Remo Fernandes is ‘Still Goan Crazy’
In his autobiography ‘Remo’, out tomorrow, the musician writes about his many loves including his first big romance – Goa
Twenty-seven years ago, ‘Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum’, from the soundtrack of Bombay, composed by AR Rahman, was one of the biggest hits of the time. By then, Rahman was known for his atypical choice of singers to break the playback mould, which seemed to include a select list. Of course, there was also an element of surprise for listeners when they looked up the song credits to see who had sung the latest hit. ‘Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum’, better known as ‘Hamma Hamma’, was sung by Remo Fernandes, a detail that the singer forgot to mention to the TV crew that met him in Goa to work on a documentary on his life and music back in the 90s. As he writes in his autobiography, Remo, published by HarperCollins, “Well... you walk into a studio, hear a song for the very first time in your life, record it, walk out and never hear it again for months, so obviously you totally forget it. Until suddenly, without warning, it is released.”
As Remo talks to us from his home in Siolim, he looks back on his short stint in Hindi cinema with the sort of quiet affection one feels for a favourite relative one meets occasionally — not too distant and yet not too close. “After the success of Jalwa, if I really wanted to stay in films; I would have at least attended its premiere and rubbed shoulders with all the producers and directors. I would have tried to get more and more assignments,” says the 69-year-old Padmashree awardee, who was approached by film producer Gul Anand to co-compose the music for the Hindi film Jalwa, which was released in 1987 and featured Naseeruddin Shah and Archana Puran Singh in lead roles.
Laying it bare
An icon of the 1980s, known for songs such as ‘The Flute Song’ and ‘O Meri Munni’, Remo says he has never been the sort to chase fame and film projects. “Here I was, sitting quietly in Goa doing my thing when suddenly Gul Anand approached me and, in the same year, Shyam Benegal [to make music for films]. I was writing my songs in English and I’d just released an album of old Goan and Portuguese songs. The film world suddenly happened to come to me. I didn’t go to Bombay or approach any filmmaker. It was not at all my scene because I didn’t even know well enough to think of it,” says Remo, who also composed the brilliant soundtrack for the Benegal film Trikal, released in 1985.
Writing an autobiography was not on his list of priorities — creating music took up most of his time. “There were different phases [in making music]. In the beginning, they were all romantic songs. They were all about different girls,” he says of tracks such as ‘Don’t Let Her Get Away’. He writes about his many relationships with a candour that is rare amongst Indian artistes. Of his companion Zenia, to whom he has dedicated the autobiography, he writes: “She made me discover a third new thing about me: that I could turn voluntarily, willingly, and happily monogamous after all.”
He engages the reader with humour, wit, and an incredibly visual writing style, which makes Remo a compelling read. Encouraged by friends, he wrote two chapters in 2009; they were enthralled by his many anecdotes including those from his hitch-hiking days across Europe and college days studying architecture at the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. But it was during the lockdown, in 2020, that he returned to complete the autobiography.
Porto to Panjim
Remo is as much about his life as it is an evocative ode to Goa. Whether he is tracing his family tree where he talks about his “strict” grandfather Dr Bailon Fernandes who forbade his sons to play music, or growing up in Panjim, which he describes as a “doll town” with houses built of plastered laterite stone, or about why he wrote ‘Down with Brown’, Goa is at the centre of it all.
The opening sentence of the first chapter conveys his deep love for the idyllic beach paradise that is a world unto its own: “I knew the cracks on our old footpath by heart.” It is this bond that draws him back during the winter months from Porto in Portugal, which has been a second home to him since the mid-2000s. “I like to come back to Goa and do some shows during Christmas,” he says. The reason he moved to Porto is also undeniably linked to Goa. The small coastal city in Northwestern Portugal reminded him of his childhood in Goa, well before it was liberated from Portuguese rule. Goa is where he learnt Portuguese and sang ‘Herois do Mar’ (Heroes of the Sea), Portugal’s national anthem as part of Mocidade Portuguesa (Portuguese Youth), the Portuguese equivalent of the National Cadet Corps (NCC).
Remo and Zenia | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
But most importantly, without Goa, there would be no music in Remo’s life. The two are inextricably bound together and you hear them in the Mando, Konkani folk songs that are as integral to his journey as a musician as say, a film song such as ‘Jalwa’, which as he says, “brought him recognition across the streets of India”. He recalls listening to students who lived in the hostel from across his house sing Portuguese songs such as ‘Surumbai’, ‘Barra de Damao’ and ‘Maria Pita Che’ when they felt homesick. The students were originally from Daman and Diu, which were also Portuguese colonies at that point.
In the late 90s, Remo would go on to reinterpret ‘Maria Pita Che’. So impressed was Ian Anderson, the legendary flautist and bandleader of British rock band Jethro Tull, with the song that he backed Remo on the track during a concert in Dubai in 2005.
Remo recalls that he was nervous ahead of the concert, an unfamiliar feeling for someone who first took to stage when he was only six. But things turned around as soon as he stepped on stage, he writes in his autobiography. “As soon as I announced that I was from Goa, there was a roar of approval from the multinational audience, and that set the ball rolling. They were soon singing ‘Maya Ya’, clapping their hands, dancing in the aisles; the ice was melted, the party had started. I was home.”
The magic lay in a three-letter word: Goa.
Published by HarperCollins, Remo (₹799) is available at bookstores
The writer is an independent journalist and a faculty of journalism at FLAME University