2005-08-06 10:21:22 UTC
BY NARESH FERNANDES
Midway through Manmohan Desai?s classic 1977 film
about three brothers separated at birth, a man in a
top hat and a Saturday Night Fever suit leaps out of a
giant Easter egg to inform the assemblage, "My name is
The significance of the announcement was lost under the impact
of Amitabh Bachchan?s sartorial exuberance. But decades later,
the memory of that moment still sends shivers down the spines of
scores of ageing men scattered across Bombay and Goa.
By invoking the name of his violin teacher in that tune in 'Amar
Akbar Anthony', the composer Pyarelal had finally validated the
lives of scores of Goan Catholic musicians whose working years
had been illuminated by the flicker of images dancing across
white screens in airless sound studios, even as acknowledgement
of their talent whizzed by in the flash of small-type credit
The arc of their stories -? determined by the
intersection of passion and pragmatism, of empire and
exigency -? originated in church-run schools in
Portuguese Goa and darted through royal courts in
Rajasthan, jazz clubs in Calcutta and army cantonments
in Murree. Those lines eventually converged on
Bombay?s film studios, where the Goan Catholic
arrangers worked with Hindu music composers and Muslim
lyricists in an era of intense creativity that would
soon come to be recognised as the golden age of Hindi
The Nehruvian dream could not have found a more appropriate
A few months back, a friend called to tell me about a new
character he?d discovered in a story published by Delhi-based
Raj Comics: Anthony Gonsalves. On the page (and accessible only
if you read Hindi), Anthony Gonsalves is part of the great
Undead, the tribe doomed to live between the worlds.
It wasn?t always like this. In his prime, Anthony Gonsalves was
a mild-mannered guitar player who had devised a magical new
sound known as ?crownmusic?. But his jealous rivals tortured him
to death so that they could steal his work. Now the
magnificently muscled superhero emerges from the grave each
night to prevent the desperate from committing suicide and to
rid the world of evil, informed of imminent misfortune by his
Repeated calls to Raj Comics failed to disgorge the phone number
of Tarunkumar Wahi, the creator of the series, so I was unable
to establish how the comic-book character had come to get his
name. But I couldn?t help thinking how the predicament of the
leotard-clad figure was not unlike that of the real Anthony
Gonsalves, whose home in the sleepy Goan village of Majorda I
had visited only weeks earlier: both had attempted to connect
disparate worlds and both had been left with the gnawing
dissatisfaction of a mission unfinished.
Thirty years after he quit the film industry in 1965
to avail of a travelling grant from Syracuse
University in upstate New York, Anthony Gonsalves
continues to arouse the curiosity of his
contemporaries. He departed at the height of his
popularity and, even after he returned from America a
decade later, never swung his baton again. In fact, he
scarcely bothered to let his former colleagues know
that he was back. As I met with musicians in Bombay
and Goa in an attempt to piece together a portrait of
their lives and work in the studios, many of them
insisted that he was still in America -? if indeed he
was still alive.
The 77-year-old maestro offered no explanations for his
seclusion. His speech was slow and his thoughts sometimes
incoherent, as if confirming rumours that he?d suffered a
nervous breakdown in America when he realised that he wouldn?t
be able to make a living as a composer in a country whose music
colleges turn out thousands of aspiring composers every year.
But in moments of clarity (which formed most of the three hours
we chatted), Gonsalves pulled out photographs and yellowing
newspaper clippings to take me back to the time in the mid-1960s
when he?d attempted to merge the symphonies of his Goan heritage
with the Hindustani melodies and rhythms he had come to discover
in the film studios.
In this, Gonsalves? ambition outstripped that of his
contemporaries. Goan musicians had been sought after by film
composers since the ?40s, when AB Albuquerque and Peter Dorado
teamed up with a Sikh saxophone player named Ram Singh to form
the ARP Party -? an acronym that in those uneasy years also
stood for Air Raid Police.
