P.L.A. Somapala (1921 – 1991) was a famous musician of Sri Lanka. Entering the field of Sri Lankan music in the mid 1940’s he made his contribution towards the various fields of music from Gramophone Records, Radio, Cinema and Television for several decades. In consideration of the service rendered towards the Sri Lankan music, he was honored with the OCIC award in 1985.
Born on 13th September 1921 at Maligakanda, Colombo 10 to a Sinhala Buddhist family, P.L.A. Somapala had his education from the Lawrence College, Maradana, Colombo. Since his childhood, he was more interested in singing and music. After getting through his Junior School Certificate (J.S.C.) examination, he started working for a rubber exporting company in Colombo. The songs sung by Ananda Samarakoon to the ‘His Master’s Voice’ Gramophone records, he became enthusiastic to learn music. Therefore, Somapala went to see Master Lionel Edirisinghe and learned to play the sitar. As a result, he had the opportunity to join the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (then ‘Radio Ceylon’) as a sitar and violin player in 1943. This was a crucial landmark in his life and later he had the good fortune to work with the veteran Sri Lankan musicians such as, Ananda Samarakoon, Surya Sankar Molligoda, M.G. Perera and A.A. Sanghadasa. On the day Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) became independent on 4th February 1948, he played the sitar at the singing of the National Anthem.
Meeting the young female vocalist Chitra Perera at a radio programme in 1946 marked the next most important occasion in P.L.A. Somapala’s life. They became acquainted and almost all songs with his original tunes afterwards were sung by her. This union was consummated with their marriage on 27th September 1952 and they had four sons Prasanna Chitral, Rohan Chitral, Nalin Chitral and Chandana Chiral and the daughter Piyumi Chitral. Somapala and Chitra were a very popular singing duo on stage. Their youngest son Chandana Chitral (Chitral ‘Chity’ Somapala) became a famous professional Musician later.
At the age of 70, P.L.A. Somapala passed away on 26th March 1991 in a private hospital.
Beginning his carrier composing music for the song ‘Yamuna – Yamuna‘ in 1946, P.L.A. Somapala created tunes for a number of songs which became very popular later, such as ‘Dunhinda’, ‘Sarasamu Lanka’, ‘Kurulu Game’, ‘Isurumuniya’, ‘Galu Pure Siri’, ‘Nuwara Alankare’, ‘Dambulu Gale’ and ‘Udarata Kandukara’. Written by creative song writers these songs sung only with Chitra, carried his original tunes. These contributed largely to the stream of Sinhala songs during 1947-1953.
P.L.A. Somapala researched in to the various fields of music from the ‘Gramophone Era’ through radio, cinema and television music and experimented with the light music and Hindi tunes. He who displayed a high creativity in music compositions, composed many new tunes combining Sinhala folk music, classical Hindustani as well as western music. He sang most of his original songs with Chitra Somapala and kept his classical musical creations separate from his other musical ‘experiments’.
In 1985 P.L.A. Somapala toured UK, FRANCE and SWITZERLAND with Chitra and held several musical shows. Again, they toured England, Wales and USA in 1989 singing for the audiences there.
From 1952, P.L.A. Somapala directed music for the production of Gramophone Records under the ‘His Master’s Voice’ and ‘Colombia’ labels.
Somapala became the Director of Music for the National and Commercial Services of the Radio Ceylon in 1958. Later he was promoted as the Controller of Music in 1969. He served Radio Ceylon for 38 years.
He took the bold step of adding the western brass and woodwind musical instruments such as saxophone,trumpet and clarinet to his music compositions, which were never allowed before in the Sinhala radio music. This new introduction became a controversial issue and was severely attacked by some critics of the era. And he was looked down upon as the “Brass Band Musician”. But the ‘westernized’ audiences who didn’t like oriental music were attracted to Sinhala songs due to this.
Contribution to the cinema
Directing music for the movie ‘Asoka’ directed by Sirisena Wimalaweera in 1953, P.L.A. Somapala entered the field of cinema music. He spent 38 years directing music for 51 Sinhala movies. The movies ‘Dingiri Menika’ (1956), ‘Deyyange Rate’ (1958), ‘Deepasika’ (1963), ‘Hathara Maha Nidhanaya’ (1969), ‘Sweep Ticket’ (1965), ‘Hathara Denama Soorayo’ (1971), ‘Adare Hithenawa Dekkama’ (1972), ‘Thushara’ (1973), ‘Sahayata Danny’ (1974), ‘Lassana Kella’ (1975), ‘Chandi Shyama’ (1978) and ‘Senasuma’ (1981) among them became very popular.
But, other than for a few out of them, all other movies contained music imitating the Hindi, Tamil or Western movie music, going with the popular demand. P.L.A. Somapala had to face many accusations by the critics and scholars due to this.
When the Independent Television Network (ITN Sri Lanka) was undertaken by the government in 1981, P.L.A. Somapala was made the head of its music division. He is considered as the first TV music programme producer of Sri Lanka.
Most Popular Musician of the Year Award – “Sawarna Sankha Film Awards – 1965
OCIC Award – 1985
Asoka (1955) . Dingiri Menka (1956) . Deyyange Rate (1958) . Sri 296 (1959) . Deepasika (1963) . Hatara Maha Nidhanaya (1965) . Sweep Ticket (1965) . Etulweema Thahanam (1966) . Kinkini Pada (1966) . Sarana (1967) . Sudu Duwa (1968) . Akka Nago (1968) . Prawesam Wanna (1969) . Den mathakada (1970) . Hathara Denama Soorayo (1971) . Abhirahasa (1971) . Ada Mehemai (1972) . Adare Hithenawa Dekkama (1972) . Suhada Pethuma (1973) . Thushara (1973) . Hondai Narakai (1973) . Dahakin Ekek (1973) . Surekha (1974) . Kalyani Ganga (1974) . Shanthi (1974) . Onna Babo Billo Enawa (1974) . Sahayata Danny (1974) . Raththarana Amma (1975) . Mage Nangi Shyama (1975) . Lassana Kella (1975) . Sooraya Sooarayamai (1975) . Damayanthi (1975) . Lassana Dawasak (1975) . Nayana (1976) . Saradiyelage Putha (1976) . Ranthilaka (1977) . Rahas Kumanthranaya (1977) . Pembara Madhu (1977) . Ege Adara Kathawa (1977) . Sithaka Suwanda (1978) . Chandi Shyama (1978) . Geheniyak (1979) . Raja Kollo (1979) . Rosa Mal Thunak (1979) . Sawdan Jema (1979) . Api Dedena (1980) . Senasuma (1981) . Chandi Siriya (1983) . Ali Baba Saha Horu Hathaliha (1991) . Mage Putha (Dubbed) . Wasawadatta (Dubbed)
Song Books with oriental notations:
1.”JalaDhara” – 1947
2. “Yamuna” – 1948
3. “Sigiriya” – 1948
4. “Lalitha Kala” – 1949
5. “Nuwara Wewa” – 1951
6. “Panamure” – 1951
7. “Dunhinda” – 1952
Song Books with Western notations:
1. “Yamuna” – 1950
2. “Sigiriya” – 1950
3. “Dunhinda” – 1952
4. “Ranwan Gee” – 1992
1. “Gramophone Gee Yugaya” (The Gramophone Era in Sinhala music) – Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne
2. “Gandharwa Apadana – P.L.A. Somapala saha Mohammed Sali – Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne
3. “P.L.A. Somapala Gee Salakuna” (The mark of P.L.A. Somapala)
Written by Chitral Somapala