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Anthony Gonsalves gets his due
When Amitabh Bachchan in top hat and tails emerged from a giant Easter egg in Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977 and proclaimed to the world, 'My name is Anthony Gonsalves', few viewers understood the significance of that statement. The music for that film was created by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and it was the latter who decided to name Bachchan's character after his real-life violin instructor.
Gonsalves, who passed away last week in Goa at the age of 83, was perhaps the greatest Goan to have entered the portals of the Hindi film industry. The composer, who was also a sought-after teacher (his students included RD Burman and Pyarelal) had a strong background in Western classical music, which few in the film world had, and when he moved to Mumbai at 16 he was already an accomplished musician. Soon, he was to find fame in Mumbai's studios, working in the shadows of the soundtracks along with his peers, many of whom, like him, were Goan.
Flashback to the 1950s. Chic Chocolate prided himself on being India's Louis Armstrong - and not just because of the astonishing physical resemblance he bore to the American jazz great. By 1951, when he appeared in the movie Albela, Chocolate, whose real name was Antonio Xavier Vaz, was either a legend or a nonentity, depending on which social strata you belonged to.
On screen for the first time, he donned a frilly poncho and pants that went up to his chest, and began to play his trumpet.
Soon, his bandmates followed suit - Francis Vaz banged his bongos and Johnny Gomes wove the notes of his clarinet around Chocolate's sharp trumpet lead. The film gave the ace trumpeter the kind of visibility he had never enjoyed before. Not that he needed it. His face may not have have widely known but his tunes certainly were. Just the year before, his trumpet solo on Gore gore from the film Samadhi was all the rage.
As the '50s progressed, there would be more drums, trumpets and reeds in Hindi film music, in both the songs as well as background and incidental scores. A genre that originated in New Orleans had taken root in the Bombay film world, and at its core were people like Chocolate, Frank Fernand, Sebastian D'Souza and Anthony Gonsalves - all immigrant Catholics from Portuguese-ruled Goa.
While millions in India had heard of C Ramachandran and SD Burman, very few knew of these Goan musical wizards who were the driving force in their orchestras. Their story, fast-fading from the pages of history, has been brought to life by journalist Naresh Fernandes in his remarkable new book, Taj Mahal Foxtrot (Roli Books). Subtitled The story of Bombay's jazz age, the author explores a littleknown and rarely discussed aspect of the city's past and presents it as a spectacular alternate history.
Taj Mahal Foxtrot discusses jazz in India between '35 and '67, and takes its name from a tune recorded in '36 by Crickett Smith and his Symphonians, who were booked by the management of Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay to perform there that summer. The two dates between which the book is set are significant, says Fernandes, because "1935 was when the first all-Negro band (Leon Abbey) came to India, and 1967 was the year the iconic Chic Chocolate died".
The book came about when Fernandes embarked on a rather juicy journalistic project to unearth the dirt on a stormy love affair between two Goan musicians, Chris Perry and Lorna. By an amazing coincidence, he discovered that the musician Frank Fernand, who proved to be an invaluable storehouse of information on both the love affair and Konkani jazz in general, lived down his street in Bandra. It was Fernand, who passed away in 2007, who first gave Fernandes a glimpse of the 'golden age' of jazz in Mumbai, and its chief proponents, the Goans.
The immigrants from the tiny Portuguese-ruled state had many advantages over their British-Indian counterparts. "Their Western music training in the parochial schools established by the Portuguese gave them a near-monopoly on the technical ability to merge the basic elements of Hindi songs: Indian melody and Western harmony, " Fernandes writes in Taj Mahal Foxtrot.
And this is how it used to work: In its early ears, Bollywood's composers proficient in Hindustani music employed groups of musicians. Their compositions were melodic - the main performer played a single line and the others reiterated it. However, as the genre evolved, composers realised the need for the music to convey the power of a chase, a romance or a murder. Thus, they formed large orchestras that included sitars, dholaks, violins and swathes of brass and reed, the main strength of the Goan community. While the 'Indian' musicians had to rehearse their parts till they could comfortably play them (Hindustani music has no notation), the Goans just read the tunes straight off the score.
