Mangalore: While Brass Bands are Slowly ‘Dying’, Harry’s Century Band Still Gracefully ‘Living’

Mangalore: I still remember my younger days when no Catholic Roce or wedding ceremony was complete without a brass band – Christian weddings were considered incomplete without their performance. Pepere..pepere doom ? Gone are those days of nostalgic and traditional music, because in these days of ear deafening music produced so effortlessly by club DJs, hearing real melody is increasingly a rarity. Especially music played by the home grown country brass bands that resonates in the air long after everybody falls silent. These days the bands are coming down in numbers, falling prey to competition from events : A pity since players are trained artists with a thorough background in music.

Today no function is complete or considered ‘gahmmat’ without that unique blend of music characterized by the melodious and foot-stomping beat of Brass Bands. The demand for their presence at all weddings, processions and other joyful occasions speaks for itself. Unlike regular music group bands that can pump out a lot of sound with just a guitar and expensive system, brass bands are interesting because of the variety of traditional, wind instruments that they play, like trumpet, saxophone, clarinet and the drums. Despite all the odds and influence of western culture and music, it is nice to know that there are still a few brass bands in and around Mangalore, that cater to the needs of people who still crave for some good old traditional brass band music.

When a brass band plays at a function, it’s as if the audience–dancing, singing to the refrains, laughing–is part of the band. They are two parts of the same thing. The dancers interpret, or it might be better to say literally embody, the sounds of the band, answering the instruments. Since everyone is listening to different parts of the music–she to the trumpet melody, he to the bass drum, she to the trombone or Saxophone–the audience is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials.

And of course the band is also watching the dancers, and getting ideas from the dancers’ gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name; one is literally getting down, as in particle physics, to some root stratum where one is freed from the lock stop of time itself, where time might even run backward, or sideways, and something eternal and transcendent is accessed. That’s the fun having a “homegrown country” brass band at a occasion, rather than a DJ spinning some techno and hip-hop music.

Presently, only a few bands are existing in and around Mangalore-to name a few St Rita’s Band-Cascia, Vas Band-Neermarga, Rose Band-Bajpe, Sunshine Band, Blue Birds band and many more. Chatting with Harry D’Souza, the man behind ” Harry’s Century Brass band” at his residence ‘Geeth Sangeeth Vihar” on Bejai New Road was enlightening because it threw light on why live bands, primarily those playing wind instruments, are still around despite all odds. Probably no other brass band has survived and played such a prominent part for three generations in this coastal side of the state, than Harry’s band. 44 years on the go, Harry still succeeds in making his presence felt, where he has kept his brass band music alive, improvised and modernized it, so that it is accepted by one and all.

Lorsam’s Band- Silver Jubilee Band- Harry’s Century Brass Band: For over a century, right from his grand father who initially started the brass band, then continued by his dad, Harry’s Silver Band, now Harry’s Century Band, has been entertaining Mangaloreans and outsiders. When Lawrence D’Souza, popular known as “Lorsam”, and was Harry’s grandfather , started his band in 1906, he probably never dreamt that his band would last for over 100 years. Yes, it surely did, with Harry continuing his grandfather and father’s business until this day.

Going back to the first generation – Harry’s grandfather Lawrence D’Souza aka Lorsam started his band ‘Lorsam’s Band” in 1906. Initially it was a part of Isidore Noronha’s Band, a popular band those days, where Lorsam played and later decided to launch is own band in 1906. Three of Lorsam’s brothers Santan, Francis and Salvadore joined his band wagon as full time musicians, resulting in the band to reach greater heights within few years of their establishment. Lorsam being the Band Master, had Manuel Noronha, Rosario D’Souza, Santan D’Souza, Salvadore D’Souza, Francis D’Souza, Joseph Furtado, John D’Souza and quite a few others as his band members.

Lorsam’s Band became so popular among all the communities as it formed part of the entertainment at all functions. As for Christians, no Roce or wedding was planned unless they had arranged for Lorsam’s band-and because of Lorsam’s popularity and busy schedule, the roce or wedding dates were set according to Lorsam’s availability. Band Master Lorsam not only mastered the band, he played the coronet -his band was in demand not only in Mangalore but all over Dakshina Kannada, Calicut, Cannanore, Kasargod and many other cities. Believe me or not, during Lorsam’s time his band charges for a Roce and wedding, including “Pavunk Vorchem” ( Bride’s sendoff) ranged from ten to twelve rupees. When I asked Harry, what’s his band charges are, he replied, ” About Rs 12,500 for Roce, Rs 15,000 for wedding, Rs 26,000 for both Roce and wedding, Rs 7500 for funeral, and Rs 8000-14,000 for various other functions depending on the time duration and nature of the event”.

