By Frederick Noronha
In the midst of the monsoons, when Goa’s fair-weather friends and tourists have quite deserted the place, collegians and other youngsters reclaim the dance-floor. If you’re past a certain age, you might have never ever heard of this event, but in fact the Battle of the Bands has going great guns for the better part of the last decade.
The duo behind this event are artist-designer Bina Nayak (now based in Mumbai) and Keith Fernandes (an ex-Bombay Goan, now based squarely in Goa).
Each year, on August 15, convenient because of the national holiday, the day-long Battle of the Bands draws hundreds of young people, from Bardez and beyond. It is usually held in the Parra-Arpora area. Its aim? “To get back the lost glory of live music. To fight to be heard amongst all the DJs!” explains Bina Nayak.
In 2003, Keith Fernandes came up with the idea of the Battle of the Bands (BTB, for short) because there were then hardly any live music shows, especially in the Rock music space in Goa.
But at that time there were plenty of DJ shows happening in Goa and elsewhere. Like, for instance, the War of the DJs, which was huge then. The Battle of The Bands aimed to give a similar push to Rock bands, its founders suggest.
At that time, there was also a Rock band competition in the open air auditorium at the Kala Academy, which somehow had stopped in the 1990s. Incidentally, that was a college band competition and Keith and his group had even won it one year. Also, the popular entertainment-music space called the Haystack in Arpora (run by the late musician August Braganza of Mapusa), had been discontinued somewhere around that time.
Being a musician himself and the son of a Jazz musician, Keith felt the need to “do something” for the Live music scene. Things fell in place.
The Bands rocked the event from 2003 to 2006. “We got the best bands from Goa, Pune, Bangalore and even Mumbai. Bands like Infra Red and Mogh. But [over time] the quality seems to be deteriorating. We started getting DJs and dance groups from the first show itself. They wanted to play for free during the breaks or while the bands got ready. We never turn away talent. But once these guys got a foot in — they just got better and better!” says Keith.
Where would its founders see the event headed?
Keith and Bina see a “worrying trend” among the rock bands in Goa. Most everybody wants to be a wedding singer or a wedding band, because that’s where the money is. So what about the challenge or the creativity?
“We used to encourage the Rock guys to get an education, get a job, and let Rock music be their passion. That way, you can keep it true and creative, and don’t have to pander to the hotels or wedding venues. If you depend on music as your bread and butter, you will have to compromise (unless you have a rich-shot daddy who can take care of your bills!),” says Bina Nayak.
Their advise to “The Kids” is to let Rock music be their jam! So, the battle events are meant to showcase young talent. This is one platform where the performers — whether they’re bands, singers, DJs or dancers — can be different. Organisers say they “don’t want anyone to play safe”. “Or, in other words — be edgy, show us things we have not seen. Scare us and surprise us.”
Over the years, the event has stayed on course, grown and grown. In the past three years itself, some 500 to 700 people turn up throughout the day-long event. At the start, when the event had just been launched years ago, barely a hundred showed up.
Says Bina Nayak, “We have reduced our advertising drastically over the years, At one time we used to have five billboards targeting the main areas of Goa traffic, in both north and south. And we did write-ups and at least ten to twelve ads (in the local newspapers). This year we had more crowd; with just five ads and one billboard. We did a lot of Facebook too; but that never guarantees attendance, it is purely for awareness.”
Incidentally, both Keith Fernandes and Bina Nayak have been themselves deeply involved in advertising. While Keith runs Slipdisc, one of Goa’s hi-profile ad agencies which can be encountered in a range of billboards across Goa, JJ College (Mumbai) alumni Bina Nayak has been known for creative advertising and art work here and has been employed with the prestigious Walt Disney (India) and now consults with that firm in Mumbai.
But getting there was not easy.
“One challenge was to get people to pay and enter. Most DJ shows were ‘free entry’ in 2003. people in Goa had gotten used to freebies. No one wanted to pay Rs. 100 during our first show, I remember saying to a lot of girls standing around, refusing to pay: ‘You are dressed like a million dollars, and you don’t have 100 bucks in your purse?’ We charged the same for girls and guys (i.e. gender equality). No ‘women enter free!’,” notes Bina Nayak.
The other challenge was to get people to listen to live shows. That meant the inherent problems of sound checks (it takes a while before a band can tune up and start) unlike DJs who are basically ‘plug-and-play’. There were too many gaps of silence. So the team behind the event gave DJs and dancers the stage to perform while the bands got ready.
Sponsorship is always a challenge. “Our sponsors give us hard liquor; never hard cash. So till date, we have to do other jobs in order to make money to organise the Battle events and give away the cash prizes! This is true,” adds Bina Nayak.
Keith Fernandes and Bina Nayak were the co-founders of the event. Their barman was James D’Souza, along with Cecilia and Diana in the main organising team. “There have been many other people who have come and gone,” says Nayak.
Any regrets? None, except a wish for better sponsorship. “Real sponsorships, not booze. We hate to depend on selling booze to recover our money.”
What do they see as their achievements over the years? Discovering new talents and bringing back live music. After the BTB in 2003, several people started doing live Rockshows again — like the Panjim Garden event. This, they say, made them happy. “But nobody had been consistent like us. we are consistent because we are our own sponsors.”
YOUTH CULTURE TODAY
What do they see as the trends in youth culture in today’s Goa? Where is it headed? And what demand do they anticipate, say, in 10 years time?
The BTB organisers see youth culture as having become an instant gratification culture. This is true all over the world, though things come to Goa five years later than the rest. So, there’s the trend of instant music (DJs versus bands) … Yet, they find it heartening to see dancers doing it the hard, old fashioned way.
Another trend: kids from affluent areas (Xavierites, Panjimites, Margaoites) are not among the more watched dancers — and surely not the good dancers. Those come from humbler families (whether Catholic and Hindu) who are seen making a dent.
Dance troupes come in from as far as Sanquelim, influenced probably by the dance shows on reality TV. People in Goa are looking to dance and DJing as a means to improve their lifestyle and earn fame. The ones who are already well-to-do are just dancing in the audience!
“We don’t know how the show will change in a decade’s time. Yes, our kids will be doing the major organising, and we will be DEAD, hopefully!” adds Bina Nayak, with her patented sense of wry humour.
She adds: “Kids think if they play music, dance and DJ, they will make that Rs 500 a day. And that is enough for them. That 500-rupee fee that hotels pay per night has not changed much in ten years; perhaps some get Rs 1000, max Rs 1500. So many well-known musicians are happy to perform for that. It is a dilemma. They deserve more. But they are okay with it, because they depend on music for the bread and butter. The musicians who are doing well today are the ones who have other sources of income, they have a vocation as sound engineers, or they have their own recording studio. It is not enough to be a performer.”
Nayak and Keith argue that kids must study further, get jobs and also do music. Not everybody can be a Freddy Mercury (and even he majored in graphic design) or a Pink Floyd. Most well known musicians in the West have had a good education.
[Photo: Battle of the Bands, 2013. Photo: Frederick Noronha]