March 3, 2013
From the editor's desk:
Dear Do..Re..Me..Fa.. lover,
We started this New Year with a scintillating chord on Ester Noronha. I am sure Ester was able to touch the chords thousand of hearts. As I was moving forward gazing the open sky in my routine hunt for a superstar to present to you in this exclusive music column this month, I found yet another yesteryears magnificent star! She is one of the greatest legends of Konkani stage who stood her own along with Bollywood fame Hemanth Kumar and Sangeeth Samrat Henry D’Souza. Who can ever forget those immortal Konkani hits like ‘Ye..Ye..Katrina’, ‘Chondrem Udevn Ailo’, ‘Gharaso Divo’, ‘Suryachi Kirnam’, and many more? The superstar whom I am talking about known for her silken voice, the Legend of Konkani Music, is none other than Helen D’Cruz.
Helen’s music journey from Africa–Mangalore–Mumbai-Kuwait-Mumbai is quite astonishing. As you listen to this melodious chord of music you’ll come to know so many interesting stories of Helen and undoubtedly the Konkani Diaspora will raise a simple question why she was deprived of a lime-light she deserve!
As I present to you this sweet music chord… I convey my special thanks to Florine Roche for arranging this unique profile. In spite her busy schedule flew all the way to Mumbai for a personal interview with Helen. I wish to take this opportunity to thank ‘Sangeeth Samrat Henry D’Souza’ and ‘Sangeeth Ratn Victor Concessao’ for extending a great help to Florine during her recent visit to Mumbai on Do..Re..Me..Fa.. mission.
I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy listening to one of the melodious chords of Do..Re..Me..Fa.. I'm highly indebted to you for your generous support and encouragement. Let's meet next month, same column and same site with yet another music legend from Mumbai. Until then, ciao!
Yours in Do..Re..Me..Fa..,
Gerry D'Mello, Bendur
The Ye Ye Katrina… fame
She immortalized Konkani songs through ‘AIR’
It was in 1971 the now immortal Konkani song “Ye Ye Katrina … Na na yevnchina” was first broadcast by All India Radio, Mumbai. The song with its peppy tune and haunting lyrics soon became a rage catapulting the original singers Sangeeth Samrat Henry D Souza and Helen D Cruz, to the summit of popularity. Soon the fame and popularity of the song had spread far and wide making it a household song. In fact no catholic marriage, social gathering or celebrations were complete without playing this song.
The original singer of this song Helen, also known as the ‘Katrina girl’, based in Mumbai for long, is now nearing 80 years and is quite nostalgic of the days when she was a celebrity among Konkani speaking people. Popularity notwithstanding, there were many conservative Konkanis who were bewildered by the lyrics of the song with its slight sexual connotations. Helen now recalls “When I sang I did not think much about the lyrics because I focused on the song in toto. I think even the people overlooked the lyric part because the tune was quite mesmeric and they were attracted by words like Bandra, batatawada etc. I realized only when others including some of my friends and relatives pointed out about the subtle sexual orientation but it did not bother me and I definitely have no regrets”.
Helen with her youngest daughter Marianne
Helen with her four children
With husband Vincent
With children and women in Santacruz, Mumbai whom Helen helps with education
Helen had created a sensation in the Konkani music world with her melodious and mellifluous voice in the early 60s and 70s thus giving a big fillip to Konkani music. She was the first reputed Konkani female singer in Mumbai. “Suryachin Kirnan” of Jerome D Souza was her first song in radio in 1961 and with that Helen the singer had arrived on the scene. She sang many songs with Alphonso D Costa and also with Henry D Souza. “With her angelic voice she could bring out the soul in any song”, says popular and veteran Konkani singer Henry D Souza, (who also happened to be her cousin) who not only sang “Katrina Song” with Helen but was also the lyricist of the evergreen number. One can only imagine what a sensation she would have created if she were to overcome her stage fear and sing in various Konkani musical nites. But Helen who always chose to keep a low profile doesn’t rue this. She is quite satisfied having sung some 100 odd Konkani songs on radio and with the two records to her credit brought out by HMV. Still she terms her achievements as Lilliputian.
