Herald: Songs of Goa

Songs of Goa

16 Feb 2019 06:00am IST
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16 Feb 2019 06:00am IST

By far the best known Konkani hymn goes “San Francisco Xavier-a, tuji kudd-i Goeam Xara .....” Behind the hymn is gripping tale.

Raimundo Barreto, the choir master of Se Cathedral, Old Goa from the 1880’s was a native of Loutolim, settled in Divar. In addition, he was entrusted with the task of collecting rent from the properties of the Cathedral, maintain accounts and disburse salaries.

One day during the monsoons, fed by rains and roiled by stormy weather the waters of the river Mandovi turned choppy. The choir master carrying the rent collection and the salaries cowered inside as the canoe tossed in the unruly waters. Before the canoe could touch the wharf it capsized. As Raimundo was being carried away by the turbulent current he prayed to St Francis Xavier to save him and vowed to compose a hymn, in his honour. At this point fishermen on the river bank, saw the struggling man in the water, set out with their outrigger and managed to rescue him but not his treasure.

The choir master was immediately accused of having “organised” the canoe mishap to misappropriate the funds of the Cathedral. To save his honour Raimundo hurriedly sold his single storeyed mansion in Divar and paid off the dubious claim of the church. But then, he also had a genuine debt to pay. So he burnt the midnight oil, composed a hymn, set it to music and quietly practised for weeks. The high mass on the feast day of St Francis Xavier of the year 1893 resonated with the rendition of the new hymn before a packed congregation.

Ever since, the hymn has become practically the anthem of the Goan Catholic community at home and abroad. Would the hymn have been such a success if the choir master did not have the blessings of St Francis Xavier? Would the saint have saved the choir master had he feigned the canoe mishap? 

From the island of Divar, we move to the island of Jamaica. From the choir master to the reggae king and a very strange but little known connection between Bob Marley and Goa.

Some years ago a retired seaman came over. And he narrated a story which sounded interesting. I will put the narration in his own words, so far as I can recollect:

 “I and another Goan seaman were stranded in Kingston as the ship had gone for repairs. So we would bide our time on shore. On the third day as we sat talking, a middle aged man overheard our conversation in Konkani and surprised us with a greeting in our language .We got talking. He was overjoyed to meet us and invited us to his house, a nice little cottage.”

My client then went on to narrate the story of their new friend as narrated to them:

“My family comes from Majorda but I was brought up in Bombay. As my parents had died in my childhood, I found shelter in a “kudd”. I worked in a hotel and during spare time, played in a band. Finally, I managed to get a job as a deckhand on the ship.

On my fifth voyage, I landed in Kingston where I met this young lady with whom I instantly fell in love. I did not return back to the ship but made Jamaica my home.

As dinner was served, he put on the record player and asked us to listen to a Bob Marley song “Iron, Lion, Zion”. Marley sang and somewhere in the middle we are astonished to hear the words “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv” from the mouth of great Bob Marley”.

We were obviously, dumbfounded to hear the Konkani words in a Carribean song. Our friend provided the explanation.

“My wife is a Rastafarian like Bob Marley. So I became quite familiar with him and he even encouraged me to occasionally play the saxophone for him. One day, as I jammed up with him, I offered to play my own Konkani composition “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv” which the band enjoyed and I soon came to be named “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv”.

By now I am regular part of the Bob Marley crowd. Along the way Bob Marley records a song Iron, Lion, Zion. In this practice recording, he spontaneously interjects the words “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv” on seeing me in the background. Sadly Marley died, soon after. And there never was, another recording”.

It was about the year 1992 that the estate of the late singer while going through his recordings came across the song and it was released to become an enduring hit. You can clearly hear the words “Tujea bapaichem Kestanv” at about 1.40 minutes into the song. Strangely the words “Bob Marley” also sound typically Goan. 

Intriguingly, at about 1.40 minutes into the song Bob Marley sings “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv” words which critics could not understand and passed off as something to do with the Ras Tafarian movement of which Bob Marley was in forefront.

It was here that the man who identified himself as Joao Paul made them listen to the song, Iron, Lion, Zion. He then explained how Bob Marley whilst recording the song as a joke interjected the words “Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv” in the song just to humour him. The recording was actually a practice run before the final recording was to be done later. However, the sudden death of Bob Marley meant that there was no other recording. And thus, Tujea Bapaichem Kestanv has come to be immortalised in the song. A request to all Konkani lovers, please listen to the song.

(Radharao F.Gracias is a senior Trial Court Advocate, a former Independent MLA, a political activist.)
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