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The music never stops in Goa

It is a great time for bands in Goa as the live music scene in the state is perhaps seeing its greatest revival, since its most glorious days

Over the years, Goa has undergone tremendous change. What has remained unchanged, however, is its synonymy with being ‘the’ place to be for fun, frolic, good food and great music. Goa has always taken pride in being the country’s most popular destination to usher in the new year and finds itself packed to the brim during the peak season months, i.e. from November to February, tapering off in April. The monsoon, however, is a different story altogether, as Goa adopts its most naturally beautiful form and the rain-gods paint the state in varied hues of green and wash the entire place clean. Quite literally even, as the streets that are otherwise packed with people, find themselves deserted as the state slips into its ‘off-season’ mode. Or, so was the case until about 4 years ago. Not anymore!

One of the most significant alterations to have shaped Goa is the way the hospitality sector has dealt with the monsoons. For the past few years, Goa has been welcoming tourists throughout the year and has gradually earned the repute of being a 365-day tourist destination. This change has had a direct effect on one of the stakeholder segments of this industry – the live bands that entertain the audiences in restaurants, clubs, pubs and other business establishments, and they don’t mind it one bit, for the effect has been extremely positive.

In 2009, Lester Rodrigues, a local lad and guitarist, founded a band and named it after his house number that the band started to, and still continues to, practice in – A26. Rodrigues now manages the band (apart from being its lead singer) which has grown to become one of the finest, not only in Goa but the country too. Although the band relies heavily on corporate events and weddings, A26 has now given in to the temptation of playing at a restaurant and seems to be enjoying juggling this added gig with their usual corporate shows in Goa and across India.

Rodrigues says, “During the monsoons, tourists are flocking to Goa every weekend; especially on the occasional long weekend. It does tend to slow down a little bit, in the first few days of the week. But this also happens during the peak season. The monsoons can no longer be called off-season. I feel that the season has spread itself across the year. The venue that we play at – Cohiba Bar and Kitchen, is always packed on a Wednesday, with about 60 – 70% of the clientele being tourists.”

At a time when most restaurants slip into hibernation during the monsoons, Cohiba dared to be an exception to the rule and threw its doors open in September 2014. It hasn’t shut ever since, and runs to a packed house on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; riding on the massive popularity of its live music acts. Gautam Bakhale, Partner, Cohiba says, “The monsoon months are increasingly gaining popularity among holiday makers, which augurs well for Goa. Everyone who lives here knows that this is the best time of the year to be in Goa, and tourists are slowly realising it too. This has had a positive impact on local businesses.”

Apart from the heavy influx of tourists, restaurant owners are motivated by the push from sponsors who are taking keen interest in live music. Contrary to the scene until a few years ago, where most of the restaurants would shut for the off-season and spring back to life only in November, restaurants, clubs and pubs are staying open throughout the monsoons. This has spoilt the audience for choice, as there are a lot of options to pick from. There is a live music act happening every day of the week in some property or the other, in Goa.

Bakhale’s and Rodrigues’ statements should not come as a surprise, as ‘the shift’ has been a steady process. Musicians in the state and industry experts say that the change started making itself visible about four years ago and has been gradual since then. Chrystal Farrell, a well known Goan vocalist, says, “Four years ago, at this time of the year, I would have been on a holiday. I cannot afford to do that now. Then, the slump used to start in the month of May and used to go on till October. Contrary to those times, the contracts just continue now.” After starting her singing career over 18 years ago, Chrystal founded her own jazz and funk band, Chrysalis about a year ago. The band has garnered a lot of popularity nationally and internationally and is eyeing at performing a New Year’s Eve gig in Kenya later this year.

Goa being a hot destination for corporate companies in the off-season, due to reduced rates on hotels and travel, has opened up the market for bands in the off-season. All corporate companies need entertainment in the evenings, after they have completed their formal functions during the day. This is where Goan bands and DJs stand to gain. Restaurants that now choose to remain open during the monsoons due to the increased traffic of tourists, book entertainers right through the off season. This is a major change from what used to happen a few years ago.

The seasoned bands from across the state, apart from enjoying their share of ‘busy-ness’, have inspired the younger lot of musicians in Goa to be a part of the action. Call it a ripple effect, but a good number of younger bands are being formed, and are finding themselves busy too. ‘The RuNKs’, formed earlier this year, define themselves as a band that dabbles in Rock, Pop, Ballad, Reggae, Funk and Soul and have earned a regular gig on Wednesdays at a popular restaurant in Verna in South Goa.

Interestingly, the overall change in the live music scene in Goa has had a positive effect on not only the number of shows that the bands across the state get, but has also ironed out a few other issues that had been affecting them for a long time. It was a common practice for a lot of venues that used to hire live bands in the off-season, to ask the bands to take a ‘hit’ and ask them to perform for ‘a little less’. Fernando Monte da Silva, a session bassist says, “Properties used to have a variation in rates for the off season and peak season, respectively. Some still do, but most restaurants are now happy to pay the price quoted by an act. The change has put us in a position where we can quote our figure. Now, it is for the restaurants / properties to decide – either you want a live band or you don’t!”

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