Quite some time back, I came across the work of Isidore Dantas. In some cases, you read so much about a person, that you start wondering who he or she is, and what makes that person tick. This was exactly the case of what happened in the case of Dantas.
Over the years, and thanks to the internet, one got a chance to know more about him. I learned that he was a bank officer; he has since retired in a senior position. Dantas grew up in Goa, but spent much of his working life, since his teenage years actually, in Pune and Mumbai.
More surprisingly, sitting so far away from home, he has taught himself the Konkani language, and even mastered it. Since then, he has been prolific in his writing, whether in the magazines and newspapers, or by way of books. He is one of the skilled translators who works between Konkani and English, and even Marathi. If someone asks me to recommend a translator within these languages, I would not hesitate to point to Isidore.
In recent months, Dantas came out with the book ‘Alfred Rose: The King of Melody’. The amount of information it contains about a prominent name from the world of Goan music is simply astounding. It only underlines the belief that Goan music and Goan writing is made up as much, maybe in greater degree, outside of Goa as it is by people within the State.
This is a work of documentation, of information and of traditions. Written in Konkani in the Roman script, it brings together photographs of Alfred Rose the man and his times, lists of his songs, lyrics and scores, and even decades-old tiatr handbills.
Knowing the way we mostly disregard our own history – except for a few initiatives – it would not be risky to guess that most of the material between this book’s covers are possibly not easily accessible anywhere else.
To begin at the start, it might be worth understanding who that man with the unusual name was. Not that many people who grew up in the Goa of the 1970s, and listened to radio each day then, would need to be reminded.
Anyway, here’s a quote from Wikipedia: “Rosario Alfred Fernandes (5 August 1932-21 October 2003), better known by his stage name Alfred Rose, was a Goan tiatrist. He was one of the most popular singers and composers of Konkani songs (of the cantaram category), and is routinely broadcast on the Panaji or Panjim station of All India Radio (Akashvani). He is believed to have sung or composed, or both, around 5000 Konkani songs during his career.”
Rose, as he was widely known, was born in Carona, Aldona. He has been called ‘The Man with the Golden Voice’ (by HMV) and is credited with having brought out the first Konkani audio cassette, many song books of lyrics of his songs, and introducing the concept of a non-stop drama. Rose acted in popular Konkani films of the 1950s and thereafter. He even composed music for Bollywood. His theatre performances were staged in London, Paris, Frankfurt and the Middle East.
Sometime back, at a Goa Writers event, the writer Jose Lourenco shared a comic book which Rose attempted to convert from English into Konkani! That’s innovation in one lifetime.
No wonder that Dantas thought it apt to dedicate an entire 238-page large-sized book to the man and the musician called Alfred Rose. Since the book is so well illustrated (though it could have been better laid-out), one cannot resist the temptation to scan it for its various illustrations.
What immediately caught my eye were the handbills of another decade, one announcing the tiatr ‘Ghor Zanvuim’, a 1964 play being staged at St Mary’s School in Mazagaon, and the other ‘Ikmoti Marsu’ staged in 1970 at Rang Bhavan in Dhobitalao.
Many of us would certainly remember the quaint, yellow-coloured handbills, which announced the tiatr in earlier times. A man with a loudspeaker would announce these tiatr, usually from a taxi, and fling behind the cheap handbills.
Children would run behind such audio-mobile Pied Pipers, and try to grab one for themselves. Of course, it was a rather risky way of doing things, because a moving car could have easily injured someone. But anyway, it got the job done. I doubt many people would have preserved such posters, little knowing how extinct and precious these would have turned with time.
Dantas divides the book into some biography about Alfred Rose, and then quickly goes on to his music. His sons, not unexpectedly named Engelbert and Schubert, and daughter Alria, are also featured throughout the book, along with his wife-singer, the equally famous Rita Rose.
In a section titled ‘Gazlelim Kantaram’, Dantas lists the lyrics and musical scores of some of Alfred Rose’s songs, including the famed ‘Mandovi’, a paean to the river. His ‘Ami Soglle Ek’ is a classic, which tackles head on the Goan proclivity to divide various sections of the population, and to have a low-intensity civil war amongst ourselves. He makes the point that we need to eschew human-created differences.
Being based in Bombay (now Mumbai), Alfred Rose had a head-start when it came to accessing the recording industry. Of course, his talent and popularity played a huge role. No wonder he has recorded on 78rpm (a total of 40), Super 7 (eight), 45 rpm (six), EP (11) and LP (five) records. This, in addition to many, many cassettes.
The depth with which Dantas does his work is obvious when he lists the names of the songs in each compilation. He also has an A-to-Z listing of Alfred Rose’s select songs (“Alfred Rose hanchea thoddea kantaranchim nanvam”). The word ‘select’ gives hint that it is not a complete listing.
Dantas looks at the subject’s creativity in film (‘Amchem Noxib’, ‘Sukhachem Sopon’, ‘Boglantt’, ‘Love in Goa’, among others). He studies Alfred Rose as a writer, with him having written 14 books — 10 of lyrics, three novels including one in Konkani on the Count of Monte Cristo, and the last a comic.
Likewise, there is info on his travels abroad, and his tiatr.
In our school days, we were told that the noted Goan singer Lata Mangueshkar had sung 25,000 songs. That, as you could imagine, was a long while ago. She had entered the Indian or even world records for the most number of songs sung and recorded by an individual, if one recalls right.
Alfred Rose is believed to have sung thousands of songs during his career. Some claim the figure is perhaps five thousand. But tracing this music can be tough. It might not be wrong to say that even recording the names of all his songs seems like an impossible task today. Eddie Verdes managed to list some 518 Alfred Rose songs as of August 2019.
If you’re wondering what the real answer is, let me only say: these are the questions to which Goa is still to find answers to. Unless we do better, much of our past is simply going to be a black hole of misunderstanding…