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Goa's Golden Age

Remo told me that it was also while on a visit to Europe, in 1979, that he began to think of Goa as home. "The realization changed me," Remo said. "My songs until then were all about love. Then I began to write about Goa, about emigration to the Middle East, about the drug problem, about the 'touristification' of North Goa."

I had been listening to Remo's first album, Goan Songs, and was struck by its odd mix of lyrics in Konkani, the pre-colonial language of Goa, and in Brazilian and Portuguese. As it turned out, Remo had also been greatly inspired by mando, a peculiarly Goan synthesis of musical styles from India and Europe.

For generations the Brahman Catholics were trained in religious music at their parish churches; until quite recently, Remo said, all Catholic children were expected to master either the violin or the piano. Many of them distinguished themselves as violinists, choirmasters, and composers of church music. But in the 19th century a handful of Goans from aristocratic Brahman families began to experiment with the older forms of folk music that had survived three centuries of Portuguese rule; to write songs about love and honor and the historical events of their time; and to bring together the violin and a local percussion instrument called the gumott. The result was mando, a form of dance song, which just a few years after its invention became an indispensable part of Goan social life.

One evening Lucio Miranda played a recording of the mando that he himself had made—Miranda had gone beyond his musical training at school and had become an accomplished singer much sought after at weddings. The song was in Portuguese, and it began slowly, with a distinctly Latin American rhythm. Miranda translated the simple lyrics.

You shine among the sun and the stars
My angel, my love
Because you are so perfect,
I adore you
Come, come to me my heart's angel
Give me just one little kiss.

Miranda said that the first part of the song followed the melodic line of a Gregorian chant. But the second part gradually sped up, the language changed to Konkani, the rhythms were recognizably Indian, and the song rose to an unexpected crescendo.

No family celebration, Miranda said, was complete without it. Like Western ballroom dances, the mando was danced in pairs, but without the dancers touching. The woman held a fan in her hand, the man a handkerchief, as they crossed from one side to the other. The scrupulously maintained distance between the dancers, like the ankle-length sarongs the women wore, was a compromise, Miranda said, between Brahmanical puritanism and the imperatives of European courtship.


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