The source of their appeal lay across a yawning
musical chasm: while Indian classical music has a
melodic basis, Western classical music -? in which
Goans had been rigorously trained in parish schools
established by the Portuguese who had ruled their home
state since 1510 -? has a harmonic foundation. To wit,
all the performers at an Indian classical music
concert reiterate the same melodic line, but Western
classical ensembles play different notes of related
When Hindi film music entered a period of rapid evolution during
the Second World War, composers realised that the small groups
they?d previously used could not effectively convey the drama
unfolding on screen. So they formed large orchestras that ranged
dholaks and sitars along with banks of violins, swathes of
trumpets and a Hawaiian guitar or two.
Since not many musicians from other communities knew how to play
saxophones or clarinets, Goans came to form the bulk of the
orchestras. But they also had another, rather more influential
role. Until then, composers would rehearse their groups (which
usually had fewer than 10 musicians) until they?d memorised
their parts before leading them into recording sessions. But if
the members of an orchestra were to play in unison and the tone
colour of their instruments was to be employed most effectively,
they needed to read the notes off scores, with each musician?s
role clearly laid out. Few Hindi film composers, most of whom
were trained in the Hindustani classical tradition, knew how to
score music for the new ensembles. That task was performed by a
Typically, the work proceeded thus. The producer would
organise a ?sitting? (as the Goans came to call the
baithaks) at which the composer (most often a Hindu),
the lyricist (usually an Urdu-speaking Muslim) and the
arranger would flop down on comfortable cushions to
listen to the director narrate the plot. When the
director indicated the point at which a song was
necessary, the composer would hum out a melody or pick
it out on his harmonium. It was the arranger?s task to
note down these fragments, which the composer would
later piece together into an entire song.
But even then, the composer would craft only the verse and the
chorus. The arranger was responsible for fashioning the melodic
bridges, for shaping the parts for individual instruments and
often even wrote the background music. The arranger wasn?t
merely a secretary.
As I discovered while researching a previous essay,
the Goans drew on their bicultural heritage to give
Bollywood music its promiscuous charm, slipping in
slivers of Dixieland stomp, Portuguese fados,
Ellingtonesque doodles, cha cha cha, Mozart and Bach
themes. Long before fusion music became fashionable,
it was being performed every day in Bombay?s film
But Anthony Gonsalves wanted to push the envelope even further.
He wanted to compose raga-based symphonies that could be
performed in the world?s leading concert halls. He travelled to
Bombay in 1943, already a seasoned musician at 16. He had been
recognised as a child prodigy and appointed choir master at a
local church at age 12. He found his first job in the city as a
violinist in the group of the composer Naushad in 1943. His
talent was overwhelmingly apparent and he soon graduated to
doing arrangements for composers around the city. He was also a
highly prized teacher.
Every Sunday, his apartment at Sushila Sadan on Bandra?s Linking
Road was thrown open to eager students, two of whom -? RD Burman
and Pyarelal -? would become significant composers themselves.
Unlike many of his Goan peers, whose western-trained ears
couldn?t quite wrap themselves around the sinuous lines of
Hindustani tunes (though they could play them well enough from a
score), Gonsalves developed a deep passion for raga-based music.
"It struck me very hard in my heart and my mind," he explained.
"Melodically and rhythmically it is so rich."
When other musicians went off for a smoke between takes, he?d
engage in jugalbandi call-and-answer jam sessions with the
flautist Pannalal Ghosh. He sought out Pandit Ram Narayan,
Pandit Shyam Sunder and Ustad Inam Ali Khan to deepen his
knowledge of the tradition.
Soon he was trying to find ways to meld the two systems. After a
hard day in the studios, he would spend his nights committing to
paper the fantasies in his head. It wasn?t easy. "A raga isn?t
like a ladder, on which you take one step at time," he told me.
"It?s like a path up the mountain. It winds more and there are
unusual intervals between stages."
