Every once in a while, in a tiny, 130-sq-ft room opposite the Parsi Fire Temple on Princess Street, Dhobi Talao, five musicians — brothers Manuel and Julius Noronha, Khorshed Daruvala aka Carol, Marshall Mascarenhas and Caji Mendes — play Konkani tunes and English rock ‘n’ roll numbers. The room, a 38-year-old music school called Cruz Music Classes, is too small for them to use an actual drum kit so Mascarhenas, their drummer, uses a portable electronic equivalent.
The quintet, named Day-Breakers, which has been together since 1979, is one of the only Konkani bands still around in Mumbai. Sometimes they play one to four shows a month, for Konkani dramas, called tiatre, or concerts in auditoriums or parties, at venues such as Bhaidas Hall in Juhu and Patkar Hall in Marine Lines.
But they haven’t met in nearly three weeks because they have no shows in December. “We’re trying hard to get a New Year’s Eve gig in Pune,” says Julius, lead guitarist and vocalist, 56. “Five years ago, that would’ve been booked at least two months in advance.”
The scenario four decades was even livelier, as depicted in an upcoming film (see right). In the 1950s and 60s, nightclubs in Churchgate and Marine Lines regularly hosted jazz bands made up primarily of Goan musicians. Many of them also worked in Hindi films as studio musicians and arrangers. All of them stayed in or around Dhobi Talao. Aside from singing in English, they also started singing in their mother tongue, says Felix Correia, co-founder of FC Global Music, a Konkani record label that owns the rights to some of the music produced in this era.
Today, Konkani music survives only in certain pockets of the city, despite the odds. Most musicians have either passed away or moved to Goa. Lorna Cordeiro, 60, a prominent singer, known as ‘The Nightingale of Goa’, is an exception. Last year, she sang on an album released by FC Global music featuring old and new compositions.
People like Rodrigues and Correia are trying their best to revive the genre. “But DJs, electronic music and Bollywood have taken over,” says Correia, ruefully. “Goan youth in Bombay are no longer singing in Konkani.” Fausto Da Costa, president of the Mumbai-based Goan Review Art Foundation, adds, “There is a general decline in Konkani culture; Catholics prefer English today.”
CF Rodricks & Sons, an 85-year-old family-run store at Dhobi Talao, is one of the last bastions of recorded Konkani music. “People in the city are buying Konkani music only to play at weddings or church parties,” says Lazarus Rodrigues, 45, one of the owners. Sales are declining. Two generations have dedicated their lives to this modest store but his 12-year-old son is unlikely to follow this tradition. “It’s not going to last much longer,” says Rodrigues.