Gabo Makes His Farewell ‘Breakaway”
It was in the late sixties and seventies that Gabo dominated the music scene in Sri Lanka. The then stages were always packed with stellar performers, Jet liners, Sam, Spitfires, Los Caballeros, Moonstones, CT and Harold Seneviratne; but it was Gabo who led them all, by the charisma he carried as the leader of ‘The Breakaways’ playing fascinating music that took entertainment to its zenith and beyond.
Anyone young strumming a guitar or scratching the keyboards or blowing horns and drumming or having voices searching for recognition wanted to be with Gabo. That is a statement I make without any hesitation as it was simply the accepted truth when Gabo ruled the band music. No, it wasn’t the Breakaways, it was Gabo, finding talent and doing the arrangements and creating his own brand of music in his childhood home down School Lane in Bambalapitiya. He and his ‘chuda manikke’ resonated to be remembered for life.
The man had the magic and the looks to match and the personality was spell-binding. That is to say a lot about somebody and my sentiment is sincere. Those who clapped hands and shouted ‘encore’ and jingled and jived on Gabo music would know what I am talking about. The memories may have faded, but recollections would be instant, not just simple remembrances, but with a glint in the eye. That was Gabo the Band Leader at his mercurial best.
Then came the airline part; that’s when I met him and his lovable wife Savi and forged a friendship that lasted a lifetime. They were young years and our days sure were wild and winsome resulting in many a little fairytale in memory circuits. Such is always recalled when the bell tolls and someone has to go, like now. From flying, Gabo went to the travel trade. He did have a Midas touch, not by luck, but by constructive imagination and a personality that made him the ‘total people’s man.’ He took ‘Gabo Travels’ way beyond anyone’s imagination. Gabo had the ‘Band Leader’ name, and the vision and the drive to lift his infant travel company to its present success, right up to the top shelf. Of course the guardian angel was always there, Savi, the one who stood by him for all flavours and all seasons and gave the anchor to the man and trimmed the sails when the winds howled and the seas got rough.
Gabo’s beginnings were humble, his father was a well respected teacher, his mother a housewife and a loving sister completed the family, the norms of the multitude. He would have ridden his bicycle and eaten his celebrations at Sarasvathi and watched movies in the first front rows of the Majestic Theatre. Somewhere in that ‘run of the mill’ life Gabo picked a pair of drum sticks and that changed it all. His was certainly a self made story, an architect of his own fate who took the blows as ‘Old Blue Eyes’ sang and made his life a script of strictly ‘my way’.
No one can go from where he began to where he ended without having a fall or two, we all do that. Gabo conquered himself and along with Savi raised three lovely children, Sasha, Natasha and Dania, who in turn added their own offsprings to the ‘Gabo Band Wagon.’
We always kept in touch, sometime back met and shared a meal and had a great time speaking of bygones and laughed loud like fools, in the warmth and happiness of ancient camaraderie. That was great. Then came the health problems, sad and unfortunate and demanding in every way. Savi’s strength held and she combined multi-roles and kept the ship afloat. The last I saw Gabo was a few months ago. The warmth was all there, the voice was soft and the words were chosen and scrimp, mostly a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ from a face dressed with a ghost of a smile. It seemed that he was having a silent last laugh to ‘what it was all about’ in his carnival of a life. I was in many ways happy for him.
Gabo had found peace. That much I was certain.
I said ‘so long’ and took my leave. Sadly his final words are haunting me now.
“Come and see me,” that’s what he said, waving a feeble hand that had once ruled music with a drum stick.
Capt Elmo Jayawardena