He gave his creations names like Sonatina Indiana,
Concerto in Raag Sarang and Concerto for Violin and
Orchestra in Todi Taal. In April 1958, his dream took
voice for the first time. Gonsalves founded (and
funded) the Indian Symphony Orchestra, a group of 110
musicians assembled specifically to perform his
compositions. "I paid my own money to put up this
concert because I wanted to show the richness of our
country?s music," Gonsalves explained. Featuring
playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey as
soloists, the works were performed in the quadrangle
of St. Xavier?s College to an eager audience. "It
wasn?t fusion," Gonsalves insisted. "I just took ragas
and scored them for an orchestra and choir."
Other concerts followed. But by many accounts, the experiments
were hailed with less enthusiasm than Gonsalves had anticipated.
The composer Vanraj Bhatia, who was in the audience, remembers
the performance as being ambitious but ?a little filmi?.
Nonetheless, the events boosted Gonsalves? reputation
sufficiently to earn him a fellowship to New York a few years
later. He was vague about what he did in the US, but a proud
certificate on the wall of his Goa house attests that he is a
member of the American Society of Composers, Publishers and
Authors. He claims he returned to India because his family
needed him, but his chronology of events seemed confused. He
shrugged off questions about why he didn?t return to the film
industry and about how he kept himself occupied since.
It was time to leave.
Compared to the journey of other Goan musicians, Anthony
Gonsalves? story is unusual, not just for his singular devotion
to Hindustani music but also for the brevity of his route to the
studios. Even before they found their niche in the Hindi film
industry, music had always proved a dependable avenue for Goans
to make a living. Though some people have retrospectively
developed what the writer Fredrick Noronha describes as
?Lustalgia?, an inflated sense of yearning for the (often
imaginary) benefits of the Lusitanian empire, the Portuguese did
little to educate or employ Goans.
This necessitated a continuous stream of migration out
of the emerald territory. Bombay -? ruled by another
European sovereign -? was often a stepping stone to
other territories held by the British. Goans marched
into police and military bands across the subcontinent
and in East Africa. Others made their way into
symphony orchestras at royal courts. In an engaging
article about Bombay?s early Goan musicians, the
historian Teresa Albuquerque writes about Josique
Menzies, a Goan musician born in the Seychelles who
was employed by the Maharaja of Bikaner.
By the ?30s, Goan dance bands had been established in most major
cities and hill-stations across the subcontinent. Though
schooled in the Western classical tradition, many of them
demonstrated a strong affinity for a musical trend that was the
rage across the globe: hot jazz.
To be sure, India was no stranger to African-American music. The
first performance of ?minstrelsy? music in the subcontinent was
held in 1849, when a legendary musician named William Bernard
stopped in India on his way back from Australia.
African-American performers followed each decade after that and
by the time ragtime had metamorphosed into jazz, India?s
appetite for hot music was being fed by a steady stream of
records from America. Still, the Indian jazz scene didn?t really
take off until the mid-?30s, when the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay
hired its first resident jazz outfit, a nine-piece band led by a
violinist from Minnesota named Leon Abbey.
But it was the bands that succeeded him, led by a cornet player
named Crickett Smith and a pianist named Teddy Weatherford, that
left the deepest impression on the subcontinent: they hired
local Anglo-Indian and Goan musicians ? Josique Mezies,
Karachi-born Mickey Correa and trumpet player Frank Fernand,
among them ? and helped them discover the song of their souls.
"Jazz gave us freedom of expression," Frank Fernand, now in his
late eighties and stricken with Parkinson?s, told me. "You
played jazz the way you feel -? morning you play differently,
evening you play differently."
When the Hindi film industry came looking for musicians who
played brass and string instruments to brighten its hues,
Bombay?s jazz musicians were their first targets.
Soon after, as the demand for dance bands in the far-flung
provinces declined with the departure of the British, more swing
musicians were available to fill the rosters. The most famous of
the post-Independence Goan entrants to the film industry was
Sebastian D?Souza, who had led the house band at Stiffle?s hotel
in Lahore and managed outfits in Murree and other towns in what
later became Pakistan.
