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Humble Beginnings - Ashok Jayasinha

We have all heard about Peter Kuruvita and his amazing journey, surely you must have heard about Andrew de Silva and his courages story, but how many untold, success stories do you think are out there that we never get to hear about? This section is all about inspirimg, motivating and encouraging someone in their journey.

Today we bring you another prolific musician, Ashok Jayasinha (Ash Jayasinha) who founded the very popular Melbourne based band "Rap-So-D". His story, determination and never-give-up attitude has certainly inspired me.

Ashok Jayasinha

I guess I must have had music in my DNA, being born to Shyamon and Malini Jayasinghe, who were both heavily into music and theatre. I remember listening to recordings my parents had made of me singing Eidleweiss (Sound of Music), at the young age of three or four years. I also recall taking part in a Children's musical show conducted by SLBC, where I sang a song from Maname'- I must have been about five years old. As I grew older, I was fascinated by the stage presence of some of the big "Pop Stars" at the time. Showmanship of M.S. Fernando and Desmond De Silva is brought to mind as my first impressions of great Entertainers of the Sri Lankan scene. Electrifying stage antiques of Bobby Farrell of Boney M. and the smooth, suave stage presence and vocal mastery of Frank Sinatra were etched in mind, as a young kid. Deep down I wanted to be them!

Looking back, I can clearly recall certain mileposts in my life, that have had significant impact on the my music and they have been associated with certain individuals in the music scene. I would like to name them right now, before taking you through the journey of how it all took shape. My deepest gratitude and respect for Master Devage', Ranjith Madurapperuma, the late Clarence Wijewardena, Sohan Weerasinghe, Sunil Perera, Harsha Makalanda and Diliup Gabadamudalige' for sharing invaluable musical experiences with methat have moulded me into what I am today.

Not long after those "child prodigy" stuff, my father enrolled me to study the Sitar, under the expert guidance of Mr D.A Devage', a Sitar Master who was recommended to my father by Visharad W.D. Amaradeva. This was the first of many instruments that I was to learn along the way. Although I studied Hindustani Classical music for quite some time, alongside others like Geeth Mihiripenne and Pradeep Ratnayake, it was not what I really wanted to do. Later I joined Ananda College Orchestra, under the guidance of Master Ranjith Madurapperuma, who apart from being the school Music Director, was also immersed in the production of, the then famous, Victor Ratnayake's "Sa" and W.D.Amaradeva's "Shravana Ramani". Up to this stage, music was merely an extra curricular activity in my life, but Mr Madurapperuma inspired and set off a spark inside me. I began to get more involved in various productions and recordings much to the dismay of my parents and teachers, who had quite some other plans for me! I had this insatiable desire to be "On Stage" to perform. The "Stage Bug" had bitten me!

Even though I studied Hindustani Music "under protest", looking back it certainly gave me a solid grounding. It taught me how to stay within certain musical boundaries and yet how to creatively improvise. It taught me how to explore and experiment within a certain musical structure. Improvisation is a big part of my vocal style, because of this. Ragadhari Music also taught me the importance of developing strong vocal skills, because this form of music is very much "melody based", rather than "harmony based". However, my real passion was elsewhere- Western Music. It started with the ever-popular 70's "Pop Culture", but later on I took a few twists and turns and ended up being a huge fan of Jazz and R n' B.

My first attempt at a band was back in the mid 70s, when I got together with my close buddies Geeth Mihiripenne and Devapriya Boralessa, to form an unofficial "Pop Group". We did a few covers of The Bee Gees, The Beetles, James Taylor etc. We also dabbled in a few songs of T.M.Jayaratne and Clarence Wijewardena. We rehearsed quite heavily, but never got to publicly perform anywhere. Our parents considered our affiliation to music a severe hindrance to our studies. Unfortunately, we had to curtail our desires! Although nothing came out of this band, at the end of a few months, I ended learning to play the Harmonica, Foot Bellow Organ and Electric Organ. Then came a big leap in my musical experience!

Through Mariazelle Goonetilleke, I got to know Clarence Wijewardene and subsequently we became very good friends. In my opinion he's one of the most talented song writers/musicians of our time, if not The Most! During our close association, I watched in amazement how melodies seem to just flow out of him effortlessly! They were all so beautifully melodic, I began to wonder if there was anything else left in him, only to find yet another barrage of melodies fall out of his fingers, wrapped around his acoustic guitar!! Later in the years, I had the priviledge of playing keyboards for some of his recordings and those were some of the most inspiring musical moments in my life, that I still remember! God rest his soul!

