Maxwell Mendis – Creative Performer of Sri lankan Music
It was end of 60’s and beginning of 70’s, when Sri Lankan group music started to bloom in the music industry. At the time, the fabulous three sisters and humble Dharmadasa brothers were the emerging musical siblings clung together as groups in the country. During that period, EP Platinum Disk Producer, Mr. Gerald Wickramasuriya brought up the “Mendis Possum,” which composed of four Mendis siblings. However, producer chose Maxwell Mendis out of Mendis Possum because of his flashing and dashing performance with unique vocals.
Riyapath Hilory Mendis born January 1, 1939, better known by his stage name Maxwell Mendis was none other than Sri Lankan Baila sensation of 60’s to 80’s. Maxwell Mendis born and raised in Moratuwa, Western Province of Sri Lanka, primarily studied at Saint Sebastian Boys School. At the age of 11 (in 1950), Maxwell Mendis won the first place in “Viridu” competition. After his studies in school, he entered to work force as a superintendent, while carrying his love for music with Ranjith Thisera and sister Rohini.
In 1969, Maxwell Mendis became an emerging star through “Suwarna Hamuvuye” song, which was composed by his brother, Ranjith Mendis and Mr. Loreen Abewardhana. The song went under “Sooriya label,” which Maxwell Mendis did tons of work in his music career.
When there was music and dance, then there was Maxwell Mendis
Maxwell Mendis performed almost 350 songs mix with Sinhala and English. Only 20 of songs hit the top chart in 70’s and 80’s due to the restrictions of government broadcasting cooperation.
One of the greatest Baila hits of Maxwell Mendis, “Mama Bohoma Bayauna” was taken from the original Baila singer, M.S. Fernando with support of his music director and director of children’s books in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The song was only performed during street performances by M.S. Fernando. As a courtesy and support to emerging Baila Artist, M.S. Fernando handed over the song to Maxwell Mendis for Rs. 250, which was a big sum at that period of Sri Lankan Music Industry. So the music director was able to add “Mama Bohoma Bayauna” Baila song for the first time to Maxwell Medis’s first audio tape. The song became popular in media for the first time when Maxwell performed it on with his first recording songs, “Bola Kadale (round gram), Ateetha Adaraya (past love), and Babara (bee).”
Also, in 1969 “Mage duwa Hoda lamayek Wenawa” song generated high commercial success, just like “Mama Bohoma Bayawuna” song. It was composed and sang by Maxwell Mendis as a tribute to his little daughter.
While engaging on his own style of Baila performances, Maxwell Mendis conducted English classes in the city of Dodangoda, Sri Lanka. Many who knew him, called Max Sir (Max Master) because of his rich background of knowledge in English language and his English tuition classes.
According to music industry experts, Maxwell Mendis was the most experimental performer in Sri Lankan Baila music. Maxwell brought wider angle of performing styles to the music stage. Maxwell Mendis musical performances were dashed with new fashion and many props such as, human skull, and even live animals. Maxwell Mendis tend to wear bandana, red and pitched black outfits to his stage performances. Also, Mendis was able to picture the stories of the songs to his audience with his facial expressions and bodily movements, when there was little or no technology on stage at the time.
Many remembered Maxwell Mendis as a compassionate, friendly, and humble musician. His beloved wife, Karuna Mendsi remembers Maxwell Mendis as a loving husband and a father, who enjoyed helping house work and taking care of his daughter and her. Karuna Mendis says most of times Maxwell composed and put music to his songs. She mentions that whenever Maxwell Mendis feels like making a song, he always connected his songs to real characters in the community and society he lived. On August 17, 2001, Maxwell Mendis said good-bye to his devoted Baila fans in Sri Lanka. By the time, Maxwell was 62 years old retired Baila singer from his professional music career.
Maxwell Mendis was recognized for his flamboyant, diverse and unique contribution to Sri Lankan Baila Music through his iconic fashion, creative performance on stage and compassionate nature.
Watch the Sanhinda Program about Maxwell Mendis.