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A Nazi Refugee in Bombay

ix9-Creighton

Taj Mahal Foxtrot by naresh.fernandes

A recent report about Stanley Kubrick’s unmade film about the persecution jazz musicians faced in Nazi Germany reminded me of the man in white in the photo above, Creighton Thompson, who sang Taj Mahal Foxtrot, the tune from which this website and my book take their name. As regular readers of this site know, the tune was a perfect example of Bombay’s multiculturalism of the 1930s:  it had been composed by a Bombay Jewish man named Mena Silas and recorded by a band led by the African-American trumpet player Crickett Smith. Chicago-born Creighton Thompson came to Bombay from Europe, where he had been performing since 1920. But early in the 1930s, he and other African-American performers were forced out of Germany as Nazi policies forbade non-Aryans from appearing on the radio and from theatres.
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More about Mena

Georgette Quiribet

Last month, I wrote a note on this site about Mena Silas, the now-forgotten Baghdadi Jewish composer who wrote Taj Mahal, the foxtrot after which my book is named. A couple of days ago, a woman named Patricia Kaden who lives in Cremona, Italy, was sorting through the papers of her mother, Georgia, and came upon a small note indicating that Mena Silas had written a tune for her titled Waltz for Georgette. Patricia did an internet search for Silas and found me.

We’ll probably never know what Waltz for Georgette sounds like (Patricia couldn’t find the score), but the woman in whose honour the tune was written lived a most interesting life in India. Her father – Patricia Kaden’s grandfather –  was named Gaston Quiribet. Though he was French, he had worked for the famous Shepperton Studios in England and made animated films on the side, which he referred to as “Q-riosities”. He was also an expert in trick photography. In the 1930s, he arrived in Bombay after being hired by Kodak-Eastman to make films about India and Burma. He set out for the subcontinent with his family.

Years later, Georgette told her story to someone making notes about senior citizens and she remembered being surrounded by an army of servants, who sometimes put Eno’s fruit salts into the soup instead of ordinary salt, resulting in rather bubbly mealtimes. Among the incidents that stood out was a trip to Mysore, where her father was working on the film Sabu.
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Category: Bombay  Tags: ,

The Man Who Wrote ‘Taj Mahal’

Taj Mahal Foxtrot by naresh.fernandes

Taj Mahal Foxtrot, which will be launched at the Goa Literary Festival tomorrow evening, takes its name from the tune above recorded in April 1936 by Crickett Smith and his Symphonians, the gents in that photo. They had been booked by the management of Taj Mahal hotel in Apollo Bunder to perform there for the 1936 summer season.

But the man by whom I’m most intrigued isn’t in the picture. He’s the person who wrote the lyrics and the music. The record credits list his name as Mena Silas. Until a couple of years ago, I knew very little about Mena Silas. From an internet auction site that sold sheet music, I knew that Silas had been writing tunes in Bombay from at least 1930. That’s when LM Furtado on Kalbadevi Road published the score for one of his pieces called Don’t Tell Me Now. The cover of the score bore the illustration of a sophisticated couple dancing in evening dress.
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