I first discovered Hum Dono, the seminal 1969 album by Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva Quartet, on a rainy October walk in London. I had just finished graduate school, and on a whim moved to the city to research the great Goan artist Francis Newton Souza, who hailed from the same village as my family, and produced some of his greatest paintings while living in Hampstead. As I strolled through the chilly gloom, listening through the catalogue of the renowned Jamaican-British jazz composer Joe Harriott, a collaboration with a musician named Amancio D’Silva caught my eye – any Goan Catholic, after all, can discern a kindred last name from a mile away. Knowing nothing about this illustrious jazz guitarist, I pressed play.
The album opens with Stephano’s Dance, a track named for Amancio’s son, whose illness in infancy first brought the guitarist to London. The bass line thrums, aching with anticipation, as Harriott’s saxophone converses with Ian Carr on the flugelhorn in a dialogue that feels at once comfortable and familiar. It is followed by Spring Low, Sweet Harriott, a meandering, punchy interlude between the drums and sax, bursting with energy. The album’s title track, anchored by an infectiously danceable tabla beat, teases in a deliciously circuitous manner, punctured by Amancio’s soulful guitar riffs.
But buried in the middle of the album, its second-least streamed track, is an incomparable treasure: Ballad for Goa. The ballad begins with a restrained series of guitar trills in A major. Amancio’s expert fingerwork is complemented by Bryan Spring’s understated drumming, which whispers like a first fall of morning rain. As Norma Winstone melancholically ahhs, Amancio’s guitar ebbs, a delirious miasma interrupted only by the velvety alto tones of Joe Harriott on sax. These bursts infuse an echo of optimism to the otherwise haunting ode, a hollow but welcome respite. Amancio frequently breaks out into solos which amble with an almost imperceptible precision, creating a doleful mood interspersed with restrained desire.
Ballad for Goa goes on for seven minutes like this: Winstone’s lugubrious vocals like a mother in lamentation, Amancio strumming in a slow and mercurial manner, as though on a road to nowhere. The track is at once anxious and nostalgic, an anthem of universal longing rooted by name in the most specific of localities. I pressed repeat again and again.
This initial encounter began a love affair with what I believe to be one of the most important albums of the 20th century. Hum Dono was born of a chance encounter between Amancio and Joe Harriott, through the record producer Denis Preston, a giant of the British jazz industry best known for producing the “fusion” music cropping up around London. Though replete with postcolonial orientalism, “fusion” appeared to be the future, a true homage to the cosmopolitan culture created in Britain at the twilight of empire. By the late 1960s, after all, the vast majority of British colonies had gained independence, and the metropolis appeared to be finally crawling out of its postwar disarray. Hopes abounded in the promise of a truly multicultural London, as an influx of musicians from the Caribbean were shaping Britain’s jazz scene, increasingly dominated by the free jazz model Harriott pioneered.
When Amancio arrived on the scene, he worked at the Prospect of Whitby pub, a historic public house on the Eastern bank of the Thames, scrubbing toilets in the mornings to play his guitar in the evenings. Through this gig he grew acquainted with Denis Preston and began collaborating with eminent musicians including the likes of Don Rendell, Trevor Tomkins, and those who joined him on Hum Dono: Ian Carr, Dave Green, and Norma Winstone and Joe Harriott. Their collaborations were optimised by the esteemed recording engineer Adrian Kerridge.
Amancio wrote most of the compositions on Hum Dono, and the album captures the lively and optimistic spirit of the era, which was characterised by fruitful collaborations all but inevitable in a cosmopolitan milieu of like-minded artists and intellectuals. At the same time, the album is an ode to thwarted potential: it maintains a wistfulness which elicits the journeys of creatives who migrated to London in search of better resources, training, and recognition than they might have been afforded in their homelands, but upon arrival, were met with a lack of structural support, at-times hostile publics, and mixed success. Ballad for Goa evokes this spirit of opportunity thwarted, and listening in the 21st century, it is no more apparent than ever that the composition is an ode to everything that great Goan art once promised to be.
Amancio was born in 1936 to an English and Konkani-speaking Bombay Goan family which, like many others, prioritised education and musical literacy despite scarce resources. Though Amancio was somewhat unhappy during his years as a student at Bombay’s Salesian Don Bosco school, when his family moved back to Goa for a few years, he thrived. Amancio was rejuvenated in Goa: he relished spending time on the water and by the beach, was nourished by his motherland’s verdant greenery. Those years in Goa catalysed Amancio’s creative formation, and provided him with a lexicon of imagery and sounds that would stay with him throughout his life.
