01 Aug 2020  |   03:47am IST

It’s a Blue (s) letter day

It’s not just music. Blues is an attitude. From Chicago to Christchurch, the world unites to celebrate a genre of music which is so personal and yet universal. The International Blues Music Day, held on the first weekend of August each year is a global event, and Goa has been very much a part of it, joining Bombay and Calcutta and Shillong as the quadruple of Blues capitals in the country. Café, doffs its hat to the Blues gurus of Goa and other greats who have come and played in Goa
It’s a Blue (s) letter day

Ajit John

It's magic in three chords. A genre of music that describes the sorrows and the joys of being human. The love of a woman or the disappointment of losing her affections are reflected with all the raw passion and emotion such a situation evokes. The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves, and the descendants of slaves. To be precise African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It’s generally accepted style evolved from African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music. That art form has always evoked strong emotions in the country of its birth and around the world.

Here in Goa, it caught the imagination of musicians who listened, practised and played it with great passion and expertise. 

The blues as we all know it may have first made its presence known in the late ’60s or early ’70s when the hippies first made their presence known in the state. Many of them stayed in Goa for months on end and Goan families rented out rooms or houses to these travellers. The modes of exchange were interesting. Yes, monies exchanged hands but on several occasions’ music cassettes exchanged hands. Rock for sure, yes but blues artists began to make their presence felt on the Goan imagination. Goan guitarists who learned music either in the family or from the parish priest whilst being part of the band began experimenting with the blues. 

One of the boys who took a fancy to the blues was Cliff Dsouza. He started music in 1976 and after studying music for two months played in the school band and in the church. This meant he played for several dances. In 1982 he met a music collector Acid Allan who introduced him to JJ Cale, Eric Johnson, BB King, and John Martyn and Blind Faith. He said “I was introduced to the blues and I was sure of my path forward. You have to understand, you take rock and roll and drop the tempo dramatically, it becomes the blues.”  Goa, he said would remain the centre of the blues in the country because of the love for this genre in this state. 

Another man who symbolizes Goa’s love for this genre is Herman Abreo.

The one-man band has performed all over and still retains his love for the blues. Starting off as Remo Fernandes' bass player in 1982, he started exploring various genres. He said “One day I heard a record featuring BB King jamming with a guy on the harp. With that instrument, it is usual to blow out whilst playing it but in the blues, you blow inwards. My musical journey took me to fusion where I played in the Jazz Yatra in 1991 and then Germany where I played the blues. Every musician I met there played the blues. I listened to John Lee Hooker, Sonny Rollin, BB King, and over a period of time I got very comfortable with the blues”. He found himself back in Goa in 2000 and he started playing restaurants and hotels floating in and out of the blues. Speaking about Goa’s connection with the blues he said the hippies introduced Goa to the blues and then local musicians built on it and took it forward. However, when asked what the future looked like, he was not so optimistic. He said “The young musician is not interested in the blues. He or she only wants to play popular music that people listen to in restaurants. People want fun music. Once a year there is an international blues festival and nothing else. Perhaps the only people who may be interested in the blues maybe a few young guys who may smoke up and listen to it in Arambol. It is a pity. The blues is about being yourself, you don’t have to copy anyone”. 

Kanchan Daniel is considered the best blues woman in the country. Her distinctive voice marks her out as different. Based out of Mumbai, Kanchan Daniel and the Beards took to singing after having a beating cancer at 17. She said “I discovered Janis Joplin, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Etta James in college. I really connected with the blues. It comes naturally to me. It is very expressive and I am not shy performing the blues on stage”. The band like many other bands in Mumbai sing only originals and when she performed in Goa, she sang original blues numbers written by her. Speaking of her experience she said “I just love the crowd; they really like their music and I feel respected. People are there to listen and have a great time. Watching that you want to give back”. 

A young singer who just launched his single “My Anjuna” on Friday Kristian Bent said he loved the genre because it helped him tell his story in the style he wanted to. He said the genre would be loved and musicians who loved it would play it.  It was part of the local jam he said. 

Perhaps one could wind up with Vinesh Iyer and Daryll D Souza of Art Escape the men behind The Live Music Project which brought live festivals and jazz shows in the state, felt the genre was here to stay. Iyer said “ August 1 is International Blues Day and we would like people to listen to the blues in their homes. It is so simple; it connects everyone and it brings happiness or sorrow which touches the soul”. 

Under the TLMP, seven International Blues festivals have been held in Goa, giving a platform not just to Goan bands and singers but attracting the finest of Blues performers from across India and international artists. As the official partner in India celebrating the Blues, the eighth edition will be held in Goa, virtually, of course, coinciding with 100 simultaneous worldwide blues concerts and events in celebration of International Blues Music Day.

“The blues tells a story in itself. It can make you happy or give you a feeling to swing” 

This day is a great one to remember that our life has the Blues