In the early 80s, I holidayed in Australia along with my parents. This was the time when Michael Jackson burst into our lives with that amazing track of Billie Jean. Here I was, a musically starved teenager in a land where there were tonnes of opportunities to explore music. Access to Records, numerous musical instrument shops, live concerts, music classes. you can say, I went "nuts"! I joined the workforce, simply to accumulate funds to fulfil my musical desires. I bought myself a beautiful Catania acoustic guitar and took guitar lessons. It took my family just a few months to make friends with a whole lot of Sri Lankan-Australians. Dinner parties and "sing songs" in abundance. Every weekend we gathered in someone's house and partied till wee hours I the morning. I quickly became the "Family Entertainer"- I conducted marathon sing-along sessions with all who were there, strumming away my guitar! It was with sad eyes everyone watched us depart Australia, at the end of our turn. I went back to Sri Lanka with a gleam in my eyes- I was determined to embrace the world of live entertainment.

By this stage, my desire to form a band had well and truly become an obsession! I started keeping my eyes and ears open for any others who may be interested. Around this time, I happened to bump into a band by the name of Ecstasy. I spent a fair bit of time with them at the time, as I was doing a bit of DJ-ing and MC-ing at the venues they performed at. It is through them that I met the first two members of what was to later become the popular band, Burn- Subodha & Prasad. Subsequently we engaged one of their own mates, Roy, to drum for us, but we still had no guitarist! Roy drummed only temporarily, as he had other commitments, but soon we found our own drummer in Charlie.

We were a very inexperienced, and no money of our own to buy musical equipment, but I was determined to get this band going. We were extremely lucky to have Ecstasy as our friends! They were kind enough to let us rehearse on their gear absolutely free! We rehearsed 9 to 5 everyday for several months, at their band-leader Sajith's house.

From those days, I had a natural flair for sales, marketing and promoting. I guess that's why I fell into this line of work in my professional day job, quite easily. There were only a handful of "Night Clubs" in Colombo at the time and yet there were hundreds of very talented and experienced musicians and bands vying for those spots. I knew Burn had to come up with a unique angle, if we were to break into the scene and be successful. What was lacking in the music scene was bands who covered Rap, Soul and R n B-type music. Plenty of bands did the latest "chart hits", but the more commercially accepted songs. Therefore, along with the commercially accepted songs, we also started rehearsing quite a number of Rap, Reggae and Soul songs. In fact, Burn was the very first band to Rap, in Sri Lanka, full stop!

Whilst we were hard at rehearsals, I kept my eyes open for any opportunities to perform live. We heard that The Lodge and Village at Habarana, were auditioning bands for residency. We knew, that great bands like Apple Green and Heathrow had sprung from there and was very keen to clinch the contract. Since we had no guitarist yet, we "borrowed" Anil, the guitarist of Ecstasy and went for our audition and we landed the contract!

Jubilantly we came back to Colombo to get ourselves organized for this long Resident Contract. Luck was on our side- we found a permanent guitarist soon after- Kevin Almeida. The original Burn outfit, Prasad on Bass, Subodhi on Keyboards, Charlie on Drums, Kevin on Guitar and myself fronting up on Keyboards as well, performed 6 nights a week at both hotels. We lived there for over .. months. This was the best thing that happened to us. We matured as musicians, living, breathing and consuming music everyday. Our understanding as a band became tremendous. The management was extremely happy with us. We entertained their guests till wee hours of the morning. Some tourist groups specifically stayed over at Habarana, because of the band, although there was another "Village Hotel" in Sigiriya, just 45 minutes away.

While we were at Habarana, with the help of Mariazelle and Clarence, I organised a recording of Burn at Augie's Studio- my Father had to subsidise the project, since weren't making enough money, at that stage. My intension was to somehow send this away to the TV stations and see if anyone wanted pick us for one of the many "Variety Fair" type shows they had, featuring the local bands. Impressed by our recording, Leon Belleth's show on ITN called us in! At the time, all bands that appeared on TV either mocked up a "night club" scene or a "stage performance" to present their songs. However, always daring to be different, I insisted on creating a "Video Clip" to present our song first song. We had done a cover version of Fresh by Kool & The Gang, which I used to build storyboard around. With the help of the camera crew and the director on duty, we launched the first ever "Video Clip" in Sri Lanka! Also on the same show we appeared on TV with the first ever Rap song by a Sri Lankan artist- Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"! This TV appearance was working for us, while we were entertaining away in Habarana.