Upon returning to Bombay, Amancio longed to learn the guitar, and his exposure to Bombay’s lively jazz scene further guided his musical inclinations. The Bombay jazz scene was, to be sure, heavily shaped by Goan musicians, as Naresh Fernandes has expertly documented in Taj Mahal Foxtrot, and through interactions with Black American musicians, reflected the cosmopolitanism embodied by the Goan spirit.
But this was hardly new to the jazz era – rather, a spirit of cosmopolitan cultural exchange encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be Goan. After all, Goa is almost indisputably one of the most important sites of the East-West confluence in history. Its shipping port status made it a haven for intercultural exchange, technological developments, and new ideas from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was home to the first Gutenberg-type printing press in Asia, along with the continent’s first public library and medical college. The revolutionary spirit and sense of innovation it possessed made Goa an aperture for the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Goans have long been described as “cultural brokers”, and though often sidelined to support an alternate narrative to support nationalist impulses, myriads of Goans in the arts are responsible for many of the most cutting-edge developments in “Indian culture” of the twentieth century.
Amancio would be no exception. During his teenage years, he taught himself to play jazz, and began playing both in house bands and alone in gigs throughout Bombay, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Simla, sometimes performing alongside the illustrious Nelly and her Dance Band, or with Connie D’Souza and Anaclet Noronha on drums and piano respectively. While playing at a restaurant in Simla, Amancio met Joyce, an Irish teacher at a convent school to whom he would the next year become bethrothed at the Catholic Church in Jaipur.
At the time, Amancio was completing a residency at the Rambagh Palace Hotel, which Maharani Gayatri Devi owned. So impressed was she by Amancio’s skill and mastery that she bought him his first Gibson guitar. Following this placement, Joyce and Amancio moved to Bombay, where Amancio played for the Bollywood film industry; that November, their daughter Maria was born. Work then brought the family to New Delhi, and Amancio’s son Stephano was born in 1966. When Stephano fell ill, Amancio sold his beloved Gibson to make the plane fare to bring the family to the West, and though Ireland was the planned destination, Stephano’s health suffered so much on the journey that they stayed in London, initially their stopover. Stephano ultimately recovered before Amancio and Joyce’s third and final child, Francesca, was born in 1968.
On a warm summer evening, I walk to the Prospect of Whitby, which still stands in the rapidly gentrifying East London borough of Tower Hamlets. The brick facade and cobbled streets at its exterior betray its age, and the dimly-lit interior has the gilded air of antique preservation: walls dotted with the wrinkling photographs of famed patrons – JMW Turner, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys – dating back to the 16th century. As tinny pop music now blares through speakers, I try to imagine Amancio in this old haunt, perhaps perched on a corner stool by the taps which now pour pints of lukewarm lagers and commercial IPAs. Or maybe he sat late into the evening by the big wood-panelled Thameside windows, overlooking the gray and rocky river, contemplating his fate in the rapidly-changing metropole, or dreaming of another place.
Those early years were doubtlessly challenging, marked by long workdays for little financial reward. Amancio’s early years in London might have borne some resemblance to the midnight wanderings of FN Souza, who arrived in the city nearly two decades earlier and struggled for several years before attaining any commercial success: “There are times when I wander in the streets late at night or in the early hours of the morning. I avoid being seen at such times because I get beside myself like a lunatic searching for Light, a glimpse, a fleeting Revelation, a moment of Inspiration, Light, Light...in vain, in vain…”
Scrappy gigs at the Prospect and elsewhere allowed for Amancio’s introduction to Preston, and through the producer, Amancio’s first collaboration was through supporting guitar on Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren’s Afro-Jazz. A standout track on the album, Africa Speaks, India Answers, is pared down to Warren’s freeform drumming and Amancio’s improvisational trills and fluid scales. In the disorientingly experimental exchange between drummer and guitarist, the virtuosity of both is on full display. Following this initial album came Integration...introducing Amancio D’Silva, lauded for its embodiment of high fusion: a blend of motifs popularized through classical guitar, jazz, and raga forms. This served as Amancio’s coming-out, his formal introduction to the jazz world, and though he was met by critical acclaim, it was limited, and he remained largely underappreciated.
The long 20th century saw a significant amount of blending Indian classical music with jazz improvisations. Long before artists like Alice Coltrane and Ravi Shankar gained recognition in mainstream audiences, Goans on the Bombay circuit like the trumpeter Antonio Xavier Vaz, better known as “Chic Chocolate”, pianist Edward “Dizzy Sal” Saldanha, and composer Anthony Gonsalves were responsible for jazz fusion developed alongside African-American artists working in India. Their efforts were received in contexts ranging from Bollywood to Bombay’s esteemed Taj Mahal Hotel.
