A musician’s state of mind, at any given time, should determine his music. Musician Remo Fernandes has been fortunate to have given musical expression to his state of mind, and lived happily with consequences of his decisions, resisting market diktats. Knowing that Bollywood could have made him much bigger than he is, but choosing to settle in his ancestral village in Goa singing his original English compositions about AIDS, drugs, politicians and corruption, rather than love and longing. And mind you, he’s sold enough of his independent music to have double platinum discs to his credit.
“Pure air to me means more than money,” says Remo Fernandes of his decision to settle in Saolim in Goa. “My aim is to live a beautiful life. It was a conscious decision not to move to Bombay. I know I almost sound like a Sufi saint saying such things but that’s not my trip… at that time Goa was such a paradise,” he says with longing. Remo, the self taught composer, singer, instrumentalist was in Bangalore to perform at the India Alive concert that provides a platform for independent musicians. Remo had always struggled to market his albums, with big labels never agreeing to launch him; even today he prefers to stay independent.
Goa — his passion, his soul, the child he worries about, the errant child he wants to set back on the right course — a state so engrained in him and his music that for many in this country, Remo was a synonym for all things Goa. He’s spoken vociferously against the commercialisation of his land — against land sharks, illegal building on beaches, corruption in the state government. Last year, the Election Commission of India named him their “Youth Icon for Ethical Voting” in Goa. Remo composed “Vote: Tit for Tat” specially to encourage young Goans to vote out blatantly corrupt ministers with criminal records. “Goa had the highest voter turnout ever…so there is hope,” beams Remo. “As long as the youth can be convinced, and do what they do with self-motivation. Youth are sceptical of politicians. That’s why Anna Hazare’s movement worked.” While he says that, he also accepts that with the youth, there’s one bane — they have lots of commitments and if they don’t get results instantaneously, they give up.
Why does he constantly choose to make such “serious” music? Songs about issues when people are turning away from anything that has gravitas? “I can’t help but make this kind of music. Making music is not just about making hits, making money, ‘I love you, you love me’…The gift of music I was born with, I have to use it for a purpose, more than just myself. We talk about the day’s injustice after reading the newspaper. I’m a musician, I sing about it. I can’t pretend all that doesn’t exist. Music has to be a reflection of life.”
It’s ironical that his songs for films in Bollywood is what many people remember him for — be it his debut “Jalwa” in the late 80s, or later “Humma Humma” for the film Bombay or much later with “Pyaar to hona hi tha”. Remo makes his dislike for the overpowering dominance of Bollywood in our lives very clear — “It’s not just Bollywood music that is the most popular. It’s Bollywood in itself. India is culturally bankrupt today; we don’t know better than Bollywood. I blame the media for it. There was a time when there was a pop music boom in India, when it seemed to have an identity of its own. But Bollywood, when it sees something popular, it engulfs it and devours it like a monster. As a country we don’t have young poets we can listen to recite their poetry, because they are busy writing Bollywood lyrics. Women join beauty contests to get to Bollywood. Bollywood buys you off.”
His whole rant against commercialisation, corporatisation is understandable. When in his 20s, Remo was at his hippie best — he travelled across Europe and North Africa, hitch-hiking around eight countries, playing on the streets and earning his money on the move. “Why did I do that? I wanted to see the world!” he exclaims, as if there could be any other answer. He explains how his formative years were very influenced by the hippie philosophy, which included many strains of Indian philosophy. “In Goa, I had met hippies my age from all over the world and was surprised to know they were not rich kids taking a year off to travel India on their parents’ money. I just wanted to go, not knowing what I’ll do or if I’ll come back. It was very hard for my parents to accept this of their son…I only have a sister. But my parents were very encouraging.”