Legendary singer and musician Remo Fernandes was recently in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy at JLF London 2022, held at the British Library. The conversation mainly revolved around Remo’s riveting, tell-all book ‘Remo: The Autobiography of Remo Fernandes’—a kaleidoscopic memoir, written with flair and panache, dedicated to a colorful life in pursuit of his greatest passions and adventures in music and the arts. Remo also performed some of his favorite numbers on the occasion.
Remo Fernandes was born in Goa and grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s. His first introduction to rock music was at the age of seven, when a cousin returned from London with a record by Bill Haley & His Comets. In school, he developed his guitar playing skills and formed a school band named ‘The Beat 4’ along with a group of friends (Alexandre Rosario, Tony Godinho, and Caetano Abreu). After graduating from school, Remo went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Sir J.J College of Architecture in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay). After graduating, Remo hitch-hiked his way through Europe and North Africa between 1977 and 1980, performing with fusion rock bands and even releasing an album titled ‘Rock Synergie’ in Paris in 1979. He returned to Goa in the mid-twenties and immersed himself in its hippie culture.
Remo’s journey from distributing home-produced albums on a scooter in the 80s to becoming a national sensation with his chartbusting film songs and albums such as “Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha,” “Jalwa,” “Humma, Humma,” “Maria Pitache,” and “O Meri Munni,” among others is nothing short of exhilarating. Now in his late sixties, he divides his time between his ancestral home in Siolim, Goa and Porto in Portugal.
In this interview, Remo Fernandes talks about his autobiography and how it came into being, the part which he found most difficult to write, his love for Goa, and the opera he has written in tribute to Mother Teresa, among other things.
Q. Tell us about the creative drive to write an autobiography. And what prompted you to right is now?
A. Because now is the time. I mean I couldn’t have written it at the height of my career as I hardly had the time to write something this detailed. And later on when I am dotage and forgotten all the details of my life I don’t think that it would be the ideal time to write it as well. Speaking of the origins, I actually started writing the book several years back. But, I could only complete three chapters and then I had started with the fourth before I got busy with work routine, traveling for concerts and recording songs for films and albums. So, I had to put it aside. I remember I was holidaying in Goa when the pandemic broke out. Since no one could go out because of the lockdown, I thought it’s the best time to finish the book.
Q. Which parts of the book did you find the most difficult to write?
A. There was no difficult chapter to write except for hard things that happened and the hardest thing that happened in my life were the tragic deaths of four members of my band Microwave Papadums who died in a car crash in 2001. I had to relive that and I wanted to write about that in detail. So for a whole week I was back in that state of being traumatized and depressed. But, otherwise, there was no difficult chapter to write.
Q. You have very fondly touched upon your collaboration with Alexandre do Rosario before Alexandre took to alcoholism. Do you think your collaboration with him could have shaped up your musical journey any differently?
A. Not really, because I never really collaborated as a composer. Now, there are composer who collaborate. They are perhaps born to collaborate. Like, for example, take the case of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. These two had to meet; the cosmos planned it and orchestrated it in such a way. And it showed after they separated. That McCartney had the sugar in his music, but Lennon had the spice. And together it was a perfect combination. But I never composed with somebody else just like so many composers who cannot or do not collaborate. So, I don’t think that would have changed anything.
Q. Your autobiography oozes with love for Goa. Is this something that you have consciously brought out through your book?
A. The rapid manner in which the urbanization of Goa took place, it somewhere eluded the people from knowing the Goa that I grew up in. You have to understand that while I was growing up it was embarrassing to be a Goan and so a lot of the people would anglicize their names, choosing to live in Calcutta or Bombay instead. But when Goa started becoming fashionable, people started to write about the Goa they didn’t know about. Hence, I wanted to write about that Goa which has been an integral part of me.
Q. Your book evokes a very powerful imagery, particularly of your childhood. Did you have access to any old diaries, notes, memoirs, or any other kind of memory aid?
A. Just the memory; it all came back to me. That’s all! And I really didn’t know that I had this kind of a writing style or if I could bring things from my past alive for my readers. It was only after other people started telling me that I got the confidence, starting with my literary agent Hemali Sodhi who is the first professional who read it. Before that only my friends and family had read it. When the first professional was going to read it I was a little apprehensive. It’s one thing having your known people read it and another thing when a professional who is unattached to you reads it. Then Udayan Mitra came back and also said the same things. Then I was very encouraged knowing that even these people have read manuscripts and books from all over the world and by the best writers.
Q. Tell us about the opera that you have written in tribute to Mother Teresa.
A. Well, it’s something I had started a very long ago. Back in the year 1987, I was stuck in Calcutta when I decided to pay a visit to Mother Teresa. The meeting had a profound effect on me. And on the return flight to Goa, I was able to write not one but two songs viz. “Welcome My Child” and “Take me to Calcutta.”
But the project had to be kept aside at the time. It finally has taken the shape of an opera titled ‘Teresa and the Slum Blum’—a double album with 26 songs and two instrumentals. It features 35 singers from India, the UK, Europe, and the US who have all contributed to the album pro bono.