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Date: Sep 26,2018
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Bombay’s Early Goan Musicians

Bombay's Early Goan Musicians

 

In Bombay's Early Goan series, DR TERESA ALBUQUERQUE throws light on pioneering Goan musicians. From playing ragtime, viennese waltzes, maxina, polkas and square dances, they turned to arrange, harmonise and rephrase compositions for Hindi movies.

Music formed an important aspect of the curriculum of the first parish schools of Goa. Invariably the choir-master of the church conducted the school and saw to it that it provided him his choir. This initial introduction to western classical music quite often came in handy to penniless young men forced to eke a living in Bombay at the turn of the century gone by.

On 15 December 1888 the Times of India mentions a “Portuguese” band playing in the Bombay Philharmonic Orchestra in the Town Hall. But most of the newcomers found ready employment in the bands of the local British Auxiliary Force and there they picked up whatever the European conductor taught them. Soon Goans displaced the early Mahomedan street bands which were known for creating an infernal din.

One Salvador Pinto, coroneteer of the Volunteer Corps set up the first proper street band; and with others emulating him, by 1925 a fairly large number of such organised bands were established along the route from Dhobie Talao to Princess Street. So great became the demand at Hindu and Parsee wedding processions, where prestige called for number, that one altruistic individual–Francisco Menezes–ingeniously met it by picking up from the Goan kuds a number of unemployed persons whom he instructed to inflate their cheeks without blowing a note from the instruments.

The Silent Cinema

Happily the advent of the silent film provided further opportunity to Goan musicians. The harsh sounds emanating from the primitive projects had to be superimposed by more agreeable melody for an audience used to song and music of opera. Madame Alga Craen, nee Athayde, the famous Goa-born prima donna of Bombay’s pre-Independence days, declared that, as a child, she was inspired by hearing the rich music while she waited behind the scenes for her mother, who played the piano for the orchestral accompaniment of the silent cinema.

Octogenarians of the last decade like Sebastian Fernandes and Martin Pinto used to recall how they came to Bombay at a tender age and secured part-time employment either in the orchestras of the theatres or of the numerous Italian restaurants like Monginis, which proliferated at the time.

A few musicians found favour in the courts of Maharajas. Josique Menzies, the Goan musician brought up in the Seychelles, was in the service of the Maharajah of Bikaner. Some Goan musicians were engaged to play at English clubs and gymkhanas. They played the cornet, the cello, string bars and drums; they played ragtime, viennese waltzes, maxina, polkas and square dances. They played, but they did not lead. Yet it was these pioneers who gave the first direction to popular western music.

Over the Air

When films turned talkie, theatre orchestras became redundant. The artistes had to turn elsewhere. By this time, Bombay was on the air. As early as 1924 a Radio Club had been formed in the city. Three years later the Indian Broadcasting Company was inaugurated at Radio House, Apollo Bunder. This became the Mecca of Bombay’s musicians, mostly Goans. The great Dominic Pereira used to take his pupils along with him to perform.

Hotel Bands

Gradually under the patronage of the Maharajas, notably of Cooch Behar the “posh” hotels of the city started engaging negro-bands from the USA. This factor provided an incentive to the mushrooming of a host of little local bands in the metropolis. It was indeed a creative phase for Indian musicians; to name a few: Mickey Correa, Chick Chocolate, Johnny Baptist, Josique Menzies, and Frank Fernand. They began modelling themselves on the black jazzmen, and soon found their way. Mickey Correa made music history; in 1939 his band was resident in the Taj marking a revolution, continuing right up till 1960!

Back to Cinema

The coming of Prohibition spelt a decline in Bombay’s entertainment world. A number of these Goan bands drifted into the Indian film industry to mutual advantage–to the industry and to themselves. Not only did they provide the background music for songs but, more significantly, they taught music to others, who later came on the scene.

The late Naushad Ali himself gave much credit to these artistes. For the skill of the Goan musicians was turned to the task of arranging, harmonising and rephrasing the compositions of the so-called Music Directors, so as to suit an orchestra of fifteen to twenty players using instruments–both Indian and western. And not only did these top-grade musicians adapt to Indian trends in music but they can truly be said to have infused Indian film music with the beat of the fox-trot, rhumba, samba and even the mando-duet–giving it that curious blend of harmony that is so characteristic of the Hindi movie to this day.

 

Teresa Albuquerque


Besides research into the local history of Bombay, the author, Dr Teresa Albuquerque, has presented profiles of two villages in Goa: Anjuna and Santa Cruz; and has written Goa: The Rachol Legacy and Goans of Kenya (released recently).