Childhood & Exposure to Music
Helen Correa was born in Africa to late Flora and Alexander Correa. Her father was working in Africa as a doctor there. After his untimely death when Helen was just 3 years old, the family came back to Urva, Mangalore, where they had a house. Her mother, a young widow took great pains to educate all the four children with whatever meager savings and jewelry she had. Her mother’s sisters who were agriculturists in Belman helped the family with kind. Finally, the family was left with no other alternative but to mortgage the house. Being the only girl of three brothers, she was the darling of all. Though Helen wanted to learn violin she could not afford it under such penurious circumstances.
“Music runs in my family”, says Helen when asked how she got into the music field further adding: “my father was a violinist and my brothers were also musicians”. It was in the school that Helen’s talent as a singer came to the fore. Her schoolmates had nicknamed her as ‘radio singer’ as she was often found singing softly even in school. Her schoolmates had also predicted that she would become a great singer, a prediction which subsequently became true.
Helen says she was inspired after listening to Konkani singers like Louis Pinto and Henry Moraes, which inspirited her to sing Konkani songs. “I was not exposed to Konkani in my house. After listening to their singing I felt like singing Konkani songs. They were my inspiration”. It was her late brother Baptist Correa who initially took the initiative to introduce her to singing in Konkani plays.
Helen’s first playback song that brought her recognition Mangalore was a Hindi cinema track ‘Koi ne dil diya’ which she sang during a concert at Urva Church. Subsequently she began to lend her voice as a ghost singer for various Konkani plays.
As her brothers were in Mumbai Helen also came to Mumbai in search of a career. Along with her job to sustain her she continued her education at SNDT College for women. Later when she was working for Eves Weekly she completed her PG Diploma in Journalism so that she could get into mainstream journalism but could not as she had to leave for Kuwait to follow her husband.
During one of the recordings
Helen with film critic late Divyani Chaubal
With Geeta Dutt
With Hemanth Kumar
With singer Henry D'Souza
Helen with her mother
The city of talents Mumbai took Helen into its fold with open arms when she began to make her mark as a singer. In Mumbai Helen fulfilled her dream of getting voice training when she joined Hindustani musician J K Bannerjee for voice training, though for a short time. Credit goes to Helen for bringing together various Konkani singers in Mumbai under one umbrella. In the meantime All India Radio Mumbai which was scouting for Konkani talent spotted Helen and invited her to give an audition test. She went for audition test partnering with Alphonso D’ Costa. Passing audition test in Akashavani in itself is a great achievement and Helen came out with flying colours in the audition test in the very first attempt.
Later she regularly teamed up with Henry for singing in All India Radio they both took Konkani music in radio to dizzying heights with some of their memorable numbers. It was through AIR the Katrina Song became a rage capturing the hearts of millions of Konkani music lovers. Subsequently Goan singer Alfred Rose recommended her to HMV and she auditioned for them and once again she got a call for recording for their album. By then Goan singing sensation Lorna was creating news with her song with Mohammed Rafi and Helen’s friends gently prodded her ‘why not she try your luck with Bollywood singer’ . It is now a part of history that she sang with one of the leading singers of Hindi cinema - late Hemant Kumar.
In Mumbai Helen was working for women’s magazine Eve’s weekly and had the opportunity to meet some of the best bollywood actors and singers notable among them Geeta Dutt and Hemant Kumar. She has also worked closely with late Divyani Chaubal, writer-columnist and well-known film critic. When HMV invited her for recording she called up Hemant Kumar and asked whether he would co-sing Konkani songs with her for an album. He responded saying he wanted to listen to her singing. She sang three songs for him and he liked the now immortal Konkani songs “Juliana”, “Molbar Chandrem” and “Tu Swapan go Phanthyachen”. She says Hemant listened to her and was so taken up by her persona and the quality of her singing that he immediately consented and HMV cut a disc of their songs and duets. In a way credit goes to Helen for making Hemant Kumar sing Konkani songs. Her first album came out in 1971 and the second album came out after a gap of three years in 1974.
Helen has also cut an album with Henry D’ Souza with some memorable songs like “Chandrem Udevn”, “Sezari”, “Gharacho Divo” and of course “Katrina”. Though all the songs were quite melodious and hummable Katrina song hit the bull’s eye. Helen recalls that in during the general elections in Goa the Katrina song had gained lot of fame. Helen also reached the zenith of her popularity with some of the evergreen numbers like “Daryacha Daryacha Larani”, written by Henry, “Kalzanth Ullas Bhorla, Bhovtin Varen Valla..” “Naamv muje Leena”, “Sanjecha Velar” (both tunes by Helen). Helen has also written lyrics of the song “Tu Maka”. Apart from Alphonso, Henry and Hemant Kumar, Helen has sung with Jerome D Souza and Henry Moraes (in plays).
