Monday, May 28, 2012

Out of her brother's shadow

Belinda, the younger sister of Remo Fernandes, sings Spanish, Portuguese, Cuban, Italian, and French songs, with verve and panache

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the curtain goes up for the start of the music concert by Belinda Fernandes and the Tropicanos, the audience is in for a surprise.

Belinda is wearing a purple skirt, with a transparent gold scarf and ghungroos on her feet. And when she begins a Kathak dance, at the JT Performing Arts Centre, Kochi, the music accompaniment is not a tabla and the harmonium, but a fado sung by one of Portugal ’s greatest singers, the late Amalia Rodrigues. There is a nice drum beat, and Belinda twirls around, thumping her feet on the stage, and smiling occasionally.

I was exposed to the fado at home and have a passion for Kathak,” says Belinda. “So I thought, ‘Why not fuse the two?’ It is a dream come true, because nobody had done this earlier.”

The actual performance begins with a Brazilian song. Belinda sings in Spanish, holding an acoustic guitar. In another Brazilian song, ‘Voyeur’ which is about a small bird, despite the title, Belinda plays the flute. And at the end, there is a long duet between Mukesh Ghatwal on keyboards and bass and Munna Chari on timbales and percussion, which reminds one of the legendary jugalbandis between Allah Rakha on the tabla and Ravi Shankar on the sitar.

Belinda has a low-key charisma, made attractive by her evident shyness and introvert nature. When Aaradhana Khanna, the compere, gives a thumbs-up from the second row, Belinda gives a radiant, but relieved smile.

The songs continue: Cuban, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French songs. She also sings a song about Goa: of how a most beautiful land is becoming a concrete jungle. Not surprisingly, she also bemoaned the widespread corruption -- an allusion to the land mafia-politician nexus.
After the interval, Belinda switches over to a satiny brown top and leggings and wears a bright pink feather hat. She moves easily into the Kizomba, an African-style song from Angola. The group also sings a composition, ‘Chilling out’, which they played for the soon-to-be released film, ‘Love Wrinkle-Free’. And all along, the audience clapped along, unable to resist the sheer magic of the beat.

“It is my first performance in Kochi,” says Belinda. The singer clarifies that they don't do copies of songs. Instead, they are fresh impressions. For 'Voyeur', the band introduced sitar sounds and an alaap.

Incidentally, Belinda is following in the footsteps of her illustrious brother, Remo, who is Goa 's most famous musician. “He has been my idol all along,” says Belinda of her brother, who is eight years older. “I admire his creativity and originality. Remo has formed his own style: a fusion of Indian and Western music.” Sometimes, the Tropicanos performs before Remo in concerts all over the country.

Affected by shyness and stage fright for many years, Belinda turned to academics and secured a doctorate in comparative French literature from the Sorbonne in Paris. Thereafter, she became a professor at Goa University and was also the director of the Alliance Francaise. But her mother’s death in 2005 forced her to go out for parties, with husband Carmelio Machado, to get over the pain.

In Goa, sometimes, bands invite members of the audience to come up and sing. Belinda began to be called up. Suppressing her fear, she sang songs here and there. And that was how she began thinking of a singing career.

In 2006, she set up the band, with her husband as manager, and it has now performed all over the country, in Hongkong and at the ‘Festival of India’ in Macao in 2010. Belinda has also started writing her own songs and has brought out a CD called ‘Belinda - Festa Tropicana’. Here are a couple of lines from the song, 'Unopened Doors': ‘Tiptoeing through your heart/ Should I stay or walk away?’ 

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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