A nightingale flies back

Updated: Feb 26, 2020, 13:25 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Make time for a concert where legendary Konkani singer Lorna Cordeiro, known as the Nightingale of Goa, returns to perform in Mumbai

Lorna Cordeiro during an earlier concert in Mumbai
Lorna Cordeiro during an earlier concert in Mumbai

What does a singer do when her mentor — the person who hand-held her and made her a star, who had such a hold over her that he forced her into a contract that barred her from singing with anyone else for 20 whole years — suddenly abandons her, packs his bags, and flies off to Dubai? Feel a sense of betrayal that's tinged with helpless anger, you'd suppose. "But I didn't feel any of that," says Lorna Cordeiro, the 'Nightingale of Goa', when we ask her about the time Chris Perry, her musical benefactor, left abruptly for the Middle East in the 1970s, leaving her hands tied with the repressive contract he had made her sign. "I mean, even if I did feel anger, I definitely wasn't going to show it," Cordeiro confesses after a second's thought.

Cordeiro on the cover of an EP she had recorded with Mohammad Rafi in 1970

So for close to two decades after that, she led a largely anonymous life in Mumbai doing nine-to-five jobs to sustain herself, such as that of a dentist's compounder. Imagine what this phase must have been like for her. For much of the '70s, Cordeiro had been the shining star of the Goan music circuit, with people eating out of her hands as she belted out one Konkani hit after another. Perry was her guiding light. He personally oversaw her rise from being a naturally talented, but unpolished singer to a professional who traversed different cities singing in the hottest jazz clubs of the time. "We sang at Firpos Hotel in Calcutta and moved to Gaylords in Delhi for a year after our extended contract ran out. We then shifted to Mumbai and performed at the Taj, Astoria Hotel and Blue Nile," Cordeiro says of the heady days when her partnership with Perry was the talk of the town. But then, he left without warning and she was left in the lurch. Cordeiro tells us, "I was basically a singer and never prepared for a nine-to-five job. So yes, I did feel a sense of frustration, and I stopped singing altogether as a result. I didn't even hum tunes to myself."

Lorna Cordeiro

Enter Ronnie Monserrate. He was a musician who had played in Perry's band for a while, and knew Cordeiro's mother. Monserrate located her in her Dhobi Talao flat in 1995. Cordeiro was worse for wear over the years. But the spark in her voice hadn't died out. So he pleaded with her to make a comeback. "I was dead against the idea in the beginning. I had this fear in me, because I hadn't as much as hummed songs in all that time. But he knew the horse he was backing, and my mother encouraged him to keep coaxing me. So ultimately I gave in since, frankly, I was disgusted with his perseverance," Cordeiro tells us about the catalyst behind the second phase of her career.

It's a phase that's seen her fly solo across the world, now that she isn't under Perry's wings anymore (he died in 2002 after a futile attempt at sabotaging her comeback). Apart from concerts in Indian cities, she has performed to packed houses in the Middle East, the UK, US and Canada. There is in fact an online video of her gig at the UK Goan Festival last year where the love that people still have for her is as clear as the sunny London day that the event was held on. Cordeiro enters the field where the festival was taking place in an open, convertible Mercedes to a raucous reception, literally mobbed by the crowd. That's also the sort of response she can expect at a charity concert she will play in Mumbai tomorrow, organised by the Goan Outreach Association.

The 75-year-old confirms, "Life is being really good to me right now and what I am doing with my band constitutes the best years I have had. Actually, now that I am singing again, there is no looking back even if I want to." So, it's a case of all's well that ends well for a woman whose life has twisted and turned like a Formula One car.

But she goes silent when we ask her what sort of legacy she wants to leave behind. After a pregnant pause, Cordeiro ultimately says, "I want to be remembered as a performer and nothing else." It's a wish that's testament to her inherent desire of being a life-long artiste, and not a day-job person. The dark period in which she was consigned to anonymity, as you might have imagined, must have been a terrible time. So, here's a tip of the hat to Monseratte, the man who helped the nightingale find the voice she had lost.

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