Baila is a form of dance music popular in Srilanka, and in India its popular in Mangalore and Goa especially with Konkani speaking Christians. The genre originated centuries ago among the 'kaffir' or Afro-Sinhalese communities (mixed communities of Portuguese, African and native Sinhalese people). It primarily utilises European instruments and rhythms found in Spain/Portugal, Sri Lanka, Africa and South India. In Mangalorea and Goa Baila songs are played during every party and weddings and people love to dance.
Baila music, though popular as a folk art for centuries in the country, was introduced to Sri Lanka's mainstream during the early years of the 1960s when singer Wally Bastian (who was also a police officer), began adapting the 6/8 'kaffirhina' rhythms to accommodate Sinhala lyrics. By the 1970s, owing largely to the contributions of musicians MS Fernando and Maxwell Mendis, baila had grown to become a recognized (and respected) style of Sri Lankan popular music.
The term "baila" is adapted from the Portuguese verb "bailar" meaning "to dance". Historically, Baila was a popular folk tradition along the coastal districts where the Portuguese influence was strongest. These communities (consisting of Portuguese traders and the slaves that they had brought with them from the western coast of Africa) gradually combined with communities of native Sri Lankans. From this cultural interchange, emerged the musical style now referred to as "baila". The genre was quick to spread around the whole island of Sri Lanka and was even influenced by 'Habanera' a form of dance music in the mid-1900s. The kafirs particularly in Puttalam view Baila and Kaffirinha tradition to be as intertwined with wedding ceremonies as wine and cake are. On the east coast of Batticaloa live Sri Lankan Burghers, the other group of inheritors of Baila and Kaffirinha and the descendants from Portuguese. Along with some rhythmic elements, the often light hearted comical lyrics and the Wada (debate) Baila tradition appears to be uniquely Sri Lankan. With a history of over five hundred years, it is older than other relatively recent semi-classical traditions.
M.S. Fernando A.K.A. "Baila Chakrawarthi" was a key figure in Sri Lankan baila history. Nithi Kanagaratnam also started Baila's in Tamil in 1967 and was the key figure in the developmentof the same.
Today, this kaffirhina style (often referred to by its "6/8" time) has been adapted from violin, bongo drums, mandolin, box guitar and honky tonk piano to accommodate modern instruments — specifically the electric guitar and synthesiser/workstation keyboards, octapad, and drum kit. Due, in part, to this evolution, it is most often heard during parties, school reunions, charity dinner dances, hotel concerts, and weddings. Contemporary baila is also characterized by comical lyrics, often loosely adapted from themes derived from Sri Lanka's history and/or folklore.
There are two subgenres of baila.
- Chorus baila — typical baila song
- Waada baila — this is a contest between several baila singers, often spontaneous. Judges give them a topic and competitors must compose their own lyrics for the specific baila rhythm. Marks are given in different criteria: quick-wittedness, meaningfulness, the flow and rhyme are some of them.
Popular baila artists include M.S. Fernando, Anton Jones, Paul Fernando, Desmond de Silva, Nihal Nelson, Maxwell Mendis, Sunil Perera (The Gypsies), Saman De Silva, Danapala Udawaththa, Rajiv Sebastian, Claude de Zoysa, Marriazelle Goonathilake, Nithi Kanagaratnam, A.E.Manoharan, Dalreen and many more.
It has also influenced the music of many popular artists such as Annesley Malewana, Clarence Wijewardene, C.T Fernando, Anil Bharathi, Christopher Paul, Priya Peiris (La Bambas), Super Golden Chimes, Los Flamingos, Sunflowers (band), The Gypsies, even Pandit W. D. Amaradeva and many more.
Radio broadcaster Vernon Corea has been credited with having helped to spread baila music to the English-speaking world via English-language programmes aired on Radio Ceylon and BBC Radio London during the late 1960s and 1970s.
In December 2006 a nonstop dance CD with greatest baila hits titled Sri Lankan Open House Party was released in Sri Lanka. The music was directed by renowned composer Suresh Maliyadde while the music to the CD was provided by Niresh Perera (The Gypsies) on drums, Mahinda Bandara (Fortunes) on guitar, Tilak Dias on bass, Tissasiri Perera on key boards and Visharadha Monaj Pieris on percussion. Singers powering these all time evergreens are Kanishka Wijetunga, Ganesha Wijetunga, Mariazelle Goonetilleke and Suresh Maliyadde.
There are baila songs in Tamil also which was popularised by Nithi Kanagaratnam, Ceylon Manohar, M.P.Paramesh, Ramachandran, Amuthan Annamalai and many othes. Nithi Kanagartnam's song "Chinna Mamiye" (or "Sinna Mamiye") in particular is popular and the rhythm is quite like some of the konkani songs. Nithi started Tamil Baila in 1967 and was dubbed as the " Father of Tamil Pops" in Sri Lanka. These songs are popular in Tamil Nadu, India and also in countries where the Tamils live.
- Kaffirinha - the spurned folk art, by Amal HEWAVISSENTI (Sunday Observer, 31.10.2010)
- Amaradeva at 85: Giving tongue to a nation’s soul, by Ajith Samaranayake dbsjeraj - 4 December 2012
- Moratuwa, the City of Pioneers (Purogameethwaye Nagaraya); ElaKiri Community