Friday, January 3, 2020

The magic of the Bandra sound

After getting this article about Bandra's music scene, I looked up about Maurice.. and one of his recordings was Bombai Meri Hai...  which brought back memories of the Jetliners who were also popular in Kenya in the 60's so much so I have 2 of their LP's.   

So imagine our surprise and delight when we met both Indra Rajah and Anton Gunawijeya at the Shadows convention which we were members for many years, and became friends( from 1992 ), so much so sharing lunches and dinners at each others homes as Anton lives in the UK, in Croydon near us and Indra and his wife Eva in Switzerland, but come here often.   

You get all this gen as the only vid I have of Bombay meri hai is by the Jetliners!😊 CM

Tellis Like It Is: 
Celebrating Bandra Through Music

Over a period of time, places get associated with aspects of life - something especially true with music. There's New Orleans, unanimously voted as the ‘Cradle of Jazz'. Closer home, various cities and towns have spawned their own Gharanas.

On an infinitesimally smaller scale, as a lifelong Bandra resident, I'd like to believe that the Queen of the Suburbs has been Mumbai's cradle of music. Real estate dynamics and mega demographic shifts may have irreversibly altered the townscape, but nostalgia always takes me back to the days when Bandra was almost entirely an idyllic milieu of tranquil, leafy bylanes and quaint bungalows - which, if you sauntered across on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning, you'd invariably encounter the wafting plink-plonk of a piano, the plucking of a guitar or music from a gramophone record. Ah, nostalgia!
Queen of the suburbs... queen of music too, if I daresay. This is where then Bombay's renowned big bands originated and bandleaders resided. 

 Did they - hey, could they - get any bigger than Maurice Concessio and Johnny Baptist? In the Bandra of yore, Maurice was always very pleasantly in-your-face. You'd encounter his Swing Sensations at weddings and dances - and in those days, these were the highpoints you lived for. You'd encounter Maurice even when he wasn't making music. Who can forget the almost ubiquitous van that trundled around Bandra with its unforgettable catchphrase: ‘Music grows where Maurice goes'.

It would be fair to say that Maurice Concessio and Johnny Baptist defined the contours that would shape Bandra's musical legacy. The talent clearly abounded especially amongst the Catholic community - every household would have a piano, a guitar or a wind instrument - often, all three... and more.

And of course the old radio! One that the entire family would crowd around every Saturday night - lapping up All India Radio's very popular Saturday Date - and every morning taking in Radio Ceylon in between chores and getting ready for school or work.

Little influences like these, plus stints with church choirs and an inherent love for music, shaped a community where music was an integral part of life. A wedding was unthinkable without first booking a band; every house-party simply had to have an extended sing-song session with someone tunefully flogging the piano or battering an old guitar - throw in some nifty vocal harmonies and falsettos, and you had everything that ranged from cacophony to some seriously refined impromptu music.
For a few decades, the wedding band business thrived. No recorded music back in those days. If you dared go against the grain and not have a live band in session at your wedding, better not get married at all! Unthinkable really!

And so, the likes of Country Funk, The Combustibles, 7th Galaxy, Nightbirds, Fame, Crimson Rage, Friendship Clan and Infra Red enjoyed a dream run - almost iconic in fact. A trend clearly started by the big bands of Maurice Concessio and Johnny Baptist. Oh well. Attempted to put together a piece on Bandra's music legacy down the years, and I haven't even mentioned icons like Louis Banks, Shaan and Roy Venkatraman. Louis Banks!! Often called the ‘Godfather of Indian Jazz' - so huge, he's even earned a Grammy nomination. Bandra is very proud to count amongst its residents, this institution of music whose amazing versatility ranges from purist Jazz to Indipop and Fusion - not to mention jingles and musicals. And there's Shaan - whose versatility as a singer transcends Bollywood, pop, rock and hip hop - across languages too. Guitarist Roy Venkataraman, of course, went on to find fame with Bob Marley's Wailers... no less!
Like Roy, drummer Adrian is another of Bandra's many music exports - plying his trade on the European circuit.

One could go on and on about Bandra's music personalities down the years - so many honourable mentions, a piece of this size couldn't possibly do justice to all those talents. So let me instead move on to the musicals. Those were pretty big too in the day. And very dear to my own heart, having been in several of them.

Carl Mendis' take on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is still fondly remembered decades later. Joe and Celeste's remakes of Annie and the several Witness editions provided memorable milestones too. Peter the Rock is another. And can I ever forget Oh Artaban! written by then local boy Francis Nigli, with music from Merlin, and including none other than Salman Khan in its cast. I had the privilege of playing the protagonist role in that one.

On the other side of the spectrum, Bandra's association with high-profile events like the Mahindra Blues Festival, which now happens every year at the Mehboob Studios and features world-renowned blues artistes, takes the local music scene to a different level.
To an extent, Jago Mumbai - the community radio station I was closely associated with - was the closest one could get to being Bandra's own radio frequency, even if it did cater to a wider radius. Which reminds me of a few other Bandraites who have also plied their trade as RJs.

Music in Bandra is a theme I cherish deeply. In a sense it's a tapestry of my own life. I get nostalgic about the roles I've played in the various musicals, the acoustic band Voices I once fronted, the St. Andrew's Zonals... or even the impromptu street jams on the old Bandstand walls and culverts. That last bit, a slice of life out of almost every Bandra boy's growing years. Amongst the haunts that attracted jams, there was the Irani restaurant opposite what is now Globus - where the sing-a-longs continued behind closed shutters long into the wee hours of the morning.
Much has changed around the Bandra of today. But every time I hear a terrace party come alive in the dead of night with a trademark singsong, I get transported back to a time when these weren't the exception that they are now, but the happy rule. Little trinkets around the jewels that comprise Bandra's musical legacy. Thank God for memories!


Do also read  on Maurice 

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