A Tribute to Gratian Ananda


Popular singer, musician and music director Gratian Ananda passed away two weeks ago after a brief illness at the Colombo National Hospital. Gratian was my childhood friend who lived in Kolonnawa and we used to hang around and go to school together in the same bus from Wellampitiya. I met Gratian in our early teens and even at that time music was in his blood. In early ’70s, Gratian used to come to my home carrying his acoustic guitar and used to sing Milton Mallawarachchi’s songs as good as the original singer. He was brilliant even singing H. R. Jothipala’s songs just imitating his voice.

At that time not every household had recording facilities but I had a small cassette recorder, which Gratian used to record his songs and listen to them over and over again. He spent days with me singing and recording his favourite songs in my room. In 1972, one of our good friends, Upali Hiripitiyage from Wellampitiya came forward to help Gratian financially to record his first four songs. Upali funded the whole project and recording was done at the Joneth Recording Studio, a part of the Bishop Palace in Punchi Borella, opposite Carey College by their recording engineer Donald Ivan.

We skipped the school classes and went to see Gratian’s first attempt. The four songs were superb but for some reason they were never broadcast. Although they were recorded on spool tapes, Gratian didn’t have any support to press them on vinyl records at that time.

This was the time Gratian fell in love with his childhood friend Sirima, who was a student of Ananda Balika Vidyalaya, Maradana. With lots of difficulties he managed to meet his girl friend and his famous song ‘Etha Duraka Desa Pawela’ was a dedication to friend Sirima whom he married after many years.

Gratian was very good at playing guitar but he was very talented in other music instruments as well. He was a man with many talents. Shan Wickremesinghe of TNL helped Gratian to press his songs on vinyl format. Gratian always remembered and appreciated Wickremesinghe for that help.

Gratian also had support from famous music directors such as Sarath Dassanayake and Stanley Peiris, who were his mentors.

In 1977, when I joined the SLBC as a Technical Assistant, I helped Gratian with playing his songs on numerous Sinhala and English programmes. Those days we had to obtain permission from a music selection panel of the SLBC, comprising P. L. A. Somapala, Madawela S. Rathnayake and Dayananda Gunawardena before playing any Sinhala songs.

I helped Gratian get that done and I personally contacted the then famous Sinhala announcers Kusum Peiris, Ariyasiri Vithanage, Dharmasri Wickremesinghe and many other presenters and producers and also some English announcers and producers such as Nihal Bharathi who is the elder brother of Anil Bharathi, Harold Fernando, V. Rajendra, Eric Fernando and Vijaya Corea. I managed to make his famous song ‘Etha Duraka Desa Pawela’ with Neela Wickremesinghe become popular amongst both Sinahala and English listeners.

Gratian visited UK a couple of times. His musical shows were well attended.

The first generation Sinhala community enjoyed his music so much. Even the second generation teenagers enjoyed his ‘baila’ hits. The last time I met Gratian was in June 2009 when I came home on a holiday. He was walking along the Kolonnawa Road and he saw me and crossed the road and came to me, put his arm over my shoulder and said ‘hello’ to me.

Gratian was a man who appreciated those who helped him to come up in life. He was a caring family man, a wonderful father to his two kids and loving husband to his wife Sirima, and, above all, he was a great friend to us.

Sri Lankans have lost a great musician and a vocalist and I have lost a great friend. Gratian, we miss you very much.

May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!

Sisira Chandrasekara

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