecting the talent and virtuosity of her guru, the incomparable Chitrasena whose leadership, knowledge, drive and charisma brought dance in this country to new heights. Berahanda is dedicated to him in recognition of the influence he has had, not only on Vajira, but also on the culture of our entire country. 

The prelude to the ballet consists of items by professional dancers, Upeka in Bera-nada-chalana, Geeth Premachandra in Ves, with the dancers of the project "Preserve the Dance". 

The leading roles will be played by Geeth Premachandra, Dilhani, Mahesh, Venuri, Isuru and students of the Kalayathanaya. Decor and costumes have been created by Somabandu. 

Berahanda will be staged at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on Sunday December 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Theatre. 

Battle against banality

Hurrah for the Circus, an exhibition of drawings by Muhanned Cader, is on at the Barefoot Gallery from November 26 to December 9.

Muhanned Cader's house overlooks one of the more secluded reaches of Bolgoda Lake. Overhanging trees frame the prospect. Waterfowl forage in the shallows. Now and then a kingfisher or gull unzips the lake surface to pluck out its dinner.

A restful place, then: a typical 'artist's retreat'. Hardly the setting, you would have thought, for an epic battle between the forces of civilization and barbarism. Yet that is precisely what, for the past several years, it has been. The pictures on display at Muhanned Cader's exhibition, Hurrah for the Circus, opening today at the Barefoot Gallery, are the offspring of that struggle and testify that, for the time being at least, civilization is winning.

No 'Sri Lankan artist' better exemplifies the contradiction inherent in that phrase than Muhanned Cader. It is almost impossible to be Sri Lankan and an artist too, for we Sri Lankans are a deeply inartistic people. A walk down the street - any street, in any town or village in the country - will immediately confirm this. 

At a deeper level, the individualism, egoism and hunger for life that drive the artist to make art are missing in our society: viciously suppressed, or sublimated into activities and impulses that might help shore up the collapsing false front that is Sri Lankan culture. Real art, like real life, is forever threatening to bring this wormy facade crashing down. 

In surroundings like this, how is it possible to make art at all? That's Cader's problem. 

It's a problem only a real artist would have, and it nearly killed him. For some years now he's suffered from a near-terminal case of artist's block, and like countless others before him he's sought to medicate the condition with sundry potions and diversions. Such remedies help with the pain but not with the cause, and for a while it seemed he might never paint again. Instead, he misbehaved - tormenting the toffee-nosed, scandalizing the spinsterish, smashing up society parties - all the while railing against the human vileness and squalor around him, the cultural midden on which he, one of the tiny handful of civilized Sri Lankans left, was forced to crawl, side by side with the bluebottles and maggots, picking over the filth for means of sustenance. If art is supposed to hold a mirror up to life, how could a person of taste and decency be an artist, when the mirror he upholds reflects nothing but garbage?

I, for one, thought he had lost it for ever.

But God knows how, he found his way back. The evidence is on display this week, hanging from the gallery walls. You'll see no big, elaborately-finished canvases gleaming with potential investment value, no mixed-media 'installations' betraying nothing more than their creator's inability to combine novelty with taste. What you will see, instead, is a collection of lucid pen-and-ink drawings, each one displaying more wit and imagination in its exploitation of technique alone than most of his rivals can bring to the execution of entire oeuvres. Not that Muhanned is the kind of artist who flaunts his technique; more often than not, he reveals it by concealing. 

The great difference between the art of Muhanned Cader and that of almost any of his contemporaries is his understanding of narrative and context. Talk to the average Sri Lankan artist: you're talking to a space cadet, someone with a headful of nonsensical ideas picked up at university or art school and absolutely no understanding of the real world, or of real people. Talk to Muhanned and you'll discover someone fully wired into the world, connected with life on all levels, firing on all cylinders. And - this is the clincher - he knows how to turn all that involvement, all that observation, all that insight, into art. It's there in the pictures - in his incisive, often perverse, frequently hilarious observations on the decadent, reeking society,in which Sri Lankans now live.

It's very restful out there in Koralawella, where Muhanned Cader's house is. But the place where Muhanned lives and has his being, where he fights his unending battle against the forces of banality, vulgarity and untruth, is anything but restful. A map to that location is now on display at the Barefoot Gallery. Go have a look. It might teach you something about your own place of domicile.- Richard Simon

Close to nature

Lester Perera's fourth exhibition of bird painting opens on November 29, at the Alliance Francaise with a collection of 40 watercolour and acrylic paintings marked by some notable developments in technique and style. The delicate, meticulous bird depictions so characteristic of Lester's style are now bolder, habitat-focused, larger scale paintings. 

Lester has always striven to couple artistic merit with accuracy. The proportions and postures, the intricate body details, the blend of colours, the background habitat - all should be as close to nature as possible. He spends days out in the field, observing, making notes and sketching. Back at home, his field sketches and notes are transformed, after a lot of thought, trial and deliberation, into paintings. 

Archer writing behind bars

Disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer doesn't have a lot on his plate as he heads for another prison breakfast

Later he'll knock out a few more pages of his latest book about life behind bars then maybe visit the inmates' gym.

It's a far cry from the posh social whirl that convict No. FF8282 once enjoyed as Tory party deputy chairman and celebrity author - but he's still wangled a few perks.

Archer has now been inside for more than three months first at Belmarsh Prison, South London, now at North Sea Camp open prison in Boston, Lincs.

The 61-year-old millionaire has asked warders to wake him at 4 a.m. every day so he can spend three-and-a-half hours on his book.

An insider said: "He often carries around his manuscript in a blue folder. After breakfast he returns to the administration block next door to write.

"It's a detached house and he works in a converted bedroom on the first floor. If he needs any inspiration, it has extensive views of the local countryside."

Archer was arrested after the News of the World revealed he had lied in a libel case about his involvement with a prostitute. 

He was sent down in July for perjury and perverting the course of justice, but he has enjoyed a string of treats since he became a guest of Her Majesty.

The latest is a running machine, which Archer paid to have installed at North Sea Camp because he didn' t think the jail's gym facilities were up to scratch.

An extra source of irritation to other prisoners is that while they have to share cells, Archer has the biggest one on his landing all to himself.

The source added: "And he has been excused from working on the prison pig farm. All other new arrivals are expected to spend at least a couple of months there. 

"It's a cold and wet job and you're upto your knees in manure, but he hasn't had to do it.

"I know he wrote First Among Equals - but that doesn't mean he should get special treatment here."

But there is a crumb of comfort for the other prisoners. 

Archer has one chore - having to clean the warders' toilets every day.

-News Of The World

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