Sri Lanka Baila Star Sunil Perera is Dead at 68

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — In the top, it was solely acceptable that Sunil Perera, who had entertained generations of Sri Lankans on the radio and on the dance flooring along with his distinctive, Latin-fused tunes, would exit singing.

On his deathbed at a hospital within the capital metropolis of Colombo, Mr. Perera had requested for a guitar, which he wasn’t supplied. So he turned to what couldn’t be denied.

“The doctor told me that the day before he died, he was singing and entertaining everyone there,” mentioned Piyal Perera, Sunil’s brother and bandmate.

Mr. Perera died on Monday at the Nawaloka hospital in Colombo, his brother mentioned. He was 68. While the reason for demise was not clear, Mr. Perera had been recovering from Covid-19 when he was rushed into intensive care, Piyal Perera mentioned.

Few have made such a big affect on Sri Lanka’s cultural and leisure scene as Mr. Perera did for half a century. Often wearing shiny colours and a bowler’s hat, he produced hit tune after hit tune by way of the Gypsies, the household band, which was making ready to have fun its golden jubilee this yr.

The Gypsies specialised in baila, a jolly and rhythmic style sung principally in Sinhalese however influenced by the Portuguese, who colonized a lot of the island within the 16th and 17th centuries.

Over the a long time he used his lyrics and his voice to amplify issues about Sri Lanka’s shrinking democratic house. The nation, nonetheless recovering from years of civil conflict, has been beset by authorities stress towards journalists, activists and minority teams. Mr. Perera steadily lambasted a decaying political elite that has turn into slowed down in bickering and that, he believed, was dashing the nation’s hopes.

“He was both popular and a protester,” mentioned Lakshman Joseph-de Saram, a movie composer from Sri Lanka. “We rarely have a Bob Dylan and a Michael Jackson in one package.”

Mr. Saram added, “He was our baila king.”

Tributes poured in after his demise, together with from politicians Mr. Perera had overtly criticized. He directed his anger at the nation’s ruling Rajapaksa household and at the opposition that repeatedly disenchanted him with the chaos in its ranks.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa known as his passing “a great loss.” Sajith Premadasa, chief of the opposition, mentioned Mr. Perera had “pioneered a modern day revolution in the musical history of Sri Lanka.”

He was born Uswatta Liyanage Ivor Sylvester Sunil Perera in 1952 to a Roman Catholic household and grew up within the Colombo suburb of Moratuwa. He was certainly one of 10 kids of Anton Perera, a former soldier, and Doreen Perera, a homemaker.

The elder Mr. Perara constructed the Gypsies largely round his kids. Sunil was a teen when he joined the band earlier than changing into its lead singer. Sunil described his father as a disciplinarian who had wished him to finish his larger schooling however who supported his alternative when he left his research to give attention to guitar and voice coaching. In 2017, the Gypsies recorded a household tribute to the founder.

Sunil Perera’s opinionated lyrics and public stances set him other than different high-profile musicians in Sri Lanka. In his songs he handled corruption and politicians soured after their election losses. One tune depicted aliens touchdown in Sri Lanka and turning down an invite to remain.

“It’s 72 years since we got independence,” he mentioned in a single interview. “We are in debt to the whole world. Is it the fault of the people? Whose fault is it? I don’t blame one group. I blame the entire set of politicians who ruled us.”

He was open about his private life, discussing what he noticed as hypocritical attitudes about intercourse in Sri Lanka’s conservative society. But his language typically acquired him in hassle, significantly when he described girls as “baby machines” in a dialogue about how massive Sri Lankan households had been in his father’s era.

His family and friends acknowledged that Mr. Perera might be divisive, however they mentioned his outspokenness had come from his agency perception that Sri Lanka may overcome the ethnic and non secular divides which have led to battle for many years. His brother, Piyal, mentioned Mr. Perara had declared that what would make him happiest can be if all 4 of his kids married into 4 totally different communities.

“His head was not swollen with the fame — he was simple,” mentioned Mariazelle Goonetilleke, a fellow musician and pal. “He was not afraid to tell the truth, always spoke his mind. There were people who didn’t like that.”

Mr. Perera got here down with Covid-19 final month and was hospitalized for 25 days earlier than being discharged, solely to be readmitted, this time in intensive care, simply days later.

He is survived by his spouse, Geetha Kulatunga; two daughters, Rehana and Manisha; and two sons, Sajith and Gayan.

In a video message after he was initially discharged from the hospital, Mr. Perera appeared weak however decided as he thanked the hospital employees and his followers and effectively wishers. Dressed in a white shirt and a grey hat, his traditional colours had been lacking.

“We are thankful to God for giving us such a crowd,” he mentioned. “We will definitely get that blessing again. When we get that time, let’s meet again, like old times.”