Ye Ye Katrina’ Fame Konkani Singer Helen D’Cruz- An Exclusive of a Mesmerizing Singer
Mangaluru: In a country with a rich heritage of music, aspiring singers are a dime a dozen. Most of them eventually realize that they are not cut out to make it a profession, while some of them excel after honing their skills through years of practice. But a few special ones, among them, realize that they are born to sing and go on to become legends. This article is of a superstar and a mesmerizing Singer known for her silken voice, the Legend of Konkani Music, who is none other than Ms Helen D’Cruz. She was one such legend who went on to reach dizzying heights in her career. Most great achievers have a mentor who takes them under their tutelage — Helen D’cruz was no different. In her teens, she was taken under the wings of Henry Moraes of Mangaluru — a prominent musician, song writer and composer. Under his inspiration, the extraordinary range of Helen’s talent began to flourish. She began a journey that would make her an icon of Konkani music by singing in dramas, concerts and musical shows.
Helen has no qualms in admitting Henry Moraes as her inspiration towards bringing her talent to the fore and she calls him, her Guru! Team Mangalorean had an opportunity to meet this icon of Konkani Music, during the Sandesha 2020 Awards Ceremony held r on 9 February 2020 in Mangaluru. Seven Achievers Conferred with Sandesha Awards 2020 at a Glittering & Pomp Ceremony. Helen, who is now 87, did deserve this Award after decades, for everything she has done to take Konkani music to greater heights and throughout the world. Among her many other songs, “Ye Ye Katrina” has brought Konkani Folk Music on the International Stage, and since then her fame has not diminished. And “Ye Ye Katrina” was even sung in Sinhalese and Chinese languages. I remember playing that song for my brother’s daughter wedding in Chicago, USA in 2008, and a bunch of American girls did a Line-Dance to that tune- and it became so popular that the girls even gave a line-dance performance at two other social events, thereby receiving loud applauds from the audience- and ‘Ye Ye Katrina’ was even played at fests and carnivals in Chicago suburbs, where Indian Catholics were in large numbers.
Helen’s music journey from Africa–Mangaluru–Mumbai-Kuwait-Mumbai is quite astonishing. As you listen to this melodious chord of music you’ll come to know so many interesting stories of Helen and undoubtedly the Konkani Diaspora will raise a simple question why she was deprived of a lime-light she deserve! Born in the year 1933 in Africa to Alexander and Flora Correa, Helen hailed from a religious Mangalorean Catholic family, and her father worked as a doctor in Africa. When her father died, Helen who was only 3 years old returned to Mangaluru and resided in their house in Urva. Her mother, a young widow took great pains to educate all the four children with whatever meager savings and jewelry she had. Her relatives who were agriculturists in Belman helped them out financially, and Helen is the only girl among three brothers, was loved by all. Though Helen wanted to learn the violin she could not afford it under such penurious circumstances.
Helen did her Schooling at Victoria Girls School, Lady Hill, Mangaluru, and later did her college in Mumbai SNDT University, with an external degree. She also did a diploma in Journalism at Bombay College of Journalism, after which she worked at Eve’s Weekly Women’s magazine in Bombay. In 1974, she went to Kuwait and worked at the Commercial Bank of Kuwait, before coming back to India during the Gulf war in 1991. Helen’s budding singing talent was first recognized by friends and neighbours who heard her sing Konkani songs for dramas and other events. These appreciations helped her family to firmly believe in her talent and they encouraged her to explore it to the fullest extent. Before going to Kuwait, she sang on AIR at the age of 25, which made her even popular. It should be noted that Konkani pop music became popular after Indian Independence in 1947. Henry D’Souza and Helen D’Cruz are known for the Konkani love duet ‘Ye Ye Katrina’ in 1971, and that song even today is being played at Catholic weddings/roce and other grand occasions.
Helen with her husband (Late) Vincent D’cruz and their daughter
The glorious heydays of Konkani music in India were in the 60s’ and 70’s. Old-timers often reminisce about the most prominent exponents of this art — the magical duo of Ms Helen D’cruz with Henry D’Souza, Hemant Kumar and others. And no doubt that all her songs became great hits. Apart from being a mesmerizing singer, she was an electrifying performer, and the crowd would get mesmerized by her performance. She was the pulse of the audience and her creative on-stage chemistry with her duet songs with other singers became the talk of the town. Together, they made people come in droves to watch them perform. Their popularity led them to perform in various events, clubs and parties.
