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Songs for democracy

ANISHA SHETH
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People He uses his music as a wake-up call against all things corrupt and unethical. ANISHA SHETH talks to Goa's iconic musician Remo Fernandes

“I'm not here to write songs about ‘I love you, you love me, let's go to the disco',” says musician Remo Fernandes. “I write songs about what I see, what I feel. I'm not going to camouflage any of that.”

Recently in Mangalore for the shooting of a film, Remo spoke to MetroPlus about his music and the “realities” that find their way into it and his own everyday realities. For starters, days ahead of the Goa Assembly elections, Remo uploaded Vote Tit for Tat , a Konkani song about voting, with an English chorus. Last August, he uploaded India Against Corruption , remarking, “If you're not against corruption, you're corrupt yourself.”

Striking a chord of balance

Spanning a career of at least three decades, Remo found a way not just to survive, but also be successful at what he does: making music. He worked out a balance between doing commercial songs and songs which matter to him, and now Remo says he is at a stage where he is more inclined towards doing the latter.

And that includes songs that he has done over the years such as India, I Cry , which he recorded back in 2009 and uploaded on YouTube a year ago. The song laments the state of the country and also takes a dig at religious intolerance: “Your gods defile you, your godmen misguide you.” Remo says he stopped believing in organised religion at the age of 18, though he is not an atheist. “God made the whole universe and you claim he lives in a small building?” he says.

Later in the song, he touches on illegal mining in Goa and the ecological damage it has caused. “Illegal mining is destroying Goa. Can the corporations invest in restoring the mined area to what it was? How greedy is that?” he says.

He is not one of those who jumped on the bandwagon when Anna Hazare began to talk about corruption a year ago. In the 1990s he released the album Politicians Don't Know How to Rock 'n' Roll , which contained a song about Gandhi and Nehru, both of whom, Remo says, “had a thousand dreams, which were reduced to nothing.”

Fully supportive of Anna Hazare, Remo says that it is not right to “criticise the choice of weapon. Let's not get divided on that. If we do, we are helping corruption thrive.”

He also holds corruption as a cause of communalism. “Until now, politicians blinded us into believing that temples or mosques or languages were important,” he says.

“I've always marvelled at how blind people have been to believe them, fight each other to elect them, while their real intention was to siphon off money to Switzerland.”

Remo has been appointed Icon for Ethical Voting in Goa by the Election Commission of India. This means touring colleges across the State and talking to students about voting ethically. The idea, he says, is to get the message across without resorting to sermons, but through “peppy songs that the youth will listen to”. This applies to all his songs, he says.

Considering all the digs he has taken at politicians and the system, one wonders whether he is cynical. All he says is, “We have to try. We have to do something. If we're going to sit quietly while the country is looted, then fine. But then don't complain.” Although he is happy with his music, which has been influenced by Goan, rock, African, Chinese, Egyptian and Arabic music, one influence that he is conscious of is the music from Seychelles and Mauritius.

Money matters

He laments that record companies are not willing to take the risk of investing in songs that they perceive to be political. On the upside, however, he is happy that they are getting their own back with piracy eating into their profits.

“All this time, record companies exploited artists, now they are being cheated by people,” he says. Recording an album is a very expensive affair. The artist has to pay for the video and the recording of the music. “I don't blame them, anyway, they are not making money off it (now).”

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