To my mind, the times of our youth, in the 1970s, marked the high-noon of Konkani music production, especially on 33-1/3 and 45 rpm records. Bombay became then suddenly closer to Goa (due to political and economic factors), creativity was bursting there, and it was getting echoed here too.
Musicians like Alfred Rose and Wilfy Remembus were at the peak of their creativity, perhaps. Someone knowing more on this subject could comment authoritatively, but that’s how it seemed then.
As a returned-expat kid who spoke mostly English at home, we didn’t sufficiently appreciate what was happening right then. The music seemed unusual, if catchy. But when Akashvani-Panaji kept playing it on its afternoon staple diet, it did become part of Goa’s, and our, lives.
My even-more-expat uncle, the late Gerry, who had spent his entire life in places like Belgaum, Hubli, Quilon, Nairobi, and Southampton, was somehow far more clued in to the burst of creativity on the Konkani music scene. Each of his trips to Bombay would see him return with even more records, packed by the then active music industry from that Big City. I also recall our neighbour-tutors, Assumption and Natividade, promptly switching on the radio at home on afternoons when they came to oversee the two naughty kids we were.
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Cut to 2019 and thereabouts. While we lament the declining role of Konkani in Goa, it is also true that the world of Konkani culture has spread far and wide. Thanks in part of the diaspora from here. (If you see a European or American belting out Konkani music, don’t forget that this could be due to the music books created by persons like Francis Rodrigues or Jose Pereira et al, which throw open the language of Konkani music to the outside world.) And isn’t that how it should be? While newer languages and skills get built up in Goa, those from Goa itself (or Mumbai or Mangalore) should reach out to new places….
Today, you can hear of Konkani radio stations in Toronto and Auckland. Never mind that these are still small, and broadcast for maybe one or two hours (on FM) a week. It is a hard job. Through the net, I met up with Milena Zacharias (nee Marques) of Parra, and Baptist Lobo, a chartered accountant of Mumbai-Mangalore origins. Interestingly, Baptist mentioned their radio programme came about after they were galvanised on seeing the Bardroy Barreto film Nachom-ia Kumpasar in the “land of the long white cloud”. But there are at least three challenges that these audio pioneers in a distant land face to get Konkani out there on the airwaves.
The first is obviously getting started itself. Of course, Milena has grown up in Goa, and is one from a generation who is familiar with what the community once fondly called ‘Aamchi Bhaas’ (Our Language). But had it not been for the help from the show’s Mangalorean co-host, Alan, I doubt it would have been possible to get Konkani broadcast from the cold climes of North America, to the city of 2.7 million yet the most populous in Canada. Interestingly, this is seen as “one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world”.
It’s easy to poke fun at the expat Goan for their inability to speak the language of their ancestors. But, the fact is that language loss is a sad and harsh reality. This is no alibi, but once your family is out of Goa for two or three generations, chances are that you could find Konkani as alien as Greek, Latin or Sanskrit. Much has been made of the Goan tendency to look down on Konkani. This may have been true in the days of colonial hegemonies and the past, but today it seems more like a case of just not having enough opportunity of re-learning the language, getting access to a script or dialect one prefers, and the like.
For some reason, the Mangalorean community (whose close links with Goa are mostly not acknowledged, on both sides) has better retained its links with the language. Maybe Goa’s experience with migration has been more intense, and over a longer period of time, so much so that nowadays one finds other Indian communities now also facing the same risks of language-loss.
The second challenge is the economics of getting out the word (and music) via the airwaves. New Zealand has a programme of supporting diversity, and so its government invests in community radio. Time on this is shared among different language groups, including tiny Konkani. Baptist said they pay hardly $30 per hour-long programme, which is next to nothing. When Milena interacted with some of us in Panaji not long back, she mentioned that the costs of a two-hour slot in Toronto was far, far higher. Consequently, they have been facing challenges to keep Radio ManGo (whose name seems to come from an amalgam of Mangalorean+Goan) on the air. You can now find ManGo on the web at radiomango.ca, while the Susegad Danpaar can be found on Facebook too for those outside Auckland, NZ.
But the third and biggest challenge is the generation and sharing of content for such initiatives. This is perhaps the most significant long term challenge.
It is easy to believe that everyone active in the media is actually running a very viable and profitable operation. Fact is that in most cases, the start-ups and new initiatives are struggling. Small initiatives need to grow into larger ones before they can afford to stand on their own feet and pay their contributors, musicians and content creators.
This might sound like a self-serving argument, but the fact is that unless the network is built and sustained, there would be no long-term growth in culture and language. Inspite of its large number of tiny, often home-based recording studios in Goa, there is little shareable content available from this field. Even if the producers of content, musicians, creative artists and writers have shared their work, it is scattered all over the place. Nobody has a clue where it could be found, or under what terms it could be shared.
It is time that those who proclaim their love for the language and the region also take it on themselves to build the availability of sharable music, text, images and videos so that the Konkani field can thrive, wherever its speakers seek to recover their traditions. These are the challenges we here have to face to make things work….