After an initial struggle in Bombay, D?Souza found himself doing
arrangements for the duo of Shankar and Jaikishan, striking up a
collaboration that lasted more than two decades. "He expanded
the palette of colours for the film orchestras," the composer
Vanraj Bhatia said. "Shankar-Jaikishan wouldn?t have their
signature style if it hadn?t been for Sebastian?s genius."
But the figure from that period who really intrigued
the jazz obsessive in me was a kinky-haired hornman
who went by the stage name Chic Chocolate. Chic ? who
was born Antonio Xavier Vaz in Aldona in 1916 ? died
in 1967, two years before I was born. But his legacy
lives on through the dynasty that he founded: his
three daughters -? Yvonne, Ursula and Kittu -? each
married a jazz musician, and my interest in the genre
burst into life at their concerts. My curiosity about
the man who was known as the Louis Armstrong of India
reached fever pitch a year ago, when I came to realise
that he?d actually cut several 78 RPM records in the
?40s and ?50s.
I made a frenzied flurry of phone calls to his family to try to
obtain copies of the songs, which are probably the first
original jazz tunes ever recorded in India. As it turned out,
they had only one. Still, they graciously let me leaf through
their photo albums and their memories of the man his
contemporaries credited not only with looking like a ?Negro?,
but also playing like one. (I later found a stash of Chic
Chocolate records through fellow obsessives at the Society of
Indian Record Collectors. His prowess, I was delighted to
discover, had not been overstated.)
Like all his Goan contemporaries, Chic learned music at his
local parochial school, and first earned acclaim as a child
singing at ?kheols?, street-side musical plays that are often
mounted around Christmas. No one?s quite sure how he got his
nickname. His wife, Martha told me it was a contraction of his
mother?s term of endearment for him -? Chico, little one. His
son Erwell, a drummer, told me that it was the residue of
archaic ?40s slang. "When he was playing a really hot passage,
the other musicians would say, ?That?s really chick, man?,"
Erwell said. Either way, it?s clear that by the mid-?40s -?
after stints in Rangoon and Mussourie -? Chic had established
himself as Bombay?s hottest jazz musician. He was ?in a class by
himself?, stated a review in the now-defunct Evening News of
India during that period. Another newspaper article from the
time describes Chic Chocolate?s outfit as ?Bombay?s topflight
By the time he was leading an 11-piece band at the Taj, Chic and
his family were living in an apartment in Colaba. The flat had
one bedroom, but two pianos -? Chic couldn?t resist the urge to
buy a second after he found that Mehboob Studio was selling one
for just Rs. 200. The home was always filled with music: if the
five children weren?t practising their scales, the Garrad record
changer was dropping down a stack of records by Basie,
Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and by Chic?s idol, Louis Armstrong.
Chic took his Armstrong impersonations seriously. "He?d watched
movies like High Society, Hello Dolly and Five Pennies and tried
to copy Louis Armstrong?s playing and singing as closely as
possible," his daughter Ursula recalled. "He followed his every
move." Before gigs, he?d instruct Martha to pack his case with
at least half-a-dozen white handkerchiefs so that he could mop
his brow in true Armstrong style.
One morning in 1964, Chic woke up his children at dawn, packed
them into his black Hillman car and drove them to the Taj. They
were lined up outside the lift. After a few minutes, Louis
Armstrong, their father?s hero, emerged in a cloud of suitcases
and sidemen. He greeted the children affectionately and departed
for the airport. A few evenings before, the older children had
been taken to meet with Armstrong?s singer, Jewel Brown, and
she?d given them an autographed photograph of herself. They
later went to see Armstrong perform at Shanmukhananda Hall. But
all these years later, none of them is sure whether India?s
Louis Armstrong actually had a conversation with the man he?d
admired so long.
Like many Goan musicians of the time, Chic Chocolate
indulged his passion for jazz in the night, but his
mornings were spent in the film studios, enlivening
the movies with his swinging arrangements. He first
grabbed the nation?s ears with his brassy work with
the composer C. Ramchandra: tunes like ?Gore gore?
