Archive for » July, 2011 «

The Vile Parle Wonderboys

Over the course of my research, I’ve occasionally encountered names of performers in programme brochures and on record labels that have, frustratingly, remained little more than just that: names. None of the other musicians I have interviewed have been able to give me more than sketchy details about these performers, I haven’t been able to track down their families and there’s little about them in the news clips I’ve found. Among these tantalising phantoms are the Theodore brothers: Joe, Harry, George and Bertie aka Lups, who led one of the first Indian swing bands to play a stint at the Taj in the late 1930s.

Morning You Play Different, Evening You Play Different

Aik re by naresh fernandes

Their eyes give it away. Chris Perry wears a slick black jacket, the sleeves of his crisp white shirt revealing the glint of dark cuff links. His fingers clasp a gleaming tenor saxophone with a lover’s gentleness. Arms crossed coquettishly above her waist, Lorna Cordeiro is chic in a bouffant and a form-fitting gown that shows a flash of ankle. They stare into each other’s eyes, mesmerised. Behind them looms a giant camera aperture borrowed from the opening sequence of the Bond films.

Dot buster

Usha Uthup, who won a Padma Shree this year, hasn’t stepped out of the spotlight since she first started belting out Broadway tunes and pop standards in 1969 in venues similar to this one, depicted in the 1972 film Bombay to Goa. She’s performed across the length of the country, recorded more than two dozen albums and has been featured on several popular Bollywood tracks. More importantly, she’s single-handedly created the paint-by-numbers kit that anyone hoping to make a living out of performing pop in India must follow: sing in an Indian language (or several); tour incessantly both in small-town India and to diasporic outposts in New Jersey, Hong Kong and Nigeria; cherry-pick film assignments; and never, ever stop enjoying yourself on stage. “I’m a people’s person,” Uthup told me. “I’ve never been bothered by people saying I play to the gallery – because I do. Without the gallery I’m nothing.”

The Girl with the Yellow Shoes


In the 1950s, the Anglo-Indian crooner Pamela McCarthy was among the most striking figures on the Bombay bandstand. She was always dressed in a stunning ball gown. Her swinging voice kept dancers on their floor to the very end of the set. And then, of course, there was her wheelchair.


A Wild, Weird, Pathetic Wail

Their singing is like “a sound, good kick, something which can be felt and not described”. That’s what The Times of India suggested 121 years ago after hearing the predecessors of this group of Fisk Jubilee Singers perform in Bombay on January 8, 1890. The newspaper was even more delighted with the group’s second concert two days later, heaping special praise on the ensemble’s rendition of Steal Away Jesus. “It is wild wail, pathetic and weird, sung by perfect part singers and it electrified all who heard it,” said the Times. “Some could not sustain the sudden thrill and left the room. On the conclusion of the melody, there was dead silence for some moments, and then there was such applause as has seldom greeted a public performer in this city.”

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