Legends Never Die | Daily News
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Legends Never Die

Before the demise of Legendary Musician Sunil Perera, Leader of the Gypsies, the final published print media interview with ‘Daily News Saturday Spark’ was on how he defined himself, how he embraced changes in the music industry, his idols and his wishful thinking towards a life with peace, love, giving and equality with all communities.

The Late Sunil Perera joined the band - Gypsies at the age of 11 and went on to become a Legendary Singer, Performer and a pioneer in the music industry for over five decades.

Daily News reached out to some of the closest persons in his personal life and in the music industry, to share thoughts on the irreplaceable loss to the music industry and to society.

Piyal Perera:

The demise of Sunil Aiya is an extremely painful loss to me, our family, the members of Gypsies, to the music industry and the people in this country. I was with him for 45 years, alongside personally and in the band. Whenever we toured for concerts, we used to share the same room and were together most of the time.

I feel Sri Lanka has lost a good human being with a golden heart. He was spreading love and he always knew everything can be conquered only through love. I remember, even when you did the last interview with him, in most places he highlighted ‘love’ and you said laughingly “Sir, for the next answer the blocked word is ‘love’ “and we all laughed together.

Sunil Aiya also had this natural wittiness on stage and otherwise. He was a people’s man. He never liked to hurt people, as a matter of fact anyone in general.

Two years ago, sometime after the bomb blast in church, there was this concert, and there were some Muslim fans who attended the concert. He requested all Muslim fans to join him on stage. And once they were on stage, he asked the rest of the audience to give a round of applause saying, “I just want each one of us to love one another and stick together”. And then he sang the song ‘This land belongs to you’. That day, all the Muslims on stage and the rest of the audience witnessed the love Sunil Aiya envisioned.

After arriving from the hospital, he actually wanted to celebrate his birthday this year with the family. He was never someone who celebrated his own birthday. And he was looking forward to celebrating it this year. He loved all our family members equally.

We were also working and planning on releasing our new song ‘Gallu Para’, this was something he even mentioned soon after coming from the hospital for the first time. And we are looking forward to releasing it soon on behalf of Sunil Aiya.

The amount of things he would do for people was endless. After a concert he leaves to help a deformed child in Chilaw or after playing at a wedding, if the family invites him to their house he will go there too, so those people are kept happy. His fans were his family too.

Though I was staying close to him all the time, I didn’t think I was going to miss Sunil Aiya’s presence this much. It cannot be expressed in words. He never went after recognition, or maybe until we actually lose someone, we don’t tend to understand the value or the impact the person has made.

Sunil Aiya’s wish was to see peace, love, giving and equality with all communities. Let’s each one of us try and do our part to contribute towards this noble vision.

Rookantha Gunathilaka:

For the very first time, I met Sunil Aiya (out of love, I call him Sunila), on the same stage that we performed in the late 70’s. I was then with the band Fortunes lead by Stanley Peiris.

Uncle Anton called me ‘son’ and his sons called me ‘brother’, even way before I joined the Gypsies. I had an amazing learning journey with them for a period of time when I had to quit the band to focus on my studio work. Once on a cassette released by Gypsies my name was printed as Rookantha Perera. I then thought it was a printing error but it wasn’t as they took me into their family as one of their own brothers. There was a time I was living at their house and I was never treated as an outsider. Initially I was close to Sunil Aiya and later with Piyal also I bonded well. Actually my family and theirs even now hold a close relationship.

After Uncle Anton’s passing away Sunila, became the man of the house and led the Gypsies. He was responsible for the personality of his father.

Speaking of his leadership qualities, I see him as a clean, bold, organized and systematic leader. Band Gypsies' backbone was Sunil Aiya. I remember that they used to dedicate a lot of time to practice as a band prior to any performance or creative work.

Gypsies was the first to introduce cassettes with a title to the Sri Lankan music industry. If I am not mistaken, it was the cassette ‘Somiya’ in the 1980’s. They launched this as a road show in the garden of their private property. I remember at that time, the Galle Road being blocked as large crowds of people gathered to watch them.

I see Sunil Aiya as a trademark in the Sri Lankan music industry and I suggest a museum should be built as recognition for the work he has done for the industry and otherwise. He was much more than a recording artiste - he is a historic legend.

I’ll be missing his 07:00 a.m calls and whenever we meet, discussions that would go on for over six to seven hours.

He had a very strong personality, ideas and act, as well as what he believed in. He was a silent charity worker. And I have not come across anyone who couldn't make me laugh as well. He just did it effortlessly.

Bathiya Jayakody:

I would like to address the Late Mr.Sunil Perera as Sunil Aiya out of love. The strongest characteristic, I or BNS seen in both Sunil Aiya and Piyal Aiya is that they always saw the positives in all the newcomers who joined the music industry. They always took the new ideas and fresh ideas in a positive manner. They always embraced the new talents and have constantly supported when some generally criticized and undervalued the young talents. Firstly they would embrace, then sort of analyze and give advice. To countless generations, from Rookantha Gunathilake to BNS and to Lanthra Perera to Lahiru Perera and even to much younger generations they have been supportive throughout.

