A MUSICAL LEGEND
Paying Tribute to a Music Genius on his Birth Centenary
by Dr Padmanabh K. Joshi
If you listen to a film song composed by maestros Shanker-Jaikishan, O. P. Nayyar or Salil Chowdhury, you also hear a tune being played along with the song in the background. This parallel tune is created with violin, cello, piano, Spanish guitar or an organ. This “parallel tune for a song” technique, known as a Counter-Melody, was introduced in SJ music a musician – a violinist from Goa – Mr. Sebastian D’Souza. Sebastian D’Souza was a pioneer in creating counter-melody in film songs. This technique became popular and from 1950 onwards Sebastian became a well-known and most wanted Music Arranger of many music directors of Hindi Film industry.
Sebastian was born on 29 January 1906 in Reis-Megos, Goa. He learnt to play the violin and piano in a local church school. While learning these instruments, he also learnt to write music notation. It was during this time that he listened to the famous symphonies of well-known composers of the western world, namely, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Haydon and Richard Wagner. Deeply interested in violin and piano, Sebastian continued his learning and went place to place like Allahabad, Mussorie and Delhi. At Delhi, in Hotel Astoria, he started his own band and people appreciated it. In 1942, he went to Lahore, and in Hotel Stiffels, he started his own band. This continued until 1947. After partition, he went to Bombay and started his career as a violinist in the film industry. He played for well-known music directors like Anil Biswas, Naushad, Vinod, Ghulam Haider, Husnalal-Bhagatram, S. D. Burman, Sajjad Hussain and Shanker-Jaikishan.
He started his career as a Music Arranger in 1948-49 with O. P. Nayyar when Nayyar recorded his first song “Preetam aan milo.....” sung by C. H. Atma and written by Mrs. Saroj Mohini Nayyar (O. P. Nayyar’s wife) . After three years, Nayyar signed his first film, Dalsukh Pancholi’s “Aasman”, as an independent music director. At that time he called Sebastian to work as his Arranger. Sebastian, thus, started his career as an arranger with O. P. Nayyar in 1952 which he continued till 1973. The last film for which he worked with O. P. Nayyar was ‘Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye’. Incidentally this was also the last film of singer Asha Bhosale with Nayyar. In 1952, Sebastian’s friend Sunny Castellino, who worked as an arranger for Shanker-Jaikishan, introduced Sebastian to the duo. So Sebastian started as Shanker-Jaikishan’s arranger from 1952 with Amiya Chakravarty’s Daag, and continued until 1975. Film Sanyasi was Sebastian’s last film with them. In film Daag as an arranger, Sebastian’s most successful innovative work was the creation of a memorable counter-melody for a song sung by both Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshker –‘Ai mere dil kahin aur chal.....’ According to Sebastian, in this song he used the accordion for creating counter-melody along with violin and mandolin. And the result was excellent. Sebastian used accordion for interlude music in a number of songs but its use as the main instrument for counter-melody was rare.
Using cellos and piano to support his counter-melodies of violin obbligato, he arranged a number of memorable songs. A few examples: Kya huva O muze kya huva (Jis Deshmen Ganga Bahti hai), Raat ke hum safar (An Evening in Paris), Aaja re aa jara aa (Love in Tokyo), Soja re soja & Bol re Kath Putli (Kathputli), Aaj kal men dhal gai (Beti Bete), Aaja aai bahar & Janevale Jara (Raj Kumar). These are a few examples of the songs in which one can experience the beauty of counter-melodies that Sebastian created with a unique combination of violins and cellos. Another of his specialties was using chorus with violin, cello & piano combinations. A few examples: Bol re Kath Putli (Kathputli), Aa ab Laut Chale (Jis Deshmen Ganga Bahti Hai), Dil ke Jharukhemen (Brahmachari) and the musical fountain sequence in film Around the World etc.
While working with Shanker-Jaikishan, the first challenge that he faced was that both Shanker and Jaikishan preferred Indian Classical Raag based tunes. And to create counter-melodies, interlude music as well as background music, he had to learn the basics of Indian classical music during his busiest recording schedules. Sebastian found this very interesting and it helped him very much during his career as an arranger. If you listen to songs of SJ like Koi Matvala aaya...(Love in Tokyo), all the songs of film Basant Bahar, all the songs from film Amrapali and many classical raag based songs in which he created counter-melodies and interlude music, his mastery over both classical music as well as western music is well experienced. Combination of sitar & violin, cellos almost became an expertise of Sebastian’s counter-melody and interlude music. The last film that Sebastian worked on for Shanker-Jaikishan was Sanyasi, it was a challenge to Sebastian as all the songs as well as the background music of the film was based on Raag Bhairavi. And he succeeded remarkably. It was a record that an Arranger like Sebastian worked continuously for Shanker-Jaikishan for 23 years without break. Sebastian enjoyed very much working with SJ as he recalled it was a great teamwork – Shanker, Jaikishan, Shailendra, Hasrat, Sebastian & Dattaram. He remembered that as Shanker was a great song composer, Jaikishan was a rare background music composer. Sebastian, along with Jaikishan, Dattaram and Raj Kapoor completed the background music of Mera Naam Joker in 5 days......
Shanker-Jaikishan being lovers of Indian Classical Music, composed a LP record titled Raga Jazz Style in which they presented 11 Raga in Jazz style. Sebastian arranged the music and wrote the notations.
Sebastian also worked for great music directors like Salil Chowdhury, Vasant Desai, S. D. Burman, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Dattaram and N. Datta.
Sebastian expressed his gratitude to well-known music maestros like Robert Correa, Mike Machado - the Pianists, Albuquerque, Verga, Simplicio D’Souza, John Gonsalves - the Cellists, V. Balsara, Goody Seervai – the Accordionists, Duorado, Narvekar, Karnard – the solo Violinists and David – the Mandolin player.
He also recalled few music arrangers of his time like Johny Gomes, Castellino, Chic Chocolate, Ram Singh, Rizbert and Franky. I asked Sebastian, how individual music directors could maintain their originality as well as identity even when he worked for them as their Arranger? He answered that he never interfered with their original tune.
Sebastian’s remarkable contribution was his ability to combine Western orchestra with the Indian. His are the songs which we remember even today due to the richness of his musical arrangements and the variations in his melodies.
Sebastian was a complete musician. His music lovers will remember his music for years to come.