Meanwhile on the British scene, artists like Harriott and his collaboration with the Indian composer John Mayer through “Indo-Jazz Fusions” were all the rage of the 1960s and 1970s, exemplar of the musical and political alliances forged between Black and brown creatives in London during the era. Goan artists and musicians working in London, like Amancio, were part of this narrative, too. Yet, the financial and racial pressures placed on artists by life in the city raised myriad restrictions. While a few breakthrough figures were able to gain commercial success, majorities of immigrants were forced to reckon with a secondary status: appreciated for their novelty as ‘other’ but sidelined after the initial novelty wore off, offered scarce state support, and forced to reckon with the legacies of racism thinly veiled by a fascination with exoticism or “fusion”.
What is it about Ballad for Goa that draws me in? When I listen to its aching melody, why does my heart break? The composition arouses emotions in me that are hard to place, a certain sadness that, despite its implausibility, feels deeply personal. And of all six tracks on Hum Dono, each self-sustained works of musical genius, I kept finding myself returning to it. It possesses a particular ennui that feels at once familiar, pleasurable, and devastating.
I like to think it has something to do with the particular essence it conjures, familiar to any Goan: saudade, that bittersweet melancholy embedded in Goan DNA. The Portuguese essayist Eduardo Lourenço once described the temperament as memory itself, an “awareness of the essential temporality of the being who has and cannot have on himself a higher contemplation than that of himself as a past in feverish quest for the future.” Goans exist, after all, in a state of permanent nostalgia given the changing status of our homeland. Saudade in the modern Goan context is often interpreted as a longing for susegad, that ineluctable Goan way of life that is relaxed, in perfect harmony with the cadences of the natural environment, which prioritises the dignity and interior life of the individual. Susegad is the antithesis to capitalism: it rejects notions of efficiency and expendability, takes a perfect contentment with the rhythms of life. It evinces a way of being that is fundamentally impossible given the pressures of modern life, and the tragic fate of Goa in contemporary India.
As Amancio strums in a forlorn manner, I’m reminded of the Portuguese fado style of music, often taken to be the sound of saudade. Fado contains the same melancholic longing that has been described as a window into the Portuguese soul. The genre has been mastered by Goan musicians such as Sonia Shirsat, yet it is seen as belonging to an earlier generation (Amancio, by contrast, was of his moment, the ultimate cosmopolitan artist). As in Ballad for Goa, fado is possessive of two simultaneous, yet seemingly contradictory essences: despair and hope. As Winstone hums, her vocals are sporadically interrupted by buoyant bursts of alto sax, all tied together by the deft malleability of the jazz guitar. This oscillation between tired resignation and an unshakeable conviction that change is just around the corner is best suited to jazz, a genre born of historic racial struggle; while downtrodden, it signals a new tomorrow.
Saudade in the diaspora adopts a different dimension. The state of perpetual exile that encompasses the Goan spirit, as recorded by the Jesuit priest CF Saldanha, SJ, who waxed eloquent about his homeland in 1957, four years before India annexed it, described Goans as “exiles from a Common Country, which has a distinct culture and civilisation of its own, and therefore their exclusivism is more defensive than offensive. They want to preserve something which they deem too precious to be lost: The Love of Goa and the Goan Way of Life, which has developed over the last 400 years and more”.
Yet, by the promise of belonging to the West, an identity that the Lusotropical ideal bestowed upon Goans who travelled on Portuguese passports and who lay claim to the same Indo-European “fusion” identity that brought novelty, destiny, and purpose, proved hollow upon arrival in the West. Amancio would have experienced this firsthand, as financial struggles and lack of government investment in the arts jeopardised his career as a performer and later, teacher.
This disjuncture between expectation and experience has oft been recorded in music. It is reminiscent of the essence of what writer and critic Mark Fisher described as “hauntology”: the “slow cancellation of the future,” accompanied by “a deflation of expectations.” Hauntology is when the ghosts of the past, dreams that have been unrealised, continue to haunt the future. It is embodied in cultural production. Artists who are labelled hauntological, wrote Fisher, “were suffused with an overwhelming melancholy”, preoccupied with technology’s materialisation of memory. And what might have haunted Amancio? The ghosts of exile, a latent, omnipresent Catholicism, the promise of critical success in the West, and those childhood years in Goa which shaped him so fundamentally.
Hauntology is when the “present moment is marked by its extraordinary accommodation towards the past.” It accounts for the ghosts of fado in Ballad for Goa, and suggests why someone like Amancio, whose genre of jazz is inherently revolutionary and forward-thinking, embodies an essence of nostalgia, a wistfulness captured by the particular mood Amancio constantly sought to evoke through his guitar. Michael Costa Correa, a friend of Amancio’s, once observed that when Amancio taught music, he focused not on rote scales or technical arpeggios, but emphasised the importance of creating a mood.
