Archive for » June, 2013 «

Mandela’s Music


All these decades later, the most vivid image of the anti-apartheid struggle I carry in my head is the TV clips of protestors doing the toyi toyi in a mist of tear-gas, singing defiantly to phalanxes of riot policemen. As the true successors to Gandhi, South Africans proved that it was possible to shame their oppressors by holding steadfastly to truth – and music.

In 2003, to celebrate a decade of freedom and to thank India for its support in the struggle, the South African government gave Bombay a joyful gift: a trio of concerts by three of its most accomplished musicians. The apartheid regime had forced trumpet player Hugh Masakela, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and vocalist Letta Mbulu into exile and they’d spent years as cultural warriors, touring the world to enlist support for their cause. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, they all returned home and rolled up their sleeves to get down to the hard task of building a new nation. I had the good fortune to interview all of them.

Play It Again, Samba

filhosAs millions of Brazilians take to the streets to demand schools instead of stadiums, here are two musical reminders of that country’s intriguing links with India. The first is a clip of the adventurous Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti and his sideman, Nana Vasconcelos, attempting to find common ground with Indian musicians when they visited Bombay for the Jazz Yatra in 1984.

This piece from NPR is about a samba school from the northern city of Salvador do Bahaia that has long fascinated me: Filhos de Gandhy, or Sons of Gandhi. One of their most prominent members, the pop star Gilberto Gil, performed at Azad Maidan in Mumbai in 2004, as part of the World Social Forum.

“Jazzy Joe” Pereira, RIP

joe pereira, bombay volga's, 1959With the passing of the reedman Joe Pereira this morning, Bombay’s jazz age has truly come to an end. Jazzy Joe, as he was known fondly to three generations of Indian fans, was the last of the musicians from the swing era. He was 86.

Pereira started performing in 1941, aged only 14, in a band in Lahore’s Stiffle’s Hotel fronted by his cousin, the legendary Sebastian D’Souza.  After spending much of his career in Lahore, Delhi and Calcutta, Pereira returned to Bombay in the 1980s and helped train a bunch of enthusiastic hornmen (and hornwomen) who performed occasionally as the Jazz Junkeys.

Visiting Pereira at his home in Victory Blocks, right behind Bandra police station, was always enlightening. Until a couple of years ago when his health began to fail, Pereira could be counted on to recall slightly risqué stories about his encounters with cabaret dancers and to tell, in mock horror, about his shyness at their routine state of dishabille, even off stage.  He would tell about his musical journeys through India and his trips to Europe, his eyes lighting up with memories of musicians he’d jammed with and places he’d seen.

Swinging in Bombay, 1948

Henry Green, Frank Fernand and Hal Green at the Bombay Swing Club debut concert

Henry Green, Frank Fernand and Hal Green at the Bombay Swing Club debut concert

BSW 1959 BrochureOne day in the late 1940s, musicians Hal and Henry Green asked Bombay businessman JJ Davar if he’d lend them his extensive collection of swing discs so that they could start a jazz record listening club.  After tossing the idea around for a while, they decided that it would be a better idea to set up an organisation to perform live music instead. Trumpet player Frank Fernand joined the conversations and, on November 28, 1948, the Bombay Swing Club gave its inaugural concert at the Cama Hall.

Though I mentioned the Club in Taj Mahal Foxtrot, I only recently obtained details about the organisation’s origins, thanks to material  mailed to me from Australia by the amazing Maxine Steller.  She not only sent me a copy of an autographed programme of that concert, she also had a clip from the Sunday Standard that had been written on the BSC’s first anniversary. The article describes in some detail the trouble that Bombay Swing Club’s debut concert ran into: the worst cyclone the city had witnessed in decades.

“Electricity having failed, Eddy Jones, Clarence Bean and Henry Green worked feverishly at night with candles (bought at Rs ¼ a piece) sawing, cutting, hammering, painting to get the music stands and stage props together on time,” the article said.

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