It was the unconditional support of her husband Vincent D Cruz that played a monumental role in her career in Konkani music. Helen had met Vincent during the first communion of her cousin’s daughter where Vincent was a gatecrasher. Helen, who was coaxed by her friends to sing, entertained the assembled guests but won over the heart of Vincent with her singing talent and personality. After two years of courtship the couple got married in 1964. “He was tall, dark and handsome, the typical features of a Mr. eligible any girl would fall for. He supported me heartily and even after I became popular he never suffered from any complex”, Helen reminisces.
In 1974 Helen had left for Kuwait for better prospects following her husband who had left earlier and took up a job in a bank. They worked there till 1990 when the invasion of Kuwait forced them back to Mumbai. In Kuwait also she united the scattered Konkani singers and brought out a CD involving various singers “Tara ani Laram” released by HMV. The CD did not make much of an impact.
After returning from Kuwait Helen has diverted her attention to social service, a cause dearer to heart. It is just the continuation of what she was doing in Kuwait, especially after her husband died of massive cardiac attack in 2000. She along with her youngest daughter Marianne is teaching some of the poor and deprived children of the area. Helen also teaches English to a few ladies in her neighborhood. Her four children are settled and are doing well in their chosen fields. Elder son Collin, a software engineer, is a pastor in Pune. Yvonne, second daughter, is working and settled in Mumbai. Fiona has set up “Lorraine Music Academy” in Gurgaon which she manages with husband Obrey. Youngest daughter Marianne is in Mumbai and lives with her husband in the same building where Helen lives. She has been a professional singer in Mumbai’s film industry over the last 10 years and has worked with some of the best names in the field. She has made quite an impact in the industry with some memorable songs for movies like “Black”, “Chak De India”, “Student of the Year”, “Kite” and many more. She is emerging as a new sensation in the Bollywood singing arena and is all set to make her mark with solo Hindi songs.
A Tete-e-Tete with Florine…
Talking to Helen and spending time with her I have no hesitation in saying she is a paradigm of grace, humanity and humility. She is also down to earth about her achievements. She gives credit where it is due. Talking about the songs that brought her fame she says “the credit for the popularity of a song like “Ye Ye Katrina… Daryacha Daryacha Larani…..etc., should go to the lyricist and the composer, without whom the singers alone cannot accomplish much”. She appreciatively remembers Enoch Daniels who provided music for her Hiv records and cassettes and also the contributions of Henry D Souza for the popularity of her songs and her celebrity status.
Helen comes across as a compassionate person with a burning desire to do something for the deprived sections of the society, her own age notwithstanding. “I can understand the pain of these children of not having the means to pursue education or having proper guidance at a proper time. Therefore I am devoting my time for the cause of their well being and education is the best means”, she contends.
A multitalented woman that she is Helen has tried her hand in writing film scripts. The late music director Ravi had bought (after paying) the rights of one of her scripts after she had narrated the story to him, for making a movie. It is another story that he did not succeed due to many developments and his subsequent death. She has also written stories and articles to another magazine “Mirror” where her short story “Where is Sharon”, received rave reviews. She has also won several prizes for her “letters to the editor”. In Kuwait she regularly contributed article to various journals.
Helen is quite active for her age and cooks her own food. Her needs are meager and with daughter Marianne taking care of her needs, she is quite happy and contented.
It is unfortunate that Helen has not received any awards for her humungous contribution to Konkani music. Though she is not hankering for awards, it is indeed a great disservice to Helen and to Konkani music. It’s always better late than never! At her ripe age Konkani organizations around the globe have a unique opportunity to recognize her service in a befitting way.
Do..Re..Me..Fa.. Salutes this amazing personality and say – “Helen, we thank you and admire your immense contribution to Konkani Music. You will remain in the hearts of every Konkani music lover around the globe forever’!
Helen D'Cruz can be contacted on mobile no 098200 81091.