The Gypsies musical band started way back in 1969 and was the brain-child of Mr Anton Perera.
The co-founder of Uswatte confectionary works and father of 9, had initially hoped that his sons would pursue professional careers in medicine, accountancy, mechanics, and law respectively. However, despite his best efforts, he soon realised that there was no breaking them away from the “music pissuwa” that had gotten hold of them.
Being the successful entrepreneur that he was, he decided that if he couldn’t sway them from their true passion, then he was going to make sure that they were an outstanding success in this field. And so, he started working on his ambition to make them the most successful musical band that Sri Lanka has ever seen…
The band at its inception in 1969, initially comprised of his oldest 4 sons – Nihal, Sunil, Nimal, Lal and their 3 cousins Neville, Noel and Kanthi.
They played at local events and weddings, largely performing cover versions of popular English songs at the time.
By 1975, the 3 cousins had left the band, and Anton recruited his youngest son Piyal into the band straight out of school at the age of 16. The band now comprised of all 5 brothers and was a great source of pride for their loving father, whose greatest joy was to see his 5 sons working in unity together to achieve their collective hopes and dreams.
Their daily routine consisted of a strict and regimented practice schedule where they were expected to log in and log out on a timesheet, all overseen and enforced by their strict manager father. (References to this are made in “Thattha matta anapu toke,” written in memory of their beloved father). He even built them their very own “Gypsies recording studio” within the family home, where Gypsies songs are created and recorded to this day.
The band realised that if they were to ever make it as the number 1 band in Sri Lanka they were going to have to start creating and performing Sinhala music to cater to the masses.
And so they recorded their two first big hits “Lindalanga sangamaya” and “Amma Amma” in 1974. These were outstanding successes from the onset and gained them instant fame and celebrity. The tongue and cheek, playful humour, deeply routed and often referencing the nature and culture of Sri Lankan people was monumentally infectious.
The following years saw hit after hit, in what can only be described as an explosion of fame and popularity for these young brothers. Songs like “None mage sudhu none,” “Oba Dutu e mudline,” “Lunu dehi,” “Kurrumitto,” “Saima cut wella,” “Uncle Johnson” and “Ojaye” became so ingrained in Sri Lankan culture and identity, that it would be difficult to speak of Baila music without referencing the golden years of The Gypsies.
In the decades that followed, the Gypsies also completed numerous tours around the globe, catering to their adoring fans in the many Sri Lankan diasporas around the world with resounding success.
By 1986, only two of the original 5 brothers remained in the band – Sunil and Piyal. They continued to take The Gypsies to higher and higher reaches over the following decades with the help of many talented musicians that joined the band over these years. Piyal largely focused on the more romantic songs, composing hits like “Pem lowe,” “Ammathaka karranne eppa,” “Lassanna
lokaye.” Whilst Sunil gained increasing popularity for his songs like “Singyore,” “Lankavve,” “I don’t know why,” that all had very strong political and social messages mixed in irony, satire and comedy.
Their passion for all things Sri Lankan also shone through as they paid tribute to some of our favourite staples with “Pitti kotte pang none,” and “Koththamalli.”
During this time, Sunil evolved from a popular musician into an icon and symbol, often speaking out about issues that affected ordinary Sri Lankan people. Expressing his frustrations through the humor and satire of his own music, he became a true voice for the people. His songs often had the uncanny ability to make you truly reflect on serious issues affecting the country whilst making you laugh and dance about it all at the same time.
He spoke often and loudly about social injustice and corruption, and the band released two peace songs “Lowe Sama,” and “This land belongs to you,” to further spread their ultimate message of peace and harmony.
His untimely death in September 2021 sent shockwaves throughout the country and cemented him as one of the most iconic celebrities in Sri Lankan history.
The band continues today under the leadership of Piyal. He hopes to continue the success of The Gypsies for the next few years, performing, composing and releasing further hits, which are likely to be the last few songs we will see come out of this legendary band before they finally say Goodbye!