Remo Fernandes at his home recording studio in Siolim, Bardez
|Birth name||Luís Remo de Maria Bernardo Fernandes|
8 May 1953 |
|Origin||Siolim, Goa, India|
|Genres||Fusion, Indian rock|
|Labels||CBS, Polygram, Magnasound|
Luís Remo de Maria Bernardo Fernandes, more popularly known as Remo Fernandes (born 8 May 1953), is a pop/rock/Indian fusion artist and film playback singer from the state of Goa, India. His musical work is a fusion of many different cultures and styles he's been exposed to as a child in Goa and in his later travels around the world. Such influences include Goan and Portuguese music, Sega music from Mauritius and Seychelles, African music, Latin music from Spain and South America, the music of erstwhile European communist states, those of the dancehalls from Jamaica and Soca from Trinidad. Writing and singing songs in English made his success more rare and distinctive in the context of the Bollywood-dominated, Hindi language-based, occasionally even disco music scene that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. His compositions in English, reflecting life and socio-political happenings in India with which every Indian could identify, became popular largely with the growing, English-educated, Indian middle class. His Hindi pop/rock and film songs became instant hits with the Indian masses, earning him Gold, Platinum and Double Platinum Discs. A popular stage performer in India, he has also taken part in many music festivals around the world. He has performed with international names such as Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Queen, to name a few. Recently he signed up as a member of the AAP, a political party in India, for Goa constituency.
Early years and musical influences
Remo Fernandes was born to the well-known Panjim family of Bernardo and Luiza Fernandes on 8 May 1953. Although brought up in a Catholic family, Remo says 'When I turned 18, I started thinking for myself; and I realised that god is beyond religion.' Remo's first introduction to rock was at the age of seven, when a cousin returned from London with "Rock Around The Clock", a record by Bill Haley & His Comets. He claims that it changed his life forever. He spent the next decade listening to music of that era's most popular icons:
"After about a decade of going crazy over Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, one of the greatest influences in my life was the psychedelic music of the 70s, especially the movie 'Woodstock', which I watched over and over again. That was the era when rock broke all barriers and became experimental; Jethro Tull fused it with western classical, Blood Sweat & Tears fused it with jazz, Santana fused it with Latin, Osibisa fused it with African... rock truly became the voice of global youth, no more the prerogative or monopoly of America."
— In an interview to 'The Week'.
In school Remo developed natural guitar playing skills and along with a talented group of friends, Alexandre Rosario, Tony Godinho, and Caetano Abreu, formed a school band named the "The Beat 4". He wrote his first songs around this time, at age 14, winning 1st prizes in all-Goa competitions for best composer, best vocalist, and best lead guitarist. After graduating from school Remo went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the city of Bombay (now called Mumbai). His love affair with music continued, often bunking classes to work on his technique, when he figured out a way to tune and play the guitar to make it sound like the Indian sitar. He continued writing his own songs, playing solo or playing with different bands including one of India's top most recording artists, 'The Savages'.
Mumbai being one of the few cities in India at the time with a niche audience for Rock Music, he played in concerts and venues such as Shanmukhnanda Hall, Rang Bhavan, and in all the major college campuses of Bombay. While most young Indian musicians were happy sounding exactly like their American heroes, Remo brought an Indian element to his music with his Sitar/Guitar, and taught himself to play the Indian flute.
After graduation, Remo returned to Goa and immersed himself in its once famous Hippie culture. He met a group of travelling European artists who named themselves the Amsterdam Balloon Company, playing at their full moon concerts at Baga. Much later, Remo would team up in Amsterdam with Lucas Amor, the violinist in this group, and cut a song called Venus and the Moon.
Between 1977 and 1980, Remo travelled in Europe and North Africa, hitch-hiking around eight countries during a span of two-and-a-half years, supporting his travels by singing and passing a hat around in underground stations and pedestrian streets.
"I'd met a lot of European hippies in Goa; I wanted to be an Indian hippie in Europe"
— Remo commenting on his first trip to Europe.
He performed in shows with fusion rock bands, such as "Rock Synergie" in Paris. Almost settling in the West for good, he changed his mind and returned to Goa on Christmas Day, 1979. "Traveling and living abroad made me see clearly where Home really was" he says.
