The collection of photographs, sourced from family albums, flyers and the Taj Mahal hotel’s archives, points towards Mumbai as the epicentre of the migrated (owing to the departure of the British) and travelling (owing to racism prevalent in America) musicians. The Hindi film industry attracted musicians from North India—as far as Lahore—and the African-American artists even left promising careers back home as they received five-star treatment in Asia. “Some, like the pianist Terry Weatherford, took an Indian wife and died in Calcutta. They even had dishes named after them,” says Fernandes.
The collated pictures throw up names of some noted musicians—Mickey Correa, Chic Chocolate, Anthony Gonsalves, Lucila and George Pacheco— who created and sustained Bombay’s jazz era from the 1930s until the 1960s.
The musicians were mostly Goan Christians and Anglo-Indians. They knew how to read notes and score music at a time when composers formed large orchestras to effectively convey the drama unfolding on screen, these musicians became ‘arrangers’. Fernandes says that this period of intense creativity, when Goan Catholic arrangers worked with Hindu music composers and Muslim lyricists, was the Nehruvian dream being played out.
The duo feels that exhibition is as important today as it restores a sense of pride in our city’s multi-ethnic past. “There was Dilip Naik, an excellent guitar player, Rudy Cotton (Ratan Khatau), a Parsi band leader, and numerous other artists, all performing simultaneously,” says Smith. In fact, a brochure sourced from their research lists as many as 65 bands in the city in 1949.
A gem of this cosmopolitanism is the composer Pyarelal’s tribute to his violin teacher in Manmohan Desai’s classic 1977 film Amar Akbar Anthony. Few might know that the character who leaps out of a giant Easter egg was one of the most ambitious and cutting-edge musicians born out of that scene. The exhibition promises to tell many such tales, and more.