The vocals of Helen along with other singers wasn’t just confined to live performances. They wanted their talent to reach a wider audience, and their creative compositions of songs became distinctly unique, with heavy tunes peppered with a dash of Mangalorean folksy influence. Helen’s voice became so popular that quite a few radio stations started playing her songs and she became a household name in Mangalorean and other Konkani speaking communities in India and abroad.
Helen married Vincent D’cruz, who worked for the Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water. She has four children- one son and three daughters. Son Colin is a Bible Preacher in Pune, while eldest daughter, Yvonne D’Souza works for Indo German Chamber of Commerce in Mumbai, and her other two daughters, Lorraine Fiona Aloysius manages a Music school along with her husband, in Gurgaon; and Marianne D’cruz Aiman sings for Bollywood/jingles and also runs a singing academy in Mumbai. Youngest daughter Marianne is in Mumbai and lives with her husband in the same building where Helen lives. Marianne has been a professional singer in Mumbai’s film industry over a decade and has worked with some of the best names in the field. She has made quite an impact in the industry with some memorable songs for movies like “Black”, “Chak De India”, “Student of the Year”, “Kite” and many more. She is emerging as a new sensation in the Bollywood singing arena and is all set to make her mark with solo Hindi songs.
Helen’s hobbies are singing, cooking, social work ( she works with slum dwellers in Santa Cruz and teaches them English), writing stories etc. While in Kuwait, she did lot of social work being in Legion of Mary, Seekers- an NGO and taking care of the sick. She has also written film scripts, and stories/articles to a magazine called “Mirror” where her short story “Where is Sharon”, received rave reviews. She has also won several prizes for her “letters to the editor”. In Kuwait, she regularly contributed an article to various journals. Even at this golden ripe age of 87, Helen is quite active, goes for walk, does exercise and cooks her own food. “My mom is an excellent cook, and we all love her Mangalorean authentic cuisine’ says Marianne. Presently Helen lives alone in an apartment in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, where her daughter Marianne also stays in the same building. With Marianne staying close and taking care of her needs, Helen says she is quite happy and contented.
While working in Mumbai, she had the opportunity to meet some of the best Bollywood actors and singers notable among them Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar. She has also worked closely with late Divyani Chaubal, writer-columnist and well-known film critic. Helen is one of the greatest legends of the Konkani stage who stood her own along with Bollywood fame Hemanth Kumar and Sangeeth Samrat Henry D’Souza. She is known for immortal Konkani hits like ‘Ye..Ye..Katrina’, ‘Chondrem Udevn Ailo’, ‘Gharaso Divo’, ‘Suryachi Kirnam’, and many more. Helen’s music journey from Africa–Mangalore–Mumbai-Kuwait-Mumbai is quite astonishing.
Helen with film critic late Ms Divyani Chaubal
With Bollywood Singer Geeta Dutt
With Singer Hemanth Kumar
With singer ‘Sangeet Samrat’ Singer Henry D’Souza
Helen D’cruz with her mother
Helen had created a sensation in the Konkani music world with her melodious and mellifluous voice in the early 60’s and 70’s thus giving a big fillip to Konkani music. She was the first reputed Konkani female singer in Mumbai. “Suryachin Kirnan” of Jerome D Souza was her first song in radio in 1961 and with that Helen, the singer had arrived on the scene. She sang many songs with Alphonso D Costa and also with Henry D’Souza. Helen has also cut an album with Henry D’Souza with some memorable songs like “Chandrem Udevn”, “Sezari”, “Gharacho Divo” and of course “Katrina”.
Though all the songs were quite melodious and hummable, “Ye Ye Katrina “song hit the bull’s eye. Helen recalls that in during the general elections in Goa the Katrina song had gained a lot of fame. Helen also reached the zenith of her popularity with some of the evergreen numbers like “Daryacha Daryacha Larani”, written by Henry, “Kalzanth Ullas Bhorla, Bhovtin Varen Valla.” “Naav muje Leena”, “Sanjecha Velar” (both tunes by Helen). Helen has also written lyrics of the song “Tu Maka”. Apart from Alphonso, Henry and Hemant Kumar, Helen has sung with Jerome D’Souza and Henry Moraes (in plays). Helen D’cruz’s music traverses not just boundaries but generations, too. Second and third-generation kids who grew up listening to their parents play her songs. Her fans world over continue to be teleported back to the magical days of the 60’s and 70’s , while listening to her songs.
Following are the excerpts from the exclusive interview with Ms Helen D’cruz:
Q: Tell me who was your inspiration for your interest in music field, especially Konkani music?
