Friday, September 3, 2010

Goa and Africa

Goa and Africa

What do you get when you put together four Goans – from the small state on the western coast of India – with such a passion for music that they each work for or own music and sound engineering companies? You get something very rare in the sultanate. You get a group that has managed to release two records in this country.

While the exact figure is uncertain, there are numerous bands playing in Oman who, because of the rules governing music releases in the country, have never seen a CD on the shelves here with their name on it. “We've had two albums released in Oman. One was a Christmas carol album and the other in Swahili called Mama Zainabu,” said Sebastian 'Sabby' Almeida, rhythm and lead guitarist of GoAfrica.

“It's quite difficult to get work published in Oman, but Clifford (D'Silva)'s got the hang of it now. He knows which ministry to go to and which people to approach. We actually have the copyright stamped and signed by the ministry. It doesn't work, though, because we recently got coffee mugs that Croyden found in Goa which have our band logo and name on them when we haven’t given rights to anyone to use these.”

Croyden Menezes, the group's bass guitarist, said, “We asked them (shopkeeper in Goa) how popular the CD is and they said, 'Well, we've sold over 15,000 copies.' We made about 2,000 here in Oman. They have coffee mugs with our logo and if we want to drink out of them, we have to buy them!”

Clifford, the keyboard player, added, “It's not really a money-making venture. What’s most important is that we have a lot of fun. We try not to take it too seriously.”

Making up the last of the four is the drummer, Rocky Gomes. Though all four are from Goa, Sabby was born and brought up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This, and the inclusion of Swahili music, which they say is very popular in Oman, gave the group their name 'GoAfrica' – combining Goa and Africa.

Sabby has now been in Oman for 21 years, half of his life, and considers this as much his home as anywhere else. GoAfrica has been together for seven years. “We've been together for a long time. Some of the other bands have not been so fortunate. They've had members come and go as they got new jobs and things like that. It's always in a fluid state. The band is there but the members keep changing,” said Croyden.

“But we're very particular. For example, let's say that Croyden can't make it for a show, maybe because he's on leave or something. We won't do the show. Either we play as GoAfrica or we don't play at all. We don't have anybody to come in to cover. If it's a show we've taken and we're committed to it, in that case we will look for a replacement. Otherwise, we all play together,” said Sabby.

“For this Christmas, we're not taking any gigs because two or three of us will not be in town. We don't want to ruin the name. At the same time, we won't water down the band. We don't play with other groups. You'll find the other bands keep rotating. One day a member will play with one group, the next day with anot-her and so on. Either we all do it or we don't do it.

“We're close friends as well as being in the band. I've played with a lot of bands and we've never had that sort of a connection. We hang around together, we party together; even on holidays, we play and try to travel together. It's a very good brotherhood.” The group's repertoire includes an eclectic mix of genres – ballroom waltzes, tango, foxtrot, blues, rock 'n' roll, country, salsa, reggae and pop. “We play house gigs, corporate parties, launches, weddings and anything in between. That's why it's such a wide variety of music,” said Croyden.

With four to six gigs every month, as well as work commitments, the four get little time for practice in their studio, storeroom and office – all rolled in one – villa in Ruwi. “Now is our main time for practice – during Ramadan – because there are no gigs on. Once the season starts, it's very difficult. We just don't have the time with gigs and our day jobs,” Sabby said.

The band’s future plans include at least one more Christmas album. “These seem to be popular. We normally do covers, changing things around and doing it in our own style. We've been looking for mostly Caribbean, soca carols with a reggae feel. Cliffy does a lot of compositions as well, so we're hoping to have another of our own albums one day with our own songs. You need to have a lot of time for that. It doesn't happen overnight,” the lead guitarist said.

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