They were the only senior musicians who spoke of the younger generations that can and should take the industry forward. I personally feel that was a great attribute of who they were.

Sunil Aiya has been a part of almost every musician’s life. Especially during the difficult periods of their lives, in numerous ways to comfort them he was there for them. Being a senior musician, to know about new things or to try out new things he would call and get advice on how to do things from the younger generation. He didn’t have any ego or over estimation of his years of experience of what a great legend he was. I guess he set an example to all musicians on this for sure. I must mention his great personality will be sadly missed by our industry as those are huge shoes for anyone else to fill. I don’t think in the near future, we would find anybody else as such to fill those shoes. Good bye Sunil Aiya, until we all meet again. You’ll be really and sadly missed by everyone in the industry and Sri Lanka.

Santush Weeraman:

I think Sunil Aiya, was a man who stood for what he believed in. He loved music more than anything and he was quite honest and gave his heart and soul to it. It was 23 years ago at Tyronne Fernando stadium I, as in BNS, had this opportunity to encounter an open conversation with him. And he advised us what we need to watch out for in the music field and that certainly did save us from certain earlier career pitfalls. He was loved by the 20 million people in this country; he always stood up for justice apart from his soulful music. He gave us the message to be ‘your true self’ unapologetically in what you believe in.

It is a great loss for the country and music industry. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has not yet celebrated him. I have told this in person to him, the right recognition wasn’t given to him. From the beginning of his career to the 1960's, we haven’t seen such an energized performer or a soulful singer on stage.

Music is all about expressions and he was a true being of expression. We have lost him too soon. He was always there for us, both in good and difficult times. He stood by the musicians and whatever he believed in. I hope people of this country will get inspiration for their lives through his music and expression of values.

Manuranga Wijesekara:

For me Sunil Perera is a ‘Hero’. Through him I had the opportunity and hunger to learn so many things. When my first song got released ‘Rambari’ together with Lahiru Perera, we were friends with Gayan Perera. Due to that connection we got the opportunity to get in touch with the Gypsies studio. During that time we were living at Sunil uncle’s house, it might have been about four years. One of the things I observed while living there is although he was a super star, how simply he lived his life. When one actually becomes successful each passing day, yet he grounded himself to be a simpler human being. For me during the time I stayed at Sunil uncle’s residence was similar to entering a university, to obtain limitless education. I don’t think even Sunil's uncle had a mobile phone for himself. He never had transport concerns; he was someone who would utilize even a trishaw as his mode of transport to reach a destination. He had a huge vision. On his table, the Bible, Koran and Tripitaka were placed and he was a conscious reader. He was one the most organized people I have come across with every tiny little document filed and kept in place.

When I recollect my thoughts, I also remember the way he kept his worshiped area with all religious statues to resemble the faith of every member from his family. Sunil uncle genuinely did adapt the true meaning of the ‘Lowe Sama’ song to his life.

The only thing he didn’t accept or like was fraud and unethical doings.

Sunil uncle didn’t leave room for people to point a finger at him, he had a very straight forward, outspoken personality. I see him as a ‘king’ in the music industry and among the people in this country. I was fortunate enough to be under his wings and learn so much, which no other book could have taught me.

Damian Wickramatillake:

I was a member of the Gypsies for a short time, right at the beginning when they were singing western songs. Soon after, they gradually created and introduced a unique genre of music to this country. I actually left the country for a period of time and came back to Sri Lanka. From the time I was in the band till his last days, he was like a big brother to me. Even after I left the band the bond between Sunil Aiya, Nihal Aiya and Piyal was only growing. Piyal was his baby brother.

Although there are so many things to speak about Sunil Aiya, I will pick a few of them that people may not know, both small and huge impacts he has made in many of our lives.

After I came back to Sri Lanka and the time I was playing for the band Purple Rain, we had a shortage of equipment for live performances. It’s a matter of just giving a call to Sunil Aiya and he would allow us to borrow those equipment at any given time.

I personally know he used to support and contribute financially to care for around one hundred families, every month. Sunil Aiya, was only a giver in all possible good ways. If one has a problem, he was the kind of person who will advise and someone who understood the pain of others. He will cry along with you for your pain, his level of sensitiveness and warmness towards humanity was inseparable.

He took care of the members of Gypsies, not less than his own family. He had special days and ways to show his care for each one of them in his own way. Every 31st December, he gave each member a gift. I don’t think any band leader would do or have done these things treating each one of them equally.

I received his last call while he was at the hospital for the first time and was in a recovering process. It was from an unknown number. And when I answered the call, he said in a witty tone “Hello, this is James Bond”.

He was a fearless human being; he loved this country and voiced his opinion against politicians who came to destroy the unity of people.

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