Christmas, Konkani, and opera

Opera singer Oscar Castellino’s recent collaboration with the Inner Vision Orchestra, UK’s only blind ensemble on the Konkani Christmas carol ‘Mari Matek Ballok Zala’ has been creating waves on social media. He shares more with NT BUZZ


The Konkani Christmas carol ‘Mari Matek Ballok Zala’ (Mother Mary has had a baby) recently got a touch of the opera when opera singer Oscar Castellino, who has his roots in Goa, collaborated with Inner Vision

Orchestra, UK’s only blind ensemble, for a performance that has become the talk of the town. 

“I first met the director of the orchestra, sitar maestro Baluji Shrivastav OBE, a few years ago when I sang in an opera in Urdu which he had composed, and we performed it in London. On this occasion, he was asked by the Commonwealth Foundation to present a few songs at the prestigious Christmas Concert. When he invited me to collaborate once again, I suggested that we present a song in Konkani and he was delighted to explore it with members of the orchestra,” reveals Castellino, adding that it was his mentor Goan-British soprano Patricia Rozario OBE who suggested that the song composed by the great Goan violinist Micael Martins with words by Manohar Rai Sardesai would be a good choice.

“Most western classical musicians use sheet music to perform the music. The members of the Inner Vision Orchestra are blind and therefore after I played a recording of the Konkani carol to them, they immediately picked up the melody and harmonies. It was quite incredible how we put it together so fast,” says Castellino.

In fact, he says, Shrivastav improvised on the spot with the sitar. “So, what you hear in the recording was quite spontaneous. What resulted was a perfect interweave of the sitar and vocal lines. The sounds created on the sitar, especially in the final moments of the song, reflected the innocence of a child, bringing alive the text by Sardessai,” he adds.

And indeed, the soulful performance elevated by Castellino’s rich baritone will have you hitting the repeat button again and again while giving you that feeling of being a proud Goan.

Castellino too admits that he particularly enjoyed this performance. “Every language has a different charm. French, German and Italian languages are often heard in the operatic style. They are tried and tested. But then you have those moments when you bring something new to the table and if it works it can be magical. Such is the effect that Konkani seems to have on the operatic style of singing. I really enjoyed exploring the colours offered by the language while singing the phrases,” he says. “In this particular song one needed to express the simplicity of the divine birth. Konkani has a sweetness to it that lent perfectly to the expression. It works much better than English for this subject matter.”

Accolades have been pouring in from all quarters since the release of the video online. “Receiving a wonderful message from a family member of the late poet Sardesai, I can say was the most memorable,” he says, adding that all these messages of support have encouraged the orchestra players as well as him to continue playing good music in these times when musicians face a lot of difficulties.

Besides, it has also motivated Castellino to not only learn Konkani but also make sure that he sings more Konkani songs around the world and give people a glimpse of Goa’s rich culture.

“I will definitely be singing and posting carols on my Facebook and Instagram, so please check them out and sing along! In the near future I will also be exploring more songs in Konkani and thanks to all those who have been sending in suggestions,” he says. “Through my singing, I would like to add some cheer to people’s Christmas in this year of strife.”