Remo Fernandes wasn’t expecting the packed lawns at Clark’s Amer Hotel in Jaipur on a warm weekday afternoon. Neither did he expect his audience to be as-eager-as-ever to listen to his story or music. But when he sang a medley of his three-decade old hits like ‘Jalwa’, ‘Humma, Humma’ and ‘O Meri Munni’, the crowd repeated ‘once more’ and quelled all such doubts. Several youngsters queued up to get their copies of his recently-released autobiography Remo signed. The excitement of his fans at the recently-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival was a testimony to the long-standing popularity of India’s original rockstar—one who had a brief stint with Bollywood and retreated from it at the peak of his popularity.
Written in a chronological fashion and easy-to-read prose, Remo published by HarperCollins, is a page-turner, filled with stories around his childhood in Goa, studying architecture in Mumbai, backpacking in Europe and his life as a musician. It also carries many revelations around romance, love and sex. The last part of the book looks at his present life and how and why Fernandes took up a Portugese citizenship. He now divides his time between Goa and Porto.
He had started his book a decade back. “Something else which I had started 27 years earlier was to bring out songs on Mother Teresa. Somehow I felt the right time came when I shifted to Portugal. I spent two to three years completing that opera and after that I came to Goa for a break. Almost at the end of the holiday, the pandemic broke out. No one could go out and I felt it’s the best time to finish the book. The book and the songs on Saint Mother Teresa were the two things I always knew I had to complete,” he says.
Released in 2019, the album Teresa and the Slum Bum has 26 songs, two instrumentals and features 35 singers from India, Europe, US and the UK. As for his book, the sections are a visual treat with carefully-selected photographs that leave no gaps of his life story. “In the last three years, two of my long-held wishes came true one after the other. So don’t ask me what I am going to do next. I want to enjoy this moment,” says the crusader who wrote several social message songs against corruption and drugs, and on romance in his heydays.
Writing this book, has in many ways, been a cathartic experience for Fernandes. “Some of the chapters were very difficult. I was in a different state of mind when I had to write about the deaths of my band mates. I cried several nights,” he says. Four members of his band Microwave Papadums died tragically in 2001 in a road accident while returning post a show from Kanpur to Lucknow. For several months Fernandes could not sing again but the constant encouragement of a fellow band member finally pushed him out of depression and he started a new line-up.
Remo is an ode to Goa by Fernandes who can’t come to terms with the rapid urbanisation or the way Goa is projected. “When I was growing up it was embarrassing to be a Goan. People anglicised their names, grew up in Calcutta or Bombay. But when Goa became fashionable, they came back and started to write about the Goa they didn’t know about. So I wanted to write about that Goa which was important to me,” explains the star who has performed with members of international groups such as Jethro Tull and Queen.
Fernandes, whose first musical instrument was a mouth organ gifted by his father, never thought there existed a career as a musician. His grandfather who was a reputed doctor discouraged his musical ambitions. “My grandfather believed that the only future for a musician in Goa was to play in dance bands at weddings,” says the 68-year-old who proved his grandfather wrong when he wrote his first song at age 14.
If it was not for Goa or Fernandes, most people would have not known ‘Maria Pita Che’ or ‘The Flute Song’. His musical works are an amalgamation of the various cultures with songs in English, Portugese, Hindi, Konkani and even French. Did writing come as naturally as music? “Yes. It’s all in my mind. When I began writing my memoir, it opened the floodgates of my memories. I had decided I will not check with anyone about any incident. If I don’t remember something, it was not worth remembering,” he says. But, as for Remo’s music, it remains note-worthy for many generations to come.