(from Samadhi, 1950) and ?Shola jo bhadke? (Albela,
1951) presaged by a decade the Indo-Jazz fusion
encounters of the ?60s.
He also collaborated with Madan Mohan, who gave the trumpet
player a photograph of himself signed, ?To my most faithful
comrade, Chick -? with all my best wishes?. The family looked
forward to Madan Mohan?s visits with some amusement: his huge
car would always run into problems when he tried to park in the
narrow Colaba lane on which they lived. But Chic had no trouble
getting Madan Mohan?s melodies to swing. The eclecticism of the
influences he brought to bear never fails to surprise me. Only a
few weeks ago I realised why an instrumental passage in Chic
Chocolate?s arrangement of Madan Mohan?s ?Ae dil mujhe bata de?
sounded so familiar: it was a phrase from the Portuguese fado,
Coimbra, that I knew from my Amalia Rodrigues albums.
Chic?s lives as jazz man and as film musician sometimes merged.
Albela actually featured Chic and his band on screen in a song
sequence, dressing them in frilly Latinesque costumes. Chic
capitalised on the film?s success by dressing his band in those
costumes for their dance gigs too.
Chic?s career was tragically short. He died in May 1967, aged
51, his end speeded by his Goan fondness for liquor. His casket
was borne to the grave by Bombay?s foremost musicians, including
the accordion player Goody Seervai and the drummer Francis Vaz,
and his Selmer trumpet was placed across his chest. Shortly
after, Chetan Anand?s Aakhri Khat hit the screen. The bluesy
song ?Rut jawan jawan? featured several close-ups of the Louis
Armstrong of India playing his trumpet solos from the bandstand.
Whenever they missed his presence, Chic?s children would go off
to Garrison theatre in the Colaba military area to commune with
The Majorda sky was blue-black when my interview with
Anthony Gonsalves petered to a close. I knew I had
bothered the maestro too much already and that it was
time for supper. As I said my goodbyes, he urged me to
eat another piece of the delicious jackfruit just
plucked from his garden and offered me a tantalising
thought. He had a bundle of all his original scores
carefully tucked away in a trunk in the next room, he
said, and would like for nothing more than for them to
be performed again. But thus far, no one had been
willing to put up the money for a concert.
Over the last decade, the march of technology and changing
tastes have displaced Goan musicians from the studio. The
synthesiser, the drum machine and the digital sequencer are now
in vogue. Besides changing the texture of Hindi film sounds,
these devices allow the music director to be his own arranger ?-
and play all the instruments too, if he should choose to.
As in film music, so in the body politic. The privileging of
individual needs over the collective good has made Nehru?s theme
sound hopelessly off key. As I sped through the dusk on the back
of a motorcycle taxi, my head buzzed with schemes to persuade
Goan businessmen to fund an Anthony Gonsalves concert. It
wouldn?t take much, I?m convinced, to introduce his crownmusic
to the inheritors of the new millennium.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Naresh Fernandes is editor, Time Out, Mumbai.
He is a long-time journalist, who worked in senior positions in
the Mumbai media. He has also worked in New York. The research
for this article was supported by a fellowship from the Sarai
-- www.sarai.net -- programme of the Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies. This article was first published in
Seminar magazine, November 2004). It was also reproduced in
Communalism Combat, February 2005.
Reader places on record its appreciation of Vidyadhar Gadgil
<vgad at sancharnet.in> who drew our attention to this article.
GOANET READER WELCOMES contributions from its readers, by way of
essays, reviews, features and think-pieces. We share quality
Goa-related writing among the growing readership of Goanet and
it's allied network of mailing lists. If you appreciate the
above article, please send in your feedback to the writer. Our
writers write -- or share what they have written -- pro bono,
and deserve hearing back from those who appreciate their work.
Goanet Reader welcomes your feedback at feedback at goanet.org It
is edited by Frederick Noronha fred at bytesforall.org