At the end of our contract they were offering us an extension, but I knew it was time to move on. Terrorist attacks were taking place just a few miles away, a couple of gigs had lined up in Colombo as well and the TV Show we did had roused a bit of interest with Newspapers wanting to interview us too.we didn't want to get "lost" in the wilderness- we wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak!

Having come to Colombo, we realised that one of the most important things for the success of a band was to perform on a great sound system. Only a handful of bands had the fortune and the funds to own a system, while the majority hired the system from the many hiring companies that were around. The problem with the commercial hiring companies was they didn't really have the State of the Art equipment, which was needed to achieve the level of sophistication required to be amongst the best bands- bands which had the Five Star Hotel Residencies, the Gala Dinner Dances and the big concerts. On the other hand they were all most of us could afford. This is where Sohan Weerasinghe and Sunil Perera were of invaluable help to us. These guys had the best gear in Sri Lanka, but it would cost an arm and a leg to hire from them, normally. However, I was fortunate enough to appeal to their kindness and have access to some wonderful equipment at special rates. This helped us to get to the top of the "food chain" quite fast. Apart from this, Sohan and Sunil has helped me with my music career on numerous instances.

Within a few months since Habarana, we managed to land the most sort-after Night Club contract in Colombo- "The Colombo 2000"!

Burn was fast gaining popularity amongst the younger audiences. We were getting billed with top names in the industry like The Xperiments, Manilal & Upekka and Apple Green, to name a few. We were a regular act at major Concerts and Dinner Dances. We were regularly talked about in all the entertainment magazines.

Apart from my life with Burn, I was also getting recognition as a composer of original English music. That was an era when the likes of Harsha Markalanda and Diliup Gabadamudalige' were well into creation of original English music. A few entertainment magazines, like The Island had a special section to encourage such compositions. I too have always been experimenting and started to write many more and performed them live with Burn. I remember one year, Yamaha Music of Sri Lanka, conducted a contest on original compositions. After a heavy selection process, Burn was amongst the finalists. Through Burn, my composition " A Tribute To A Soldier" went on to tie a win with Diliup Gabdamudalige's song at that Song Festival- this I consider quite an honour, to be along side such a creative genius like Diliup!

Subsequently, I wrote, recorded and performed quite a few Commercial Advertisements for some of the leading Wholesalers and Retailers. At one time, I was asked to become the "face of " Yamaha Electric Organs. As much as I enjoyed performing on stage with Burn, I absolutely loved this creative sideline of mine as well!

Around this time I worked with Diliup at the Ramada Lobby, as part of a trio (sometimes a quartet), doing Jazzy renditions of various classic hits. We had a good thing going there, right until I left SL. I must say, I absolutely enjoyed performing with Diliup- it was fun, creative, impromptu and very self-satisfying! I learnt a lot about MIDI Sequencing from him, during our months of performing together. What a talented man, he is!!

Along the way, members of Burn moved around in the music field. Some went overseas to greener pastures; some took up offers in other bands due to musical preferences; some left the band due to misunderstandings, but through it all I kept driving Burn home, not losing audience acceptance, even once! Just before I migrated to Australia, the final outfit was: Mohan on Drums, Riznie on Keyboards, Sampath on Guitar and Sarath (Bula) on Bass, with Lozaine Paul joining me on lead vocals. It was with a VERY heavy heart that I left Burn and walked away, at a time the band was at its best!!

Once I left, the guys engaged Steve De Silva (son of the famous Desmond) to take my spot and continued the band for a while, before changing their name to "Go Public", before Steve's unfortunate and untimely passing! God rest his soul! Latest news is that Corrine Almeida has reformed Burn once again- and Kevin is back in the band, with his sis!! Watch out for the new Burn- they're bound to do great things!

Once I migrated to Australia in 1989, I wanted to take on the world- I came over on such a high (after the success of Burn) that I thought success was going to follow and continue over here, at the same level. Alas, that was not the case! The Night Clubs had no place for bands; they were full of D.Js; Only Pubs had bands, but they mainly played grungy music- not the Soul, Funk and Reggae that I was used to; local Dinner Dances required a tonne of old music and/or Bailas; bands weren't getting paid any where near as well as we were in SL; musicians no longer were given "rooms" and expense allowances- just a snack in the kitchen once the guests had left.This was a rude shock to me! Then there was this "other Music Industry" where the chart toppers lived and access to that was restricted. There was no Australian Idol, X Factor or The Voice during this time, allowing access to the masses!

