‘ Repasz Band March ’ has international popularity

‘ Repasz Band March ’ has international popularity

By DANA BORICK dborick@sungazette.com

When the Repasz Band first began playing its “Repasz Band March” more than 100 years ago, current members never realized the song would gain popularity 8,800 miles around the world in Sri Lanka.

But in late 2009, Albert Nacinovich, director of the Repasz Band, received an e-mail from Jude Goonewardane, a Sri Lankan who lives in the United Kingdom, that explained just how popular the band’s “March” is in that country.

In that e-mail, Goonewardane said he stumbled upon the Repasz Band Web site while researching music on the Internet. The Repasz Band is one of the oldest community bands in the United States and has been in existence since 1831, according to the band’s Web site.


The Repasz Band is one of the oldest community bands in the United States and has been in existence since 1831, according to the band’s Web site.

“We Sri Lankans have a very strong connection to the ‘Repasz Band March,’ ” Goonewardane wrote. “Ceylon was a Portuguese colony in the 1600s, and one of the greatest gifts that Portuguese left behind is their dance music, amongst other things … the result was superb dance rhythms and beats that adapted 6/8 beat. Their music is called ‘Kaffrinha’.”

Goonewardane explained that the late Wally Bastiansz was a Ceylonese police officer who served the force during 1940s and was a musician attached to the Police Band.

“He adapted 6/8 Kaffrinha songs and beats into the native Ceylonese (now Sri Lankan) language Sinhalese, and created the Sri Lankan dance music called ‘Baila.’ It is a Portuguese word, and the meaning is ‘Dance’… Wally Bastiansz is regarded as the ‘God Father of Sri Lankan Baila.’ “

While serving in the Police Band, Bastiansz adapted many 6/8 Western tunes into his Baila compositions. One of the compositions is based on the “Repasz Band March” and is still a hit more than 70 years after its creation.

“Baila songs often don’t have proper meaning, and it can generally be about anything, and rhythm is what matters most,” Goonewardane wrote. “Wally’s song is called ‘Hai Hooi Babi Archchi.’ Hai Hooi is merely a form of expression such as modern-day ‘yee ha.’ Babi Archchi means Granny Babi. The song is about an eccentric woman called Babi, and how boys and girls rounded her up, dancing and ringing the bell of her bicycle.”

Goonewardane dedicated a channel on YouTube for old Sri Lankan music in an effort to preserve and pass them on to the younger generation that may be found at www.youtube.com/user/goonewj.

After receiving the e-mail, Nacinovich shared the information with band members during a practice and looked into the links provided by Goonewardane.

“I listened to the ‘Babi Archchi’ and Desmond De Silva recordings,” he replied to Goonewardane. “I can readily see why this style of music has been such a success for dancing music. It is full of energy and fun – and the Repasz tune fits the style very well.”

Nacinovich said that several years ago, while watching the television show, “M*A*S*H,” one of the characters was singing a tune while tying trout fly lures that was the first strain of the “Repasz Band March” and the same tune used in “Babi Archchi.”

“While we have known for many years that the tunes of our ‘Repasz Band March’ had worked their way into the cultural heritage of America in the first half of the 20th century, we had no idea that Sri Lanka shared them as well,” Nacinovich replied to Goonewardane.

“We know that the ‘Repasz Band March’ is played by bands all around the world, as well as being among the most popular marches in the history of the USA. Earlier in the 20th century, it was hummed, whistled and sung by millions across the country,” Nacinovich said. “It has been played by bands of all types, parlor pianos, circus calliopes, merry-go-round organs, etc. Up until hearing from the gentlemen from Sri Lanka we had no idea of how significant the tune – actually, the first strain of the march – was to the culture of another country.”

According to band member Nancy Eischeid, the “March” first was copywrited in 1901 and the band has been performing it since that time.

On the band’s Web site, Gene Bardo, a musician and former member who wrote about the band in 1983 for The Instrumentalist magazine, wrote that “The ‘Repasz Band March’ is the second most played march in the world, exceeded in number of performances only by Sousa’s ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ “

Nacinovich also received an e-mail from a Dr. Ruwan De Soysa, a pediatrician in the United Kingdom and friend of Goonewardane, who has family in the Philadelphia area and was interested in attending a Repasz Band practice.

“As a Sri Lankan, I am eternally grateful to the Repasz Band, especially the composer of the ‘March,’ ” De Soysa wrote.

Eischeid said De Soysa plans on giving a small lecture on the history of their music during the week of March 27. During the visit on March 30 at City Hall, the Sri Lanken Literary Club in the North West of England will present a commemoration plaque to the band, to celebrate their contribution to Sri Lankan pop music, De Soysa said.

“Indeed we are excited to have them come and share their indigenous musical connections,” Eischeid said. “Dr. De Soysa indicated he would be taping the band performing the ‘Repasz Band March.’ “

The band has about 60 to 70 active members, Eischeid said, so it should be a lively event.

Because the rehearsal space is limited, opening Dr. DeSoysa’s presentation to the public would not be practical, Nacinovich said.

The band’s next public performance is its Spring Concert at 7:30 p.m. April 27 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.

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