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3rd January 1999

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Amazing sounds

By Delon Weerasinghe

pic 12When a press confer- ence starts off with a Bohemian Rhapsody, runs through a collage of songs and styles ending up with an impromptu jam on Long Train Running all in the space of five minutes, you know you are in for something special. That something is the band Amazing Grace, what's special is that one of the biggest names in Sri Lankan music from the 70's and the 80's is planning a comeback in Colombo. 

The fact that Amazing Grace has managed to nab one of the best gigs in town over the season might seem well, amazing to some people. After all, the group disbanded more than ten years ago and its former members are spread all over the world. But then these people haven't heard them play. Initially, it was the ability to play any type of music crowds wanted to hear which made them a success. This, Tony De Silva the band's leader and keyboardist attributes to teamwork. "Individually we weren't fantastic. We were a really good team. All the band members had to be team players. No one was trying to outdo the other. If anyone had a good idea we'd use it. So everyone brought their ideas and influences to our music."

Reza Deane, the band's lead guitarist, remembers how it all started. "The band started in '72, and I joined them six months later in '73. I was five years old then," he jokes. He looks at the reunion as being a special event for the band. "It's always special to perform together again especially in Sri Lanka," he says. "Tony and I are no longer involved with music professionally, we have families and are doing jobs, so we don't get to perform our music as often as we would like. But it's nice to see that we still have that understanding that we used to."

Hussain Jiffry, the band's bass guitarist says that he was frustrated as a musician after the band broke up in 1988. "I wanted to grow as a musician. I was playing mainly dance music at the time - but I loved Jazz. So I went to the Musicians' School in Hollywood and studied." Jiffry has played with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, Jimmy Messina and Sergio Mendez. But he says that he really enjoys getting back together with Grace and playing in Sri Lanka, "These guys really make me feel at home. I'd rather spend my New Year here than anywhere else in the world. Sri Lankans really know how to celebrate New Year. But we're here to perform as well, and when we get on stage it's all about the music."

Chris Dhason has a similar story. He's the band's drummer, and one of the few in today's professional circuit who plays acoustic drums. "While I was playing the professional nightclub circuits in Europe I was forced to play electronic drums. But I always felt that they didn't have the soul of acoustic drums. So when I quit the nightclubs and started freelancing, I bought myself this custom-built set of acoustic drums that I have brought with me." He feels that in order for a group of musicians to get together after a long time and start playing well together, "there must be a musical rapport. So if suddenly someone feels inspired to do something, everyone will follow without missing a beat."

The last member of the reunited band is no stranger to Sri Lankan music. Harsha Makalande is the only one of the group who decided to pursue his musical career in Sri Lanka. He admits that this path has not always been the easiest, but he believes that it has given him a unique musical experience. "It's difficult to do your own music anywhere in the world. I draw from the Sri Lankan environment, which I believe I wouldn't be able to do if I had stayed abroad." He says his time with Grace taught him a lot. "It taught me discipline which is a very important thing to learn as a musician. And it gave me very good training as a performer."

It's probably a testament to the legacy of Amazing Grace that all the members of the band who have taken to professional music are planning CDs of original music. Jiffry, Harsha and Chris all say that they have been writing their own music and plan to release it sometime in 1999. In the immediate future though, everyone is concentrating on the upcoming shows - the 6th and 7th from 11pm onwards at the Blue Elephant. And their farewell concert at the Hilton's Serendib ballroom on the 9th at 7pm, promises to be special. Not only because Amazing Grace are the consummate performers, but also because they will be up there to have fun.

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