Sri Lankabhimanya Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Albert Perera; 5 December 1927 – 3 November 2016 better known by his adopted name Amaradeva, was a prominent Sri Lankan vocalist, violinist and composer. Primarily using traditional instruments like sitars, tablas and harmoniums, Amaradeva incorporates Sinhala folk music with Indian ragas in his work. Many consider Pandit Amaradeva’s contribution to the development of Sinhala music as unmatched, hence without argue cited as the Maestro of Sri Lanka Music (si. Helayay Maha Gandarvaya).
In the mid-1950s, Amaradeva in his Janagayana project consulted experts of the Kandyan dance tradition like Pani Bharata, Kiriganita, Gunamala, Ukkuva and Suramba in his path to understand what constituted Sinhala folk music. Noting that it mostly revolved around a single melody, he decided to add verses that would lead up to the central melody which would now be a chorus thus forming two parts (unseen earlier in traditional Sri Lankan music) removing restrictions that had existed earlier. In doing so, Amaradeva created a uniquely Sinhalese music style that stayed true to folk tradition while incorporating outside influences. His work was vital in the creation of the sarala gee genr practised subsequently by artists like Sanath Nandasiri, Victor Ratnayake, T.M. Jayaratne, Sunil Edirisinghe and Gunadasa Kapuge etc
Pandit Amaradeva had been the recipient of numerous awards including the Philippine Ramon Magsaysay Award (2001), Indian Padma Sri Award (2002) and Sri Lankan “President’s Award of Kala Keerthi” (1986) and Deshamanya Award (1998). In 2003 the French government awarded him the prestigious honour; Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Notably he still remains the most popular artist as confirmed by Nielsen Media Research findings He has also represented Sri Lanka in many forums including the UNESCO 1967 Manila Symposium. The University of Kelaniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Fine Arts) Honoris Causa in 1991 and the University of Ruhuna and University of Peradeniya conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa in 1993 and 1998
In 1972, Pandit Amaradeva composed the music for the Maldivian National Anthem (Gaumii salaam) at the request of Maldivian Government.
He found steady work as an artist on Radio Ceylon, where his unique vision and talent could be exhibited to an audience wider than he had ever before known – earning him a position at the Bhatkhande Music Institute in Lucknow, India. In 1955, Amaradeva won the All India violin competition. After extensive training, Albert returned to Sri Lanka as PanditWannakuwatta waduge Don Amaradeva.The name Amaradeva which translates as Immortal god was given to him by Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra (Sri Lanka’s foremost playwright and a close associate).
During this time, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had only begun emerging as an independent nation, and the question of whatSri Lankan music was, was slowly being addressed with equal vigour by intellectuals, artists and the general public. In response to the spirit of these times, Amaradeva began interweaving indigenous folk music with the North Indian ragashe had studied in Lucknow, thereby giving expression to a more sophisticated cadence.
His other innovations include his experimentation with Western harmonies and counter-harmonies, as well as with South Indian and Tamil musical forms. In the song ‘Ran Dahadiya Bindu Bindu’, Amaradeva incorporated the Baila music of his hometown. His opus, however, remains the work he did with Sri Lanka’s celebrated lyricist Mahagama Sekera, in exploring the contours of fusing classical Sinhala poetry with his unique musical intonation. In time, Amaradeva’s music came to reflect an entire philosophy, reflective of the spirit of a nation.
He has composed music for ballet (Karadiya, Nala Damayanthi, etc.), film (Ranmuthu Duwa, Gam Peraliya, Ran Salu, Delovak Athara, Gatavarayo, Rena Girav, Thun Man Handiya, Puran Appu, etc.), theatre (Wessantara, etc.), radio and television. He is the creator of the mando-harp, a musical instrument combining the mandolin and the harp.
Amaradeva is credited as having introduced artists such as Nanda Malini and Edward Jayakody to the wider audience. Many artists such as Sunil Edirisinghe, Victor Ratnayake and Neela Wickramasinghe have credited him as a major influence on their work. Dr. Lester James Peries has described his voice as the greatest musical instrument. Amaradeva has also been described as the defining musician of Sinhala civilization for his role in the creation of a national tradition.
Amaradeva was married to Wimala, together they had one son (Ranjana Amaradeva), and two daughters (Subhani Amaradeva, herself a talented vocalist, and Priyanvada Amaradeva). He was a patron of numerous charities. W. D. Amaradeva was the second Chancellor of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Amaradeva was admitted to Sri Jayawaradanapura Teaching Hospital due to a sudden illness. He died at the age of 88 on 3 November 2016 while receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit. The cause of death was a heart failure.The government subsequently announced that a state funeral would be held with a week of national mourning. His remains were given state honours at the Independence Memorial Hall for two days, the first time in the country’s history where remains were kept at the Independence Memorial Hall.