By Casey Monteiro
The coarse gramophone disc, the shellac disc was the main mass produced audio format in the early 20th century. A lot of Konkani songs were recorded on it. Today, these are not in use. However, going through them is a potential trove to unravel various facets of Cantaram (Konkani songs in the Goan theatre form, tiatr), including their evolution.
All this will be explained at ‘Kantar Goa: A shellac disc study at the intersection of cosmopolitan Bombay and Colonial Goa’ by filmmaker Nalini Elvino de Sousa on May 10, 2023 at a presentation to be held at Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, Altinho, Panjim at 7 pm.
LIBERATING MUSICAL HERITAGE FROM OBSOLETE MEDIA
Nalini, who is currently studying at the Department of Communication in Arts (DeCA) and part of the Centre of Studies in Music and Dance (INETmd) in Aveiro University, in Portugal, received a scholarship in 2021 to be a part of the project Liber|Sound which aims to liberate the musical heritage contained in obsolete media (78rpm and magnetic tapes) by using innovative archiving processes to reactivate memory.
The aim of the project is to study the shared political histories and common languages and musical transits through four different archives located in Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique and Goa.
The archive being studied in Goa is that of All India Radio (known previously as Emissora de Goa), informs Nalini and points out how the case of Goa is unique because, while the other three archives, namely those in Portugal, Brazil and Mozambique, shared Portuguese as their common language, the performance studies encapsulated in these shellac disc records in Goa are in Konkani.
Nalini says that she faced challenges as there were times when only she had access to photographs of the labels. To supplement the information at the archives, Nalini expanded her field work by interviewing people who listened to these performance practices and kept their own private collection of shellac discs which, at times, coincided with the one present in All India Radio (AIR).
THE TIME FRAME
Nalini has based her research in the time frame from 1910-1961. In the 19th century, Goans migrated in large numbers to different economic hubs in India for, either, studies or work.
Gramophone companies established their studios in hubs like Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai – places which were teeming with a lot of Goan diaspora, and who now had access to recording on these shellac discs.
The first Konkani shellac disc seems to have been written in 1908, deduces Nalini from her research. This is mentioned in a pamphlet kept in Joao Agostinho Fernandes’ (He is known as the ‘Father of Tiatr’) personal archives.
Says Nalini, “This archive was carefully digitized by the former director of Central Library, Panjim, Carlos Fernandes and two copies have been kept in the Tiatr Akademy of Goa (TAG), while the original remains in the Central Library.”
HOW ‘CANTARAMS’ WERE INFLUENCED
Says Nalini, “Even though, there are different performance practices, such as mando, dulpods, deknis, in these shellac discs, my research is focused on the cantaram. This performance practice is part of the tiatr to this date. The drama usually has six to seven scenes and in between these scenes, two or three cantaram are performed.”
With the subsequent advent of radio, Goans in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Goa could listen to these cantaram being broadcast. Gradually, the dependency on shellac discs decreased.
Historical events – the independence of India in 1947 and the integration of Goa in India in 1961 – had an impact on the cantarams, not only their broadcasting medium, but also in the themes they addressed, reveals Nalini.
Analysing the broadcasting of the cantaram in AIR Bombay and Emissora de Goa, the photographed labels throws immense light on cantarams, and this is what makes these discs so appealing, explains Nalini.