In the meantime, Lorsam had also trained his son Edwin aka Ediyab, who later took over the leadership from his dad, Lorsam in 1953. Lorsam who lived until age ninety, passed away on September 22, 1966. Although Lorsam is gone but his legacy is still alive, he has immortalized his Band- “Lorsam’s Band” which forms a part of Kodiyalgar’s heritage and still lives on. Ediyab who shouldered the responsibility of his dad’s Band, re-christened it as ” Silver Jubilee Band”.

Going on to the second generation- Ediyab who shouldered the responsibility of his dad’s Band, re-christened it as ” silver Jubilee Band”. A talented musician himself, where he could play base drum, side drum, cymbals, and coronet, Ediyab also learned musical notation from professional Goan musicians-he also added new instruments, trained his band members, and took forward his Band to new and greater heights of glory. Ediyab was honored with an award in 1991 by the then Law Minister Blasius D’Souza on behalf of Konkani Basha Mandal. After Ediyab’s death, his son Harry continued his dad’s legacy of the band.

Moving on to the third generation- Harry who took over ‘Silver Jubilee Band’ after his father’s death, added new instruments, hired and trained new musicians, associated with other music groups and organized concerts. Being a Band Master, singer, composer and trumpet player, Harry D’Souza upgraded his band with modern and sophisticated instruments, to give his clients the best quality of music and performance. harry has a unique capacity of playing at 5-6 different functions on a single day.

The band is also adept at playing devotional hymns and sorrowful tunes at religious occasions and funeral processions thus setting the mood for melancholy as well.  Their expertise also includes music composition and song-writing. Smartly dressed in trendy and colorful uniforms, and armed with their shiny brass instruments, the entry of Harry’s band into any venue brings with it an immediate sense of gaiety and exuberance.  Though many bands have tried to imitate their unique style, none have visibly measured up to them so far.

Harry has given musical programs over Akashvani station in Mangalore and has rendered music for Musical Nights and Cultural Programs held by various institutions and associations.  He has also participated in the Bangalore Doordarshan Program, presently known as ‘Chandana’.  Additionally he and his band have rendered music for the cassettes produced by other groups and have also produced cassettes of their own songs, hymns and band music.

Not only a trumpet player and a Band Master, Harry is also a music and song composer-he has written over 500 songs in three languages, composed over 1000 tunes, has taken part in various radio and out-door concerts-he is also the author of a book of poems titled ‘Goveth’ , and has released six music cassettes. Harry had a guest appearance part in the Konkani movie ‘Mog Ani Moipas’. Harry has many awards to his credit, namely ‘Karnataka Konkani Sahitya Academy Award 2002’, ‘Konkan Karaval Turbent Rai 2006 (KGWA-Kuwait), ‘Kalakar Puraskar Award 2007, ‘Sandesha Special Award 2008’ – also ‘Konkan Sangeeth Shree 1995’ and ‘Konkan Band of the Century 1996’.

He also led the first Vishwa konkani Sammelan in 1995, and also in welcoming Mother Teresa during her visit to Mangalore in 1995. Harry and his 55 member strong group performed at the “Porab” event in 1992 which brought him fame and name. When I asked him how long will be playing and continuing his band, he said that due to his recent lung surgery, he is thinking of quit playing in the nearest future. Constant playing of the trumpet had ruined his lungs, so he had a major lungs surgery which keeps bothering him now and then. And if he decides to shut down his band, he doesn’t want to hand over the leadership to any one of his band members, because he is not confident whether they will keep the reputation of the band. So if Harry’s Century Band shuts down, the name will be extinct forever.

When asked whether he gets support and encouragement from government or any other social organizations, he said, ” Never got any support nor recognition from the government, while other local renowned musicians got recognitions I didn’t get the Rajothsva Award.  Few months back a local Konkani Organization offered to support us and recognize our music efforts, but few days back I got a letter from them their reluctance and non-support (refer photo of letter in article). Playing brass band instruments is not a easy task, it needs determination, talent and strength. But no one recognizes our music talents- and that hurts our feelings”

Further, Harry said that these days youngsters don’t want to learn instruments which are hard to play-they go for easy learning of instruments like keyboard, electronic organ and such. So the chances are that Brass Bands will be extinct very soon, which is sad, he commented. Harry’s Century Band members are : Lawrence Tauro (Trumpet), Santhosh Kotian (Trumpet), Ronald D’Souza (Trumpet/Saxophone), Raphael Furtado (Trumpet), Antony D’Sa (Drums), Prakash Veigas (Cymbal), Harry Maven (Side drums) and Dennis Lobo ( Side drums/Cymbal).

