Most Indians have listened to at least one Remo Fernandes composition at some point in their lives. This should give a perspective of the pop singer, composer and musician’s influence across India.
He sung the famous ‘Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum’ from the 1995 movie ‘Bombay’, better known as ‘Humma Humma’, which finds pride of place in playlists to this day. So do his songs for the films ‘Jalwa’ (1987), Shyam Benegal’s ‘Trikal’ (1988) and ‘Daud’ (1997).
Equally impressive are his compositions ranging from ‘Flute Song’ — which served as an interlude for radio stations in India — and ‘O Mere Munni’, his first Hindi album that turned out to be a raging hit. But all of this wouldn’t have happened without support from his father, the veteran musician tells Gulf News in an exclusive interview.
“When I showed inclination towards music when I was a kid, he was extremely supportive and encouraged me like crazy,” Remo said over a Zoom call.
“When I was around five or six years old, he encouraged me to sing at concerts, clubs,” he added.
Ahead of the 70-year-old pop star’s performance in Dubai with his band, Microwave Papadums, in Dubai’s Hard Rock Cafe on June 25, this versatile musician opens up on his early life, working with Oscar winner AR Rahman, and why commercial hits turn him off. Responses have been edited for clarity.
Tell us about your early days and your biggest influences?
I grew up in Goa in the 1960s when it was a Portuguese colony … I remember it as a little paradise and there was a lot of music around me when I was growing up. In my house and my cousin’s houses, in my friend’s houses, whenever there was a party, whenever there was a birthday, people would play instruments. There was no DJ to entertain everybody. People entertained themselves and almost every household had a musical instrument.
I always had this inclination towards music, which came from my father because he was artistically inclined, but he went to work because he wasn’t allowed to pursue music by his father, who was a doctor. My grandfather thought that musicians didn’t have any bright future — and at the time, he was right.
My father would go on the quiet and teach himself music. When I kept on playing, he actually formed a group of children who also played instruments. And when I was around 13 or 14, I formed my own beat group. At that time, it was called a beat group, not a rock group.
This was also the time of The Beatles, they had just hit the scene and influenced us all. So we had electric guitars and drums and that’s when I felt like writing my first song. And since then, I’ve been composing my own originals.
What should we know about your musical career before you found fame?
I spent two and a half years in Europe actually travelling around eight countries in Europe and North Africa. And when I returned to India, I approached record companies and they all said no, because I was writing songs in English and they said it will not work in India. They wanted the disco genre, which was a new big thing in India at that time. But that’s not my scene as I was writing my own songs about India in English.
Around 1981, I started my own little recording studio in the house. I pooled in my savings, bought my instruments and I recorded my first album myself. I duplicated it myself, I made around 1,000 copies of cassettes (remember there were no CDs at the time) and distributed them myself to record shops. The album became a hit and my career took off from there.
Until the 80s, your compositions were mostly in English, but since then you have had many collaborations in Bollywood. What influenced this change?
I never stopped [composing] English songs, those are my first and last love. But in India, the situation is such that you can release 100 songs in English or westernised music, and only a small minority would know about it, you release one in Hindi, the whole country knows you. So, I’ve done just done a handful of Bollywood songs. Luckily for me, [they were hits].
Your songs from the Naseeruddin Shah-starrer ‘Jalwa’ (1987) and AR Rahman’s ‘Humma Humma’ are your biggest hits. How did the collaboration happen?
With ‘Jalwa’, I decided to do an up-tempo [theme] song. I just sang one line in the song, which keeps repeating. I was paid Rs10,000 (Dh447.37) for a five-minute track. The producers listened to it and then came back and said they’ll pay me Rs11,000 (Dh492.11) but they wanted a 15-minute song, which I did. But that amount paid off multifold in terms of concerts and shows and earnings from other contracts. I got to meet AR Rahman backstage during an event in Delhi [in the 1990s], who said he was a fan of mine and would perform my songs while in college. That flattered me. He later convinced me to do that song in ‘Bombay’, which I agreed to. And [on the day of the recording] just to open up my throat early in the morning, I started to improvise a little bit, you know, on that beat, as he was playing the music in the background. And I just sang something, or whatever came to mind. Later on, when I heard the recording six months later, I heard that he had kept some of those improvisations. I was very pleasantly surprised. That’s how ‘Humma Humma’ came into my life and into my consciousness ... Yes, it was another of the big hits that I’m very thankful to Bollywood for.
What are your thoughts on the current pop and rock music scene in India?
Today, a lot of young musicians are trying to make Hindi versions of Western songs or Western styles. I don’t mean they’re copying the songs, but they’re copying the style. If there’s an Ed Sheeran out there, for example, they will try to do a Hindi version of a very similar kind of style of song. Or if there’s a heavy rock band out there — whether it’s Metallica or Black Sabbath, or whatever — they’ll do a Hindi version of that. I think it’s very important that we have our own Indian sound, or at least our own sound, you know, which is different. Totally different from the Western rock bands. If you remember ‘Junoon’ [the Pakistani band] they were also playing rock, but they had a sound that was unique. Lucky Ali is also unique.
What’s your advice to aspiring musicians?
My advice would be to be yourself, trying to find your own true voice. You can start off by copying your heroes, the ones you admire most. That’s the best school. I copied ‘The Beatles’ and ‘The Shadows’ because they were my heroes at that time. You can … only take that as a school until you find your own sound, your own voice, your own style. And write songs about what comes from your heart … what really touches you … don’t just write songs because that’s what the public wants. Write songs about the realities around you.
What kind of music do you listen to in your downtime?
Nowadays with digital radio stations, I listen to all kinds of music ... from classical to world music. But I avoid listening to the latest commercial hit songs. I don’t find them attractive or interesting. I grew up at a time when music was very meaningful. At that time, the artists had their hearts and minds behind their compositions.
Did You Know?
Remo is a frequent visitor to Dubai and has performed in the city several times. His last show in Dubai was about three years ago.
When: June 25, 7pm
Where: Hard Rock Café-Festival City
Tickets: Start from Dh189, and are available on www.ticketmagic.me