Feb 06, 2021

Reminiscing Maxwell Mendis, Mendis Foursome

In 1972, almost five decades back four members of a Mendis family in Moratuwa came to the musical spotlight forming the band, Mendis Foursome. It was only the third family group which evolved after the Dharmaratne brothers and three sisters. The four members of the group may have inherited singing talents from their father who could sing well. The foursome were Maxwell, Lalith, Ranjith and Rohini, the sister.

The first song itself was a hit “Swarna Hamuvuuye” recorded under the Sooriya Label lyrics by Ranjit via a true story .Another hit song in this album was “Udarata Kandukaraye” the lyrics were by Ranjit who was the nucleus of the Mendis Foursome band .But could not live upto expectations for long as Lalith left to Japan, Ranjith had left to France while Rohini got married ,also could not pursue owing to family garments business commitments and home pandemoniums .But some songs were lately recorded with only two brothers.

Rigobert Hilary Maxwell Mendis hailed from Moratuwa, a product of St Sebastian College. After schooling while pursuing a singing career had been employed as a Supervisor in Pahana Estate Dodangoda where he met his fiance’ Karuna Mendis also employed in the estate owning shares. Karuna too had participated in concerts and singing ,such qualities prompted the duo to commence a love affair which ended in marriage The duo is blessed with a daughter.

Perhaps Maxwell the most talented performing vocalist among the quartet, then embarked on a solo journey with baila songs which he sang on stage with dynamism cum ‘punch’ accompanied by gushing on the entirety of the stage which no other vocalist had done previously.The prime reason for his instant popularity was that he was exploiting the entire stage unlike other baila singers with unique acts bringing physical illustrations in relation to the lyrics like human skeletons, skulls, oars (habala ), barrels, sporting unique dresses etc.While singing his hit song “ Mama Bohoma Baya Wuna” a human skull cum skeleton was displayed sans any lighting on stage scaring audiences. Similarly for most songs he deployed some kind of subject matter in an act to coincide with the lyrics of the song. For his song ’Seda Sulang Hamanne” he displayed habala used in manual boats.Few other songs that became hits then were “Mage Surathal Podi Duwa”, “Mahadena Muththa”,”Saravita Bulath Wikununna”.”Bola Kadala”, "Mage Nama Raaja” etc,.Maxwell though had copied baila songs of baila King Wally Bastians had never imitated him but reproduced them in diverse melodies which attracted listeners to six eight tempos.He had sung a duet with HR Jothipala “Malu Malu”.Some lyrics of his songs were by Clarence Wijewardena, MS Fernando and Maxwell himself while music compositions were by Clarence Wijewardena, MS Fernando and Dorian Abeywardena and himself.

Unfortunately after his demise in the early 2000 decade his popular name and songs were diminishing in popularity.However his nephew Randeer Mendis having inherited his talent is now unearthing the lost prestige of his Uncle Maxwell.His father Lalith Mendis had thought him to learn playing the guitar, keyboard, sent him for music classes as he had inherited music talents.Randeer has passed Trinity College London examination having learned classical guitar under Retired Commodore Jude Pieris. Randeer was afforded the opportunity to play and learn music in Dubai in year 2009 also with the assistance of his mentor had thought Arabic, Indian, Turkish and Sri Lankan students. Randeer now teaches ‘playing guitar’ for students at his home in Negombo.Randeer has had got the opportunity to sing in Stars of the 70’s concerts with the able assistance of maestro Melroy Dharmaratne. Randeer has a Youtube channel singing all his Uncle Maxwell Mendis’s songs and his solos too. Randeer had performed admirably at a television channel recently where he was invited to sing his Uncle Maxwell’s songs which he did with distinction. Randeer is also invited to perform in many bands, for weddings,hotels as a guitarist and vocalist.

Randeer’s sole intention is not to permit the ‘Hits” of Maxwell Mendis and Mendis Foursome” to die away as they are everlasting hits for which he has total legal rights to sing.

 - Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane

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