Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

Sunil Santha's voice cannot be stilled

Sunil Santha

Listening to Ivor Dennis rendering some of the finest of Sunil Santha's songs over Rupavahini the other day, it was so consoling to know that there is at least one voice to preserve for posterity the great singer's lilting melodies. It is tragic that some of the early numbers sung by Sunil Santha had reportedly been wilfully damaged at State radio. Scratch marks had appeared in the recordings which were done on disc.

Ivor has been Sunil Santha's golaya since 1951 having been introduced to him by Patrick Denipitiya, one of the master's pupils. Impressed by Ivor's voice, having heard him sing one of his songs over the radio, Sunil Santha invited Ivor to sing in his chorus. In fact, Sunil Santha who was in Ja-ela, used to pick him up and bring him for classes in Colombo. Ever since, Ivor has been his faithful follower.

In a new programme presented by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne and aired just after Sunil Santha's 25th death anniversary, Ivor recalled the 1940s "when the Colombo 7 types who never cared for Sinhala music or uttered a word of Sinhala were suddenly awakened by Sunil Santha's voice". He introduced the Sinhala song to a whole new audience. The Western touch in his songs appealed to them. They would play his songs on the piano. And then the Armed Forces started playing his songs. (Those bands still do).

Sunil Ariyaratne identified three personalities - Ananda Samarakoon, Sunil Santha and Amaradeva - as the ones who created the Sinhala song. "We were lucky they were born,” he said. The programme began with 'Suwanda rosa mal' sung by Sunil Edirisinghe who confessed that when the hospital staff suddenly asked his mother to suggest a name for the newborn, she could only recollect Sunil Santha. That's how he got his name!

Sunil Ariyaratne reminded us how Sunil Santha was voted the most popular singer when the Sinhala newspaper, 'Peramuna' conducted a readership survey in 1951. The following year, readers of 'Gnanartha Pradeepaya' selected 'Piyakaru nuware wewe' as the most popular song.

Sunil Santha picked novel themes. It was he who thought of composing a song about a schoolteacher ('Mihikata nalavaala'). He was most concerned about the lyrics and the correct usage of the words. Through Fr. Moses Perera, he came to know Munidasa Cumaratunga and became an ardent follower of his. He became a lyric writer himself and wrote some of the finest Sinhala songs using simple, meaningful words. Rohana Weerasinghe, after singing 'Nelavi senasenne' explained the simple style that Sunil Santha followed in composing music. The pick of the evening was Ivor's rendering of 'Dudanoda binda' –– Rapiel Tennekoon's 'Kukul hevilla' (curse on a thief) –– the Sunil Santha composition that illustrates the Bengali influence.

Sunil Santha was a man of principles. He refused to be 'voice tested' by the Indian music teacher Professor Ratnajankar, his old guru at the Lucknow University from where he had passed out with flying colours. He claimed the Indian would try to impose Indian standards on Sri Lankan music. What was needed was original talent. The little known fact that Ivor came out with, was that Ananda Samarakoon also refused to face the test.

After Sunil Santha was booted out of Radio Ceylon, he had a difficult time but he stood by his principles. He never sang for commercial purposes. It was after much persuasion that sound recordist Mervyn Rodrigo managed to record four songs for an EP disc, at Sarasavi Studios.

Sunil Santha is a legend. His songs, from 'Diyagoda semethena', to 'Lanka Lanka' remain the most popular party songs. 'Olu pipeela', the first song to be recorded at Radio Ceylon sixty years ago, is on everybody's lips to this day.
Sunil Ariyaratne had done a lot of homework and the programme turned out to be a most interesting and entertaining one. Give us more of them, Sunil.


Lankan scholar finds place among foremost Muslims in the world

This magnificent publication, voluminous and captivating results from the obviously diligent study of an impressive editorial board, comprising half a dozen outstanding Islamic scholars in the world. But what fascinates and grips Sri Lanka particularly of this almost encyclopaedic study of foremost Muslims in the world is the inclusion of Dr. A.M.A. Azeez (1911-1973), bringing the country enviable honour.

