Also known as “The Godfather of Baila” in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, at the time I was first privileged to meet him in the famous Suburb of Moratuwa, was Ollington Mervin Bastiansz, aka Wally Bastiansz (1913-1985).
As I remember it, Wally was a Police Sargeant, a young-looking 33 (with an old guitar), and me, myself,a much younger”wannabe”entertainer, around 10 years of age. We met at the birthday party of a Sinhala friend of mine, who, with me, was a student at St.Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa, at the time.
I remember Wally quite well. He was already very well known as “The baila King”, the original one, (because there have been many of them, since), and I think he was thrilled with the fact that this”Lansi-kolla”had come to the party especially to see him perform.
Wally; not only played an old “acoustic guitar”, he was also a multi-instrumantalist who played piano, banjo, ukekele, the Sri-Lankan viaule(tenor violin), & the accordian. He was a “solo” act, at this party, invited only because of his “standing” as an entertainer and, entertain, he did.
He could sing in Sinhala, English, Tamil, Malay, and even what was termed Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole.
He could sing “Vade baila”, meaning “baila-debate” where baila verses are sung in “contest” fashion, which he taught me. The fact that some of these vade verses were very insulting (in good humour) ,brought howls of laughter from my audiences when, as a very young baila-singer, I did’nt have a clue as to what the ribald “kunuharapa” I was sometimes singing, meant. Wally taught this Lansia how to “entertain”The happy audiences were laughing their heads off, so I must have been entertaining them!. That was good enough for me.
Bailas are closely connected with “Kafferinha”(Indo-Portuguese” song & dance routines) Originating in Africa (where “music” itself was supposed to have originated from),the Portuguese brought with them, the strange 6/8 rhythm (6 quavers to a bar) fast, Latin- American-like rhythm, and “Chikothi” (3/8 quavers to a bar), much slower & dignified, together emanating in what was termed the “Kafferinha/Baila-dance”.
Western “Drummers” often find it difficult to perform this unique baila-rhythm as naturally as it should be played. Portuguese Batticaloa-Burghers were mostly responsible for keeping the kafferinha bailas & dances as popular as they were, and still are, and, as a matter of fact, the name “Bastiensz” is quite definitely Portuguese . Wally is the proud product of one of them and although he unfortunately passed-on at a relatively young age of 72, he will never be forgotten as one of the “pioneers” of Sri Lankan Music.
I was proud to know the original “King of Baila” so Wally, may the “force” be with you. I know that, wherever you are, you will still be singing your bailas & hopefully, I’ll join you in some “vade-bailas soon.
“Star of eLanka”
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