Born on 21 October, 1950 Harry D’Souza had his schooling at St Francis Xavier School, Bejai and St Aloysius High School. Married to Agnes, he is a proud father of twin daughters- Hazel Reena, a lecturer at Karavali College, Mangalore; & Henrita Rashmi, who is married and employed in Bahrain; and one son, Hubert who is employed at a shipping company in Mumbai. Harry not only manages his band, but is also a part-time band teacher at Raj Academy School, Ganjimatta-Bajpe, and Saanidhya Special school, Shakthinagar, Mangalore. Until now, he has taught band lessons at nearly 65 schools in Mangalore, Sirsi, Hubli, Dandeli and few other places.

Basking under the glory of over a 100 year history Harry’s band has been distinguished simply by the sincere service it has rendered in the field of music. Headed by three generations at different times, it has found steady growth and improvement amidst the expectations of an ever increasing and appreciative audience not only in and around the city of Mangalore, but also outside the district of Dakhshina Kannada. It is not very difficult to pinpoint the formula for this success story.  Maintaining discipline and punctuality, quoting reasonable rates, sincere dealing and reliable service to all clientele irrespective of who they are, could be some of the factors that have kept their popularity intact for all these years.

All I can say is that Harry’s Century Brass Band is one popular and traditional brass band that has surely pleased and won the hearts of people, especially Mangalurgars aka Mangaloreans. I wish Harry and his band members good health and God’s blessings, and may they continue to entertain us for many more years. Harry Uncle, keep blowing your trumpet, don’t quit. In the meantime, it’s high time somebody blows their trumpet?

Cujira Brass Band- Santa Cruz, Goa: For the whole week during the week of December 10, 2012, the church square of Panjim, Goa had alive band belting out old tunes as part of the nine-day feast of the Church of immaculate Conception-one of the biggest Catholic feast around there. I was there for couple of days during the big feast, and I ran into this six members of the Cujira Band who were taking a break at George’s Bar and Restaurant, near Panjim Church. The band started playing soon after the mass ended, and just when the fireworks lit up the sky. Once again, it was nostalgia time as old-fashioned , clean entertainment uplifted the mood of the crowd.

Founder member, Sebastian De Araujo who is all of 85 years, and wishes to keep playing “until he can” said to me that his talent is a ” God given gift”. Therefore he does not look at the remuneration and would never refuse a request. The Panjim Church feast is a “regular venue since 2004” and other than that they “continue to perform in village feasts, church occasions and also the famous Goa Carnival.” I found out that Araujo is a devout churchgoer, rides the bicycle on his own everyday, and is still passionate about his instruments that he handles carefully.

Said, Sebastian, ” Like any skill, music needs practice and also proper base.” Thus he learnt from the church priests, who were good teachers, although, the first instrument he learnt was the violin. Continued the veteran saying, ” No instrument is difficult, even the wind-based ones that everybody says are hard to play.” In the olden days, he adds, our masters “focused on solfaggio, the basic alphabets of western classical music.”

Thanks to the strong foundation, Sebastian can play any tune, is easy be they current Bollywood songs which he has never heard. Further, he can also teach, with ability to pass on knowledge. In fact several village boys in vicinity are accomplished artists. Other members of the Cujira Brass band are Salzino Dias, Johnny Fernandes, Aquino Fernandes, Francis Araujo and Sebastian’s nephew Oswin Fernandes. Araujo points out that there are several brass bands in Goa, still in existence, but “artistes are diminishing because few youngsters want to learn wind instruments.” So, players keep circulating across bands. Secondly, payments are modest, nothing in comparison to efforts and amounts charged by high-profile musicians.

Explains, Francis Araujo, who learned from elder Araujo, ” All of us have full time jobs. We play not because of monetary gains but because music runs in our blood.” He adds, ” Wind instruments are not popular with younger generation because they need more work. Teenagers like instruments that are easy to play. However, playing wind instruments is a great tension buster, as it relaxes and I would never give up on them.”

The Cujira Brass Band, the six-man gig, playing the clarinet, trumpet, saxophones and the drums, seems like are the last persons to publicize themselves. It is high time someone blows their trumpet? Best of luck and God’s blessings to the Cujira Brass Band.

Author: Alfie DSouza- Illinois