Dr. A.M.A. Azeez

Azeez, of course, is known to Sri Lankans as a renowned Civil Servant of the then Ceylon Civil Service, well known as CCS. His entry into the coveted ranks of the higher bureaucracy, then the preserve of British administrators, was an outstanding achievement as Azeez was the first Sri Lankan Muslim to adorn the service.

A.M.A. Azeez outshone many a peer as an exemplary, impeccably efficient and supremely honest public official. As a Principal and education administrator in the arena of Muslim education in Sri Lanka he fired the admiration of not only Muslims but also all other communities here. As Principal of the later foremost Muslim school the steady and quick manner in which Azeez elevated discipline, character and learning were the hallmarks of an indefatigably devoted educationist and superior Muslim scholar, well versed in study, management and vision.

The education of Azeez in his school days distinguished him as a superior learner who won prizes as a student. Later at University College level he emerged as a winner of a prized scholarship. His mastery of not only his chosen discipline at tertiary level but even in the language of the area he was educated, namely Tamil, made Azeez a splendid student. When the International Association of Tamil Research held its first annual International Conference in Kuala Lumpur he made an erudite presentation to an interested audience of Tamil scholars. Azeez never forgot his initial Tamil educational environment and contributed to Tamil learning too.

His academic superiority was acknowledged when his services were harnessed at university level in the Senate Council and Court of the tertiary educational establishment. He was drawn into the public service again, but honestly committed to his values, he resigned from the United National Party group in the upper chamber of Parliament, the Senate, as legislation on the use of one indigenous language was against his conscientious attachment to multilingualism in a multilanguage state. Nevertheless he was made a member of the Public Service Commission.

Dr. Azeez advocated female education when it was neglected. He built up an admirable library, a professionalized trained teaching staff and was bestowed the leadership of the All Ceylon Union of Teachers and the All Ceylon Headmasters’ Conference. His invaluable aid to Muslim study was demonstrated in his visionary founding of the Ceylon Muslim Scholarship Fund. He encouraged promising students to undertake educational visits abroad, founded the Young Men’s Muslim Association and its Conference; and above all made tireless efforts to enlighten and edify Muslims in South Sri Lanka. The higher educational and research foundation Jamial Naleemah blossomed into the Naleemah Institute of Research. Encouragement to seek truth in Islam was assiduously fostered.

Dr. Azeez published ‘The West Reappraised’ which is requisite reference to scholars researching Sri Lanka especially in the 20th century. Those in pursuit of more abstruse verities about Islam should delve into Azeez’s contribution to the Encyclopaedia of Islam brought out by E.J. Brill of the Netherlands, and material more relevant and comprehensible to Sri Lankan scholars can be culled from the instructive contribution of Azeez to Education in Ceylon - Centenary Volume. He won the Sahithya Award on his Tamil publication Islam in Ceylon. Few recall the three books in Tamil by Azeez: ‘Spell of Egypt’, ‘East African Scene’ and the absorbing revelations in ‘Tamil Travelogue’.

Orator in English and Tamil, widely learned speaker, respected scholar and educationist Dr. Azeez was placed among the “100 Great Muslim Leaders of the 20th Century”. The choice was made from among at least five personalities competing for one place in this book.

The 100 major personalities are categorized into “Leaders and Rulers”, "Revolutionaries and Freedom Fighters”, “Ulema and Jurists”, “Writers and Poets” and “Educationists and Social Reformers”. Dr. Azeez has been correctly placed among educationists and social reformers, an honour which he fully earns by his enviable record of performance.

This impressive publication by the respected Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, is worth reading. The historical maps of the 20th century, the incisive yet concise preface offers essential preliminary information and the well researched “Introduction” by editors Professors Khan and Momin become indispensable preparatory reading.

The book will remain authoritative education to anyone in the Muslim world.

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