After returning, Remo wrote some of his most memorable socio-political songs about life in Goa and India, but had to face rejections from Indian record companies, who believed that there was no market for English music in the country. Besides, in 1980s, there was no air play on radio and television, they were both monopolised by the government, who seem to refuse to accept pop and rock music's existence. "But I knew the record companies were wrong" Remo said. So he recorded his maiden album Goan Crazy and a subsequent album Old Goan Gold on a four-track cassette TEAC Portastudio recorder in his home. In these albums he played all the instruments, sang all voices, and was the only composer of its music and lyrics. He engineered the recording and mixing and designed the album covers. He had cassettes produced in Bombay and personally went about distributing the cassettes from shop to shop in Goa on a yellow scooter along with an illustrated book of poems he wrote, and postcards and t-shirts he designed.
1986 was a turning point in his career when three things happened. The first was being invited to play at an official government function in Goa for the then visiting Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. There he sang a song titled 'Hello Rajiv Gandhi' causing a controversy in the local press and then in the national one. But Remo mailed these critical press clippings to the Prime Minister, who immediately replied saying he and his wife Sonia loved the song, and found nothing objectionable in it. This letter, written by the young new Prime Minister of a hitherto conservative country to a pop/rock musician, together with the whole story in pictures, spread like wild fire and was carried in countless publications all over India.
The second significant happening that year was Remo's singing in Bombay at a concert called "Aid Bhopal", held to raise funds for victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, in which he sang two of his songs, 'Pack that Smack' and 'Ode to Graham Bell'. To his surprise, both his songs were televised by Doordarshan, the single TV channel in India, on four successive Sundays at prime time. In a country with just one monopolistic Government owned and run TV channel at the time, that was tremendous exposure.
His wife Sonia also had family influences in the music industry like her cousin Nina (formerly Naina Fernandes), who toured with many Rock and Roll bands in the 50s/60s one of them was the famous Rolling Stones. Nina in her younger years had worked with many music artists in the industry, however in the 70s she decides to settled down in a married life with her then husband Raman Ghosh and they later had a baby girl. Nina has since moved on to new ventures with a new life and now resides in the UK with her only daughter.
The third happening was composing and performing the title song for the hit movie Jalwa, which was released the next year. This last event made him instantly famous due to the popularity of Bollywood cinema and of the Hindi language. Remo's "'Jalwa' was path-breaking; it was a 15-minute piece of creative high-energy improvisation, featuring vocal scatting and a style of Indian flute playing which singers, musicians and music directors in India copy and emulate to this day.
After breaking out with his first hit album "Pack That Smack" in 1986 and "Bombay City" the next year, he became the highest-selling English rock musician in India and the only one in the country to be awarded Gold Discs in this category. "Pack That Smack" became his first album to be released by a national record company, CBS. This was an anti-drugs themed album, especially against addiction to Heroin which contained songs such as Down with Brown, Just a Hippie, as well as socio-political satire such as Mr Minister – a nursery rhyme-styled song on politician who went to sleep once elected to power; and So Wie Du – a recording of an award-winning live performance. Bombay City contained hits such as Ocean Queen, Against you/Against me, and a hilarious take on the condition of telephone services in India, Ode to Graham Bell.
Around this time, invited to attend international music festivals and concerts, Remo again started travelling around the world. His first international event was at the Dresden International Song Competition in former East Germany that attracted competitors from socialist and communist countries. There he won three awards, the Press Critics Award, the Audience Favorite Award, and the overall Second Prize. He once represented India, when it was invited, in the Tokyo Music Festival. He also took part in the Festival of India in the USSR, the MIDEM '96 Music Festival in Hong Kong, besides Festivals in Germany, Bulgaria, Macau, Seychelles and Mauritius. As a stage performer he has by now been to every continent around the world.
Although his now legendary composition Jalwa of the 1987 hit film made him instantly famous in India, he resisted the urge to join the commercial Hindi film music industry full-time, as he felt that he would have to compromise his artistic values by doing so, and he felt that his main body of work ought to be his own songs written out of his own personal experiences, not songs commissioned for film situations.
The next album he released in 1992 with Magnasound was titled Politicians don't know to Rock'n'Roll. Released in the backdrop of communal violence spreading in India, terrible events such as the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, the album expressed the political tension of the time. It included songs such as Don't kick up the Rao – about the then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, A song for India, How does it feel? and a song about safe sex titled Everybody wants to.
In 1995, Remo Fernandes finally moved into Hindi Pop and film music to become a playback singer, by teaming up with the legendary director Mani Ratnam and composer A. R. Rahman. He sang the song "Humma Humma" in the Hindi film Bombay. The song went on to earn Remo a Double Platinum.
