Veteran singer Nihal Nelson passes away.

Nihal Nelson, a versatile vocalist, composer and lyricist, passed away in the early hours of yesterday following a brief illness at the age of 76. Nihal Nelson became a household name with the hit  “Lassanata Pipunu Vanamal” in the early 1970s and from then on no musical show was held without his exuberant presence on stage. He was the quintessential entertainer, strutting the length and breadth of the stage belting out hit after hit sending his audience into raptures.

The organizers usually slotted Nihal at the tail end of a show when things had got primed up and the crowds ready for action. All his songs catered to the mood of the crowds who danced, jived and ran amok singing and dancing to his every step. Particularly appealing were the lyrics of his bailas (Portuguese for dancing) delivered with an uncanny flow and feeling and which ideally fitted in with the common vocabulary of the ordinary “Bajar” youth who naturally were his main followers.

He was the first Sinhala vocalist to have his songs distributed in cassette form and also to cut the first LP disc with the mega hit “Meka Gune Aiyage Bajaw Daana Kamare” about a carefree individual who holds Baila sessions in his room. He also pioneered Digital Compact Disc (CD) recordings. He released a total of 113 albums, which is a record for a Sri Lankan artiste.

His musical rivalry with another Baila legend Desmond De Silva was a unique one. Nihal always strove to counter the lyrics in the songs of Desmond with his own versions that made for an interesting competition between the two maestros. Their rivalry closely matched the one between Milton Perera and H.R. Jothipala in the 1960s. The Desmond-Nelson duo was the best known Baila artistes in the country after the great Wolley Bastianz (who founded the Baila genre) and the inimitable M.S. Fernando.

A teetotaler and vegetarian, Nihal’s songs essentially touched on the merits of abstinence and his song pleading for the sparing of the cow from the butcher’s blade was indeed a moving one and led to many giving up consuming beef and even all types of meat (“Epa Epa Mas Kannata Kiri Ammage”). Nihal also rendered his voice as a playback singer in over 25 Sinhala films including Pem Kurullo, Sakvithi Suvaya, Loka Horu, Hariyana Kota Ohoma Thamai and Valampuri.

He also acted in a few Sinhala movies.

Nelson hailed from Moratuwa, the town which gave the local music world most of its well-known singers and musicians including Maxwell Mendis, Priya Peiris, Paul Fernando and music groups as the Golden Chimes, La Bambas etc. He was also an active member of the Moratuwa Music Forum and the Sri Lanka Singer’s Association. He was active on the musical stage until fairly recently.

Nelson’s wife Malini passed away in 2020 and Nelson is survived by their son.


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