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Ogustus Martalanus “Wally” Bastiansz

Wally Bastiansz was born on June 9, 1914 in Piyadigama, a small village about 2km north of the coast between Galle and Gintota, Ceylon. Wally was a singer-songwriter who developed the style of “Chorus Baila” in Sri Lanka in the 1940’s.

Though born to a Christian family, Wally, closely associated with the Buddhist monks in the nearby Piyadigama Purna Viharaya and Dadalle Walukaramaya temple. He studies his Sinhala from these monks and used to spend time in the temple. Later when he entered St Joseph’s College, Colombo he learnt English and Latin and became one of the best boxers in the college.   

Bastiansz was a police officer attached to the traffic division. This provided him the exposure to then popular international music and tunes, some of which he later adapted to his “Baila” tunes. He was also an experienced guitarist, banjo player, and violinist. Drawing from his orchestral roots, he transformed the tunes of standards like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Mademoiselle from Armentières (Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous)” into classic baila songs.

There has always been some controversy over his name “Wally”. It is very customary in Sri Lanka, even today, for children to have nick-names. Although he was baptized Ogustus Martalanus, after his grandfather Wilhelmus Martalanus, amongst family and close relatives, and even amongst his old neighbours, Ogustus was only known as either “Olie” or “Olington”.

Young Ogustus was not very comfortable with his name and mostly went by his initials O.M. Bastianzs rather than Ogustus or Martalanus. After embarking on his musical adventure, he aptly adapted his nickname “Olie” to “Wally”, his well-known stage name. For all official purposes, he presented himself as Olington Mervin Bastiansz, maintaining his original initials O.M.

Well known for his ability to sing Baila, Wally was featured in programmes in the Radio Ceylon, he was one of the first to be selected to sing Baila on radio. 

His songs dealt with everyday life and simple people. One of his hits, titled “Nurse Nona”, was an ode to a hospital nurse lady, who was none other than his own sister Felicia Florence “Dolly” Jayasekera nee Bastiansz (died 1996).

The song ‘Babi Achchige bicycle’ was an actual event that happened to Babi Achchi near Prince of Wales’ College, Moratuwa.

Florence (his sister) gave up her job as a nurse in 1944 after her first child was born; later in 1969, she moved her family to the Bastiansz family ancestral home to take care of their ailing father, Hinton Wilmot Bastiansz. The old Bastiansz residence in Piyadigama, where Wally Bastiansz and all his 8 siblings were born, is now occupied by one of Florence’s sons.

Wally Bastiansz is closely related to Sri Lankan popular artist’s Kanthie & Judy de Silva. Wally was Kanthie’s (Judy’s mother) father Edgar de Silva’s first cousin. Wally’s Father Hinton Wilmot and Edgar’s mother Winifred were siblings.

By the time Wally Bastiansz died on January 16, 1985, he had penned and composed music for a large number of songs which were famous as Baila. Some of them include ‘Irene Josephine Roselyn Angeline’, ‘Nona Mage Nurse Nona’, ‘Yaman Bando Vesak Balanna’, ‘Hai Hui Babi Achchige Bicycle eka’, ‘Kussi Amma Sera’, ‘Muhude Yamu Masun Maranna’, ‘Ratak Watinawa mage Mawpiyo denna’, ‘Le Kiri Karala’, ‘Mathakai Amme Obey Daru Nalawilla’ and many more.

Credit – Wikipedia, Wally Bastiansz, Daily Mirror

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