In 1998, along with his newly formed band called the Microwave Papadums, he released his first and only Hindi pop/rock album to date titled O, Meri Munni( sample (help·info)). It went to the top of all the charts, and brought in another Platinum Album.
In 2000 Remo became the first Indian solo artist to have a song officially released solely on the Internet. Cyber Viber generated 16,000 downloads in 2 weeks. Other artists in India who also released top hit songs on the Internet that same year were both Mumbai based bands, Pentagram & Dementra.
Other collaborations and work
When Pepsi USA entered Indian markets in the 1990s as Leher Pepsi, they signed up Remo for an endorsement deal and got him to star in their first two launch ad films, making advertising history in India.
In February 2005, Remo collaborated with Jethro Tull along with renowned Indian percussionist Sivamani, for a concert held in Dubai. They performed tracks such as Mother Goose, Locomotive Breath, and Remo's now very famous Flute Kick also informally called "the flute song". Jethro Tull also backed Remo as he sang his own 'Bombay City' and 'Maria Pita Che'.
In 2001, three Microwave Papadums band members- Dharamedra Hirve, Selwyn Pereira and Victor Alvares, and Remo's personal assistant Sunil Redkar, were killed in a motorvehicle road accident in Kanpur, on the way to the airport after a particularly spectacular concert there. Remo was devastated and stayed away from music and performances for a year.
In 2002 Remo released two albums which, once again, were very much ahead of their time for India. The music was contemplative, orchestral, complex. The album were "India Beyond" and "Symphonic Chants". Tracks from "India Beyond" were signed to and released by Buddha Bar, Paris, France, and Opium Garden, Miami, USA. In India these albums went unnoticed, as neither record companies nor the media knew what to make of them.
In 2003, on his 50th birthday, Remo held a reunion concert in Goa with many of his former bands; The Beat 4, Indiana, and The Savages, besides friends like The Valadares Sisters and Lucio Miranda. It was a 4-hour unforgettable concert attended by 25,000 people from ages 8 to 80.
The last album Remo released through a record company in India was "Muchacha Latina". For the title song he scripted, directed and edited the music video. The music scene in India had began to change once more, though, and all attention was now given to Bollywood music. Former pop/rock artists were now composing and performing exclusively for the celluloid world. Record companies simply did nothing to invest in the promotion of non-film music, which they called 'private' albums.
From then on, Remo made songs which were closest to his heart right from the start: socio-political comments and critiques, exposing corruption, communalism and other evils in India, and motivating people against them. These songs he distributed on the Internet for free, together with their music videos once again scripted, directed and edited by himself. The most memorable of these are "India, I Cry", "India Against Corruption", and "Vote: Tit for Tat".
In 2011 Remo was approached by the Election Commission of India to be their 'Youth Icon for Ethical Voting' in Goa, and billboards with Remo's pictures and messages were put up all over the state. "Vote: Tit for Tat" was composed specially to encourage the Goan people to vote out blatantly corrupt ministers with official criminal records who had been ruling the roost in the Goa Government for decades. The video went viral on YouTube, and the election results were unprecedented; Goa had the highest voter turnout ever, the highest voter turnout in youth aged 18–25 years, and 90% of the aforementioned criminal ministers were voted out of power.
In 2011 Remo also produced and sang a song for a new film by Bejoy Nambiar [maker of the 2010 hit film 'Shaitan'], titled 'David'. It is slated for release in early 2013.
Remo is presently working on three personal albums, one of them being a re-recording of his very first 'Goan Crazy!'. He says: "A 4-track Portastudio recording was OK in Goa in 1984, but I'd like this album, my first, to be remembered in today's state-of-the-art quality."
- "Article on Remo titled "THE INFLUENCES"". Archived from the original on 9 February 2006. Retrieved 9 March 2006.
- "A Biography of Remo Fernandes". Retrieved 16 July 2006.
- "A did you mean article on Remo Fernandes". Retrieved 9 March 2006.
- "An interview conducted by Bosco Eremita for 'The Week' titled 'Digging up the past'". Retrieved 9 March 2006.
- "Albums released till date from remomusic.com". Archived from the original on 9 February 2006. Retrieved 9 March 2006.
- "Important Remo concerts". Retrieved 11 August 2006.
- "Article on the Siolim Zagor festival". Retrieved 9 March 2006.
- "remo fernandes luv u soniyo".