Music runs in my family. My father was a violinist and my brothers were also musicians. I started singing while in Lady Hill school, Mangaluru, and for my singing talents, schoolmates nicknamed me as ‘Radio Singer’, since I was often found singing softly during school hours and after. My schoolmates had also predicted that someday I would become a great singer, a prediction which subsequently has become true.
I was inspired after listening to Konkani singers like Louis Pinto and Henry Moraes of Mangaluru, which inspirited me to sing Konkani songs. I was not exposed to Konkani in my house. After listening to their singing I felt like singing Konkani songs. They were my inspiration. It was my late brother Baptist Correa who initially took the initiative to introduce me to singing in Konkani plays. The first playback song that brought me recognition in Mangaluru was a Hindi cinema track ‘Koi ne dil diya’ which I sang during a concert at Urva Church, Mangaluru. Subsequently, I began to lend my voice as a ghost singer for various Konkani plays, which were staged at Don Bosco hall, Mangaluru”.
Q: Tell us about the song “Ye Ye Katrina”?
When I sang ‘Ye Ye Katrina”I did not think much about the lyrics because I focused on the song in toto. I think even the people overlooked the lyric part because the tune was quite mesmeric and they were attracted by words like Bandra, batatawada, bhel puri, loving etc. I realized only when others including some of my friends and relatives pointed out about the subtle sexual orientation but it did not bother me and I definitely have no regrets. I am happy that the song was liked by everyone, across the world. Even the song has been dubbed in Sinhalese and Chinese languages. Apart from this song, I am quite satisfied having sung some 100 odd Konkani songs on radio and with the two records to my credit brought out by HMV. But I still term my achievements as Lilliputian.
Q: Was your marriage arranged or was it, love, at first sight- ‘Love Marriage’?
I met Vincent during the first communion of my cousin’s daughter where Vincent was a gatecrasher. I was coaxed by her friends to sing, and therefore I entertained the assembled guests through a couple of my songs, which I think won over the heart of Vincent, because of my singing talent and personality. After two years of courtship, we got married in 1964. He was tall, dark and handsome, the typical features of a “Mr. eligible” any girl would fall for. Ours was a happy married life, where he supported me heartily and even after I became popular he never suffered from any complex. But sadly, Vincent died of a massive cardiac attack in 2000, at the age of 65 “.
Q: What do you have to say about the present Music, especially Konkani Music?
Music has developed immensely, where the trend and tunes have changed. When compared to the music of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, there is lot of differences. Regarding the present Konkani music it has become quite trendy, a little bit jumpy and noisy, while our Konkani music during those years was quite soothing, melodious, pleasant to listen to, emotional and charming, and with sentimental meaning. I am not against the present Konkani music, which I do like a lot, but it could be made much more better for a soothing and listening pleasure.
Q: What could be done to retain Konkani Culture and take Konkani language to greater heights?
It’s sad to note that these days, parents are not encouraging their children to learn Konkani language-they speak English or other languages than the mother tongue (Konkani) at home. Children should be taught about Konkani culture, tradition and its values. Efforts should be put in by Konkani organizations in promoting Konkani at various levels, through music, art and literature, and only then we can retain our Konkani language and take it to greater heights.
Q: Are you happy with the Sandesha award 2020 conferred on you at a glittering ceremony?
It was very thoughtful and a kind gesture on the part of the Sandesha Committee members to chose me for this prestigious award, which I will cherish it forever. I am totally overwhelmed that at this ripe age of 87, I received a prestigious award from the people of my hometown-Mangaluru where I started my journey into music, including Konkani. I never expected this award, but having received it I am grateful to everyone who were responsible to confer this award on me.
Q: Finally, what is your message for the present young musicians/singers in particular, and other youth in general?
To the young musicians and singers, I say put emotion, feelings in your music and songs, which would please music lovers. Keep practising at least for a few hours every day, so that you won’t lose interest and the knack. Keep Konkani music alive by promoting it through your music and singing, and work hard in taking it to greater heights, nationally and internationally.
For the present youth, I say please stay away from addiction towards drugs, smoking and too much alcohol. Don’t waste your precious time too much on mobile phones and electronic games. Read books, novels and magazines, and not just browse through the Internet for knowledge. Reading and learning will make you smart and not through Internet browsing.
Team Mangalorean congratulates Ms Helen D’cruz for receiving the Sandesha Konkani Music Award 2020 and also for her great achievements in Music Field, especially Konkani Music. You Go Girl!