However I was determined to form my own band again. Finding good musicians in the local Sri Lankan scene was a hard call- they were mostly part time musicians and obviously their proficiency was questionable, no offense meant to any one. The few good ones were already performing in bands. So, I decided to take a very modern, high tech, "self sufficient" approach, utilizing the vast MIDI Sequencing knowledge I had gained, working with Diliup- I bought a State of the Art Sequencer, a couple of Work Stations and a few Sampled Sound Modules and set to work.

Thus, Rap-So-D emerged in early 1989. "Rap-So-D" was sort of an acronym for "Rap, Soul & Disco". I just wanted it to look different, but yet have a secondary meaning as per the word "rhapsody" as well- short piece of music, ecstatic expression of feeling, a miscellaneous collection of music, music pieces that is episodic but yet integrated etc etc. Starting off as a Duo, Rap-So-D became quite popular in the local Sri Lankan scene around the mid 90s, due two main reasons. We were determined to capture the market by being good at what we do and being DIFFERENT, but certainly NOT by being the cheapest! So, instead of fighting for gigs and under cutting our competetors, we worked hard on a very different mix of music from everyone else. Secondly, we focused on "showmanship". Interacting with the crowd, getting them involved with our performance and having fun on stage was a big part of our act. Subsequently we evolved into a four-piece outfit. Apart from the Sri Lankan functions, we also got a fair amount of work in the Club scene. These actually ended up being more lucrative for us. Eventually we held Residencies at, then very popular venues like, The Fawkner Club in Toorak, Peppers in Ringwood and The Old Dandy Inn at Dandenong, to name a few. My singing partner at the time, Allison was emerging to become a very confident and dynamic female vocalist. Gradually we drfited away from the Sri Lankan Scene, because we had very few weekends free!

Rap-So-D band members.<br />Left to right - Chathuranga Peiris, Ashok Jayasinha, Carl Jayasinghe, Allison Jayasinha, Malcolm McCormick and Francis Almeida

In 2001, I took on a Harvey Norman Franchise and was appointed to take over the store in Albury, NSW. At this point, Allison and I (we were married by this stage) were forced to leave Melbourne, thereby by disbanding Rap-So-D. At this point in our life, I never thought we would ever get back into music again! Although it was a sad moment for me, the opportunity at Harvey Norman was too good to ignore. After moving around different states with Harvey Norman, we finally got the chance to come back to Melbourne in 2010. Allison and I had decided to start a family, now that our life was established.

Around July of 2010, Carl Jayasinghe, the former band-leader and founder of the band Midnight Mist and I had a discussion about what we wanted musically, if anything. We soon realised that we had very similar ideas about what sort of a band we would want to be in. We carefully evaluated the pros and cons, taking into consideration my current status of a new Dad-to-be etc. Carl, Allison, Jesse', Howard, Malcolm and I met up one day at Carl's house for a preliminary meeting. After much discussion, we decided to re kindle Rap-So-D, under the leadership of Carl.

So, here we are, three years on, after we re started- Carl (on Bass), Malcolm (on Keyboards), Chathura (on Guitar) and Francis (on Drums), with Alli and I heading up vocals!! I believe we have grown into a very versatile band. Each of us has had over 30 years of experience in the industry, in various bands. We have seen the good times and the bad. We have picked out all the good habits and discarded the bad out of all our experiences. All of us constantly keep challenging each other with the music we play. We are quite self critical about ourselves and I believe this keeps us all honest and proficient.

We have had three very successful years together. Our audiences have been very kind to us and extremely supportive- we are very grateful to them! We can only give one assurance to our supporters- We will not get "stale" with our music and performance. We will keep it refreshed every year, so you all have something to look forward to, at each gig!

Watch out 2013. We have new plans! Rap-So-D will continue to set the pace in the Sri Lankan Dinner Dance arena!!

As for me...where to, from here? I have had great periods in my Musical career and I have had a few set backs, where I've had to side step. I have probably missed out on making a million dollar chart buster, but I'm enjoying my life at present, like I have never before. I cannot ask for more, after 30 years in the music scene- a loving wife/singing partner, two beautiful boys (Denzel and Levi), a great family around me, a job with a lot of Job Satisfaction (Whatmough Audio) and a very talented bunch of musicians forming Rap-So-D!!