And then in marched the jazz brigade, who played an even more significant role than just being part of the orchestra. Since very few Bollywood composers knew to write music, the job was left to the Goans - people like Chic Chocolate or Frank Fernand. They were called 'assistant music directors'.
When the producer called a 'sitting', the Hindu composer, Muslim lyricist and Goan assistant director would listen as the director narrated the plot. When he wanted a song, the composer would hum it, and the Goan would take down the notation, which the composer would later expand. Indeed, it was the job of the assistant music director to craft introductions and bridges, and here's where the creativity came in.
According to Frank Fernand, who worked with composers such as Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar and Anil Biswas, music directors couldn't write music and so "We arrangers did all the real work". With their bicultural heritage, these Goans, who lived on the edges of the Hindi film industry and had to be happy with tiny credits, had no qualms about bringing a whole new sound to the music. They gave it, in Fernandes' words, its "promiscuous charm". A few Ellingtonesque doodles crept in. Soon, influences from Portuguese fados also made their presence felt. Apart from the jazzy Dixieland stomp were themes from classical maestros like Mozart and Bach.
Despite their enormous influence, very few of these musicians respected what they did. Anthony Gonsalves was among the few who did. "Gonsalves actually loved the music he was playing, unlike other Goan musicians who believed that Hindi film music was inferior to jazz and they had to do it to supplement their incomes, " Fernandes says.
Today, jazz has all but disappeared from Hindi film music, as has its heavy Goan influence. Fernandes worries about his city and its music. He writes: "Contemporary Bombay, however, is not only doing its best to choke the spaces in which the quirky and eccentric can survive, it has also lost its ability to agree on a central melody. " Taj Mahal Foxtrot is a gentle plea for a new score.
THE FAB FOUR
Anthony Gonsalves | 1928-2012 |
Majorda, Goa His name could safely feature among the pioneers of world music. Merged Goan and Hindustani music during the 1950s, and founded the Indian Symphony Orchestra featuring Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey as soloists. The ISO performed in '58 at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. He gave his compositions names like 'Sonatina Indiana', 'Concerto in Raag Sarang' and 'Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in Todi Taat'. Some of his significant works are in the movies 'Naya Daur, 'Waqt', 'Dillagi' and 'Haqeeqat'
Chic Chocolate | 1911-1967 |
Aldona, Goa India's most accomplished trumpeter was prolific in the world of films. He began with 'Nadaan' in 1951, and was an important part of C Ramachandran's team. In 1952, they collaborated for 'Rangeeli', a massive success, especially the song 'Koi dar hamara samjhe', sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Later, Chocolate also worked with legends like Madan Mohan, O P Nayyar and Naasir, with whom he worked on the '56 film 'Kar Bhala'
Frank Fernand | 1919-2007 |
Curchorem, Goa Master of the violin and trumpet, Fernand, apart from being a staple in the Hindi film industry also made the legendary Konkani movies 'Amchem Noxib' and 'Nirmonn'. In '48, he joined Shankar Jaikishan. 'Barsaat' by Raj Kapoor was his first major film. A sterling patriot, he considered August 15 the most important day of the year. Later, he worked with top-ofthe-line music directors such as Anil Biswas, Kishore Kumar, C Ramachandran, and others
Sebastian D'Souza | 1906-1996 |
Verem, Goa His first brush with cinema was in pre-Partition Lahore. Post World War II, his earliest arrangements were for Shyam Sunder and Mohammad Ali. After Partition, he was back in Bombay, where he used his Lahore contacts to get himself work with O P Nayyar. His first tune, 'Pritam aan milo', was sung by C H Atma in '55. Later, working with Shankar-Jaikishan between '52 and '75 (' Daag', 'Mera Naam Joker' ), he helped create some of the most memorable tunes for Raj Kapoor's films.
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