“Everything that exists is possible only on the basis of a whole series of absences, which precede and surround it,” wrote Fisher, “allowing it to possess such consistency and intelligibility that it does.” Absences in Ballad for Goa come in the spaces between optimism and melancholy: the expectation of resolve where but unsettled anxiety is left in place. The popularity of this style has to do with, as Fisher wrote, when a listener “is able to gratify a deeper and more properly nostalgic desire to return to that older period and to live its strange old aesthetic artefacts through once again”. But it would be lost on the listener who did not ever possess a knowledge of that older period and its enchantments in the first place, or a listener whose ear was devoid of nuance, tuned only to the expectation of oriental novelty, and nothing more.
After the success of Hum Dono, Amancio led on three more albums: Reflections...the Romantic Guitar of Amancio D’Silva, Dream Sequence, and Konkan Dance, the last completed in 1974. As the novelty of Indo jazz started to wane, Amancio never really attaining widespread commercial success, he picked up other jobs, like developing pick-ups for electric guitars and teaching. Amancio, Joyce, and their children moved to Essex in 1974, and Amancio commuted into London to teach guitar at the Jenako Arts Multicultural Centre. While his day job served the crucial purpose of providing for his family, after putting his children to bed at night, Amancio would take the night tube into town alone to play guitar at dinner clubs around the city.
Though Amancio performed and assisted on several compilations, he did not lead on any new records. After all, the popularity of jazz and its support from both institutions and eager audiences reached its pinnacle in the late 1960s. When the Hackney Education Authority later withdrew funding for Jenako, Amancio began teaching guitar at the Brockwood Park School, founded by Jiddu Krishnamurthi, whom Amancio was greatly inspired by. In 1985, the D’Silvas moved to Hampshire. This portion of Amancio’s life was marked by a profound care for the environment and a turn to veganism, spurred by his wife Joyce, who began working for Compassion in World Farming.
But despite finding a new home in the West, where Amancio remained until he passed away in 1996, Goa never left Amancio. The Goa longed for in Ballad for Goa is the Goa of a past moment, suspended in a past moment and trapped against an impossible future. The essence of being Goan is fundamentally hauntological. Amancio has been compared to Souza in his synthesis of East and West, both styles informing each other in mutually-constitutive ways that embody a Goan creative sensibility. And my newfound appreciation for Amancio while studying Souza serves as a reminder of the great privilege of Goan heritage: to be Goan is to be at once tied to a particular place and to bear claim to a heritage that is universal, worldly, and fundamentally cosmopolitan.
Living as a Goan in the West in 2021 is not the same as the mid-century Amancios and Souzas. Yet, there is something achingly familiar about the yearning, a forward-looking optimism at attaining cultural recognition imbued with unrealised ghosts of the past. As Goa undergoes a second wave of colonialism, as its glistening beaches are privatised and made inaccessible by foreign business magnates, as its natural wildlife reserves are desecrated for development projects, I mourn the loss of my ancestral motherland.
The destruction of Goa’s natural environment is compounded by willful attempts at erasing its cultural heritage: the contributions of Goan culture and developments from the Western Konkan coast are glossed over in favour of hegemonic majoritarian discourse, and references to the centuries of exchange facilitated through the complicated legacy of Portuguese imperialism are reduced in a wildly dehumanising way to invocations of colonial nostalgia.
Hum Dono was reissued in 2015, with a cover that has semi-translucent blue, orange, and brown organic forms, hearts and plants overlapping in a psychedelic melee. Its lush forms recall the tropical vegetation that nourished Amancio in his youth, yet the visual cliches betray the Goa of the then-future: a site exploited for its natural riches and as a subcontinent’s consumerist party paradise. Ballad for Goa might not be the sound most readily associated with the state today; in the west, mention of Goa evokes the dizzying trance music that followed the hippie counterculture of the late 20th century, when pleasure-seekers flocked to Konkan beaches in search of transcendence.
Yet, in the face of what Goa was and what it is becoming, the oft-overlooked legacy of Amancio D’Silva evinces a lost moment in time. Of course, to articulate the past does not necessarily mean “to recognise it ‘the way it really was’”, once wrote Walter Benjamin. Rather, it is to “seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger,” a moment at which both tradition and its expropriation are under threat. I am reminded that Ballad for Goa ultimately ends on a contemplative note, traces of optimism interspersed through the melancholy. It is certainly an elegy, but for an era that is not entirely lost, and could even be recovered. Not exactly as it was, but as it might have been.
Nicole-Ann Lobo is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University where she researches on the intersections of art, religion, and political change in 20th-century India and Latin America.
This article was first published in Parmal, an annual publication from the Goa Heritage Action Group.