Most of us have heard at least one song by this iconic superstar from Goa. Not a show or party in Goa goes by without crooning or dancing to like Ya Ya Maya Ya or Humma Humma.
Remo Fernandes, the charismatic musician who has enthralled generations with his songs, keeps inspiring and lifting our spirits with good music. He spends his time between Siolim in Goa and Porto in Portugal. Back in his village, Siolim, he is busy recording at his home studio and preparing for some upcoming concerts.
Excerpts from an interview:
At 26, you made a simple list of three things you would pursue: music, drawing, and writing. Looking back, what would senior Remo tell that young man about his decision?
Senior Remo says “Thanks for that great decision to earn your living only doing the things you love, lad! I haven’t regretted it once. Thanks to that resolution, life has been one big playtime. How I would have hated working at a job I disliked or wasn’t passionate about, waiting for office closure to rush home to a hobby I loved. Instead, I made my hobbies my professions.”
Your early travels around Europe and the world shaped your world-view to find yourself in many ways. How did those youthful explorations shape your music, especially as a busker on the streets of Paris and everywhere you travelled in Europe and North Africa?
I learnt how to project myself out in the streets and city squares. I had to attract people who hadn’t come out to hear me play, but who were busy getting from Point A to Point B. I had to make them stop in between, listen, and appreciate what they were hearing so that they would actually drop some money into my guitar case. It taught me how to reach out and communicate with my audience through song.
Remo on his 70th birthday last week |
Your pop hits received a cult following with generations playing your music. But there is a curious incident of you having forgotten you had recorded Humma Humma?
I can never ever forget a song which I have written myself. But when I record playback for a song composed by someone else, I only get to hear it when I go to record it in the studio, for around 3 to 4 hours. And then I don’t hear it until it is released, usually months later. Humma was such a song. When it was released I had forgotten all about it, and was pleasantly surprised to hear it was a nation-wide mega hit!
In commercial songs like O Meri Munni (a cautionary note to young teenage girls about early sexual activity) or Pack that Smack to Politicians don’t know to rock & roll, your upbeat, foot-tapping tempo, catchy lyrics are loaded with meaning and messages. Is that a conscious choice to add humor to meaning?
Yes it is. But then humour always finds it’s way into even my most serious writing, as one can see in unexpected passages in my autobiography. Humour helps people accept a serious message in a more receptive way, I think. A serious message given in serious language can sound very preachy and sermonising, and I, for one, can be turned off by those.
You are an unconventional music icon, preferring to record at your home studio than the commercial spaces. Why do you prefer it to date? How does it help you create music?
Ah, by recording at home I can record as I want to, when I want to, and without looking at the studio clock and the studio hire costs. Besides, I love and need my solitude when I create, and I normally create in the studio. Being conscious of people around me while composing and building up a song would totally spoil it for me.
Remo with his wife |
The road accident which killed your band members must have affected you deeply. What were it’s main repercussions?
It sent me into deep depression and sadness, and I took a firm decision to totally give up performing. I decided to never form a band again. But when the only survivor of the crash, our drummer Santana Carvalho came out of coma months later, he kept calling and insisting that I absolutely ought to.
When he saw I wasn’t going to do it, he went and found new band members himself. I couldn’t believe the new guys were so good, and that they knew all my songs. So I gradually started performing again. About twenty years later, I have narrated all the details of the harrowing experience in my book.
Your book Remo is a time capsule of your life, loves, highs, and lows. Why did you feel the story had to be told? Was it the writer within you that compelled you to speak?
The Goan in me bemoaned books written by people, including Goans, but who settled in Goa much later in life, when Goa became ‘fashionable’. Lapses showed glaringly in their writings. Whereas the Goa and the Panjim I remember as a kid and a youth were unique, and I was amazed at the details which came flooding back to my mind. I felt I had to write them down for posterity. Also, when I sometimes narrated past experiences to friends in the course of conversations, they all felt I had lived quite a varied and ‘adventurous’ life, not the usual anonymity-to-limelight journey. But more than anything else, you’re right: it was the writer in me who totally enjoyed writing my story.
Do you continue doing live shows?
Of course. There’s a show coming up in Dubai in June; I’m in negotiations for a 4-city concert tour of the USA in August; and shows have been booked in advance for next season, in November ’23 and January ’24. There are people who say that even today, there’s nobody who can rock a live concert like me, specially with original music.
At 70, how do you see your journey ahead? More music, writing, or maybe drawing?
Exactly. I can’t help it. I keep composing and recording new songs all the time. Although not commercial like ‘Munni’ and ‘Jalwa’, I think this is some of the best music I have ever created, including the opera ‘Teresa & The Slum Bum’. And I keep writing, drawing, and creating in Photoshop. Like I said, to me this is not work; it is the activity which gives me the greatest pleasure in life, and I can only hope that I will be able to pursue it right until the end.
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