Aportion of the high ceiling looks like it’s about to cave in. The mosaic flooring seems in need of repair. Drumsticks, in various colours, stick wantonly out of a wooden box sitting on a counter. It has a djembe, standing uncovered on the floor, for company. There are sitars, tablas, a wall with keyboards hanging off it, and a more organised wall displaying electric guitars. And then, the high walls have compartments with black bags, invariably with more musical instruments in them. Surely, if Ollivanders was a music store, this is what it would look like.
Sandwiched between sporting goods stores in Kalbadevi stands the 150-year-old pilgrimage spot for Mumbai’s musicians — Furtados. When we speak to Joseph Gomes, one of the four siblings that runs the store now, over the phone, he says no one knows the exact date for when the store opened in 1865 (it was founded by Goan migrant Bernard Xavier Furtado). So, they are celebrating the landmark year through the year, with one of their biggest annual events — Con Brio (western music festival and all-Indian piano competition) set to begin this Sunday.
We meet Joseph, or Joe, as everyone calls him, on a weekday afternoon at the store. We walk over to the other store a few metres away because it’s “quieter”. This one only houses pianos, across various price ranges (the most expensive one, worthily sitting on a platform, costs roughly `70 lakh), and looks like something that could belong on a street in Paris. We make our way past music books on discount, and wooden floors to a tiny office. “My father (John Gomes, in 1952) took over LM Furtado & Co without knowing anything about music,” Joseph says. “The person who was set to buy the store didn’t want to keep the staff on. So the staff approached my dad. He was into printing and selling religious and sports goods.” Perhaps that explains why a small counter at the back of the old store still stocks religious goods.
John Gomes not only knew nothing about music, but he also didn’t have the money to invest. “When my dad bid for and bought BX Furtado & Sons, he didn't have the funds. A lot of people helped him. So he made many insurance policies of small amounts (Rs. 500 or Rs. 600) and named them as the beneficiaries. So if anything happened to him, they would get their money.”
What John did have, though, was resilience. Through the ban on the import of musical instruments (from the late ’60s to the early ’90s), he fought against tremendous odds to keep the store running. “We could only import music books, so that was what kept us going. People associated that with us,” Joseph says.
But it was only in the ’90s, with the present generation at the helm (Joe and three siblings – Anthony, Christopher and Nonabel), that the business expanded and flourished. “We were the first to bring in digital pianos in the country, in the mid ’90s. At that time, a lot of musicians thought it was sacrilege.” They also started an online store, and, since 2007, have been on an expansion spree — with 20 showrooms across India now. The year 2011 saw Joseph’s wife Anuja and her colleague, Dharini Upadhyaya, launch the Furtados School of Music. And though they never ventured into sales of music CDs, they do their bit by keeping one stand showcasing only works by local independent musicians.
Not for nothing, Furtados continues to be a favourite destination for musicians big and small. And if you don’t play an instrument, walking into this store might just inspire you to take one up.
The western music festival and all-India piano competition, Con Brio, was started in 2010, and is held in the memory of John Gomes. “It was initially called Shumania, after the German composer Robert Schumann, in celebration of the bicentenary of his birth. We were contacted by Parvesh Java (director of the festival), who wanted to do a festival of Schumann's music and organise a competition. We had always wanted to do something like this, and also conduct a piano competition. There was perfect synergy and so we started collaborating,” Joseph says. Encouraged by the response, they made it an annual affair.
Con Brio 2015 takes place from July 12 to 19 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit ncpamumbai.com for details.