In his 66 years, Remo Fernandes has been many things. Arguably the pioneer of Indian pop music in the 1980s — he has performed with the band members of Queen, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin and at the Festival of India in Moscow; been a brand ambassador for an international soft drink commercial; is a recipient of the Padma Shri; Election Commission of India’s youth icon for ethical voting; the singer who had a Prime Minister write back lauding his song ‘Hello, Rajiv Gandhi’; the voice of the hummable ‘Humma Humma’ (Hindi) in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay ; champion of Konkani and Portuguese tunes from India’s western seaboard and the man who continues to be the musical icon of his home state Goa. Remo still strums his acoustic guitar singing of the things that have always mattered to him — the ways of love, life and the world.
On April 17, Remo who is in lockdown with his family in his 200-year-old house in Siolim, Goa, released on YouTube ‘When will you learn, man?’, a song on the human race.
Over telephone, in a voice that was part of the growing-up years of many Gen-X-ers in India, Remo says, “This is not a ‘wear your mask, wash your hands, stay at home’ song. It is also not a ‘pray and God will save you’ song. It’s a song about human behaviour — before, during, and after the pandemic.”
Remo, who spends three-four months a year in Goa and the rest in Portugal, composed the music and lyrics for the song in half-an-hour over the course of a evening. It’s a one man show — the voices (even the falsetto), acoustic-electric-bass guitar, electric piano, drum programming and video direction are by him. The videography is by his son Jonah, with some additional archival and current outdoor footage and scenes of an empty Goa shot by a stranded German tourist in March while being evacuated.
The video is shot in and around Maison Bailon, Remo’s beautiful house painted a striking yellow and burnt sienna. Remo moves around it, singing from the lawn watched by his dog (a Boxer named Ali), his cats Mr Snuffles and Pashmina chasing each other playfully; in his bedroom, feet outstretched with a gentle wind blowing through the window. He trades his blue round-rimmed glasses for gold ones and moves to his studio, his guitar riffs giving off the vibes of a 70s rock band in a garage.
“Mankind has never learnt its lessons... from past plagues, past wars, past riots. We blame people based on religion and race. And no one wants to listen to the clichéd ‘love is the answer’. But that is the answer — love for people, love for the planet...,” says Remo, who is now working on his memoir and was all set to perform this month at a concert with his band Microwave Papadums. In 2019, Remo released Teresa and the Slum Bum , an opera tribute to Mother Teresa with 26 songs and two instrumentals.
‘When will you learn, man?’ is a catchy song, with the hallmark sound of his cheery tunes from the 90s, and is interspersed with these thoughts and flashes of a Goa that is bereft of its carnivals, Homburg hat–wearing old men and feni-induced siesta. It travels through black-and-white snapshots of the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and other architectural fragments from the days of the conquistadors and comes to rest gently on a shimmering mangrove-laced backwater at sunset. And in that quiet rustle of those star-burst palm trees reflected on a moon-river, you can hear that ‘love is the answer’.