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Where have Goa’s musicians gone?

Brian de Souza | Updated on December 11, 2020

Better together: (From left to right: Selwyn, Nadia and Omar) Goa’s independent musicians are a close-knit fraternity, largely inspired by Western tunes and church music   -  SHUGAN DIAS

They may not be performing in restaurants, but are humming online

Siddharth Cota had a cushy bank job but always missed something — and that was his music. Passionate about playing the guitar, he quit his job as a banker six years ago and, overcoming some family opposition, began performing in small restaurants in Goa. Soon, he was playing rock, jazz and dance music at some of the state’s five-star hotels. And he had no regrets about following his heart.

Then, nine months ago, the country went into lockdown mode. Cota, 35, remembers he was playing at a South Goa hotel when the closure was announced. “We were gripped by fear,” he recalls.

Cota was told there would be no more shows for the season, but never realised how bleak the situation was going to be.

Neither did Omar de loiola Pereira, who has his own music troupe called the Entre Nos — or ‘together’ in Portuguese. An entire year’s bookings of performances at private functions and wedding shows were wiped out, he tells BLink.

Going back: Siddharth Cota had a cushy bank job but always missed his music   -  PICTURE COURTESY: SIDDHARTH COTA

 

For Goan musicians, these are difficult times. This is the season when Goa hums. Christmas and New Year mark the start of festivity, celebrated widely with music. But today, most of Goa’s musician-entrepreneurs find themselves at a loose end. Overnight, their regular source of earnings has evaporated. “Hotels cannot promise us new contracts with the scenario so uncertain,” Cota says.

Goa’s independent musicians are a close-knit fraternity, largely inspired by Western tunes and church music. A veritable part of Hindi films, the industry doffed its cap to the tiny music-loving state with the 1977 hit Amar Akbar Anthony, where Amitabh Bachchan played Anthony Gonsalves, named after the film’s music director Pyarelal’s Goan violin teacher who had integrated his Western classical influences with Hindustani melodies.

There was a time, long ago, when any orchestra in Western India largely consisted of instrumentalists from Goa. But today musicians number about 200-300, going by memberships on WhatsApp groups. Many have close family connections to the music world, while quite a few are self-taught. Western artistes are still their primary inspirations — Cota’s muse, for instance, is the Brazilian jazz guitarist Joao Bosco. The older generation remembers the influences of big band leader James Last and the easy-listening genre of French orchestra conductor Paul Mauriat.

So how are Goa’s musicians coping? While some have dipped into their savings, a few have started small side businesses such as delivering groceries and making spicy Goan masala to pay their bills. Those who gave music tuitions have found some solace but the future is uncertain. Selwyn Menezes, 52, who plays the violin and mandolin, says taking his tuitions online can be daunting because internet connectivity is erratic in the state.

Some have taken a break from music for now. A senior musician says he has found the much-needed time to do pending household chores. Cota took to jogging, and feels fitter now, having reduced his weight by several kilos.

The musicians — instrumentalists and vocalists — are looking forward to the gradual opening of hotels. However, with Covid-19 cases in the state accounting for 1 per cent of its 1.3 million population, uncertainty still prevails. Rates for musicians have fallen — by an estimated one-third of pre-Covid-19 levels — as hotels aren’t sure about how many footfalls they will get. A good show gives a musician between ₹5,000 and ₹10,000 but much depends on the size of the gig and who they are playing for.

Cota has resumed playing over the weekends but is aware that Christmas and New Year festivities will be muted affairs, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions. Tourists are coming in, but the winter influx will not be like that of other years.

Many musicians admit that till recently, they had no complaints. Up to earlier this year, Cota made a pretty sum playing an almost punishing 25 hours a week. “We are contracted to play for three hours, but audience requests eventually land us up playing well into the night,” he says.

The going was so good that few had thought of expanding their online presence. “Earlier, YouTube was a repository of our samples, but now it’s centre-stage,” says Omar.

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Online shows come with their problems, especially for bands: Musicians have to work on their music and lyrics separately. They are recorded individually, and the music is then spliced together with the help of audio software.

But efforts are on. Cota and Menezes have dug out old Konkani scripts, re-arranged them and recorded Goan-Portuguese music videos for Mumbai’s Soul Fry restaurant and put the music on social media. The Goan diaspora were thrilled, says Menezes.

Some musicians are seeing this as a way to give a platform to Goa’s own foot-tapping genre of music — influenced by Konkani as well as Latin strains.

Tourism has always given a boost to musicians, but also upped the demand for popular Hindi film hits. “The demand for Hindi pop is overwhelming and playing innovative compositions may not really gel with the audience,” says a senior musician. As Cota puts it, playing at hotels is a sort of “instant music” and musicians get by with a “westernised Hindi style” of music.

For many musicians, the online world now beckons. Omar has floated a digital platform called Sounds from Goa. “Going online helps us break the barriers of geography and spread the vibe of Goan music which also includes Goan Hindu music,” he says emphatically.

He hopes to upload videos every fortnight on his new platform which includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Entre Nos, which also features singer Nadia, has already played online for corporate clients.

Menezes and Cota have now teamed up for an online project and have an original score ready. “We hope to get a literary personality to write the lyrics which will be a tribute to pristine Goa’s natural environment,” Menezes says. The environment is an issue that stirs Goans who have for long been resisting mining and other ecologically-hazardous projects.

“Covid will be with us for some time so it helps to play in smaller groups or do solos. I began teaching music at 16 and it is my first love, so I also hope to strengthen those efforts online,” Menezes says. “Online is the way forward,” Cota adds.

Brian de Souza is a Mumbai-based communications specialist

Published on December 11, 2020

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