The Inspirational Musician

Iris C F Gomes

The first time I heard Selwyn Menezes play was a pleasant surprise. Having been accustomed to village violinists squeaking out notes on improperly tuned violins, my surprise grew into tremendous appreciation as Selwyn worked his violin to produce upbeat melodious music, accompanied by the equally talented Omar de Loiola Pereira at Child’s Play India Foundation’s Monsoon Concert 2019.

Selwyn is the quintessential Goan, brimming with love for his land and a sure sense of social awareness. He says, ‘I come from Curtorim, a scenic green village, untouched by the building mafia.’ After completing his schooling from Manovikas High School, Selwyn obtained a bachelor’s degree through correspondence from Osmania University. He opted for a correspondence course because by 16 he had already begun working as a music teacher at Music Circle. He finished his 8th grade in music from the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College London while he was in the 10th standard. By 18 years of age Selwyn was working at Kala Academy.

Although Selwyn’s family had no musicians, it did not prevent him from overcoming technical struggles and the lack of ease of adaptation due to not being genetically gifted in this area. His love for music was a driving force strong enough to circumvent any obstacles and challenges that came his way. ‘My love for music came from watching my teacher play American folk tunes and other international tunes on the piano during our lunch break. I loved watching the James Last Orchestra as well. The Goan ambassador of music Emiliano da Cruz had a huge influence, especially when he revolutionised classics like Fiddler on the Roof and tunes from the operetta Gipsy Love.

While Selwyn plays the violin masterfully, he plays the mandolin too. His prowess belies his statement that he hardly spends time practicing. He says, ‘The knack of picking up and playing a new song on the first go has always been pleasing as a challenge to me. My practicing (classical music) days were over in my youth.’

A great fan of old international classics as well as retro music, Selwyn explains that his inclination towards these songs is due to the excellent melodies; modern music cannot compare with its focus generally on words and the beat. He has learnt a great deal from German violinist Helmut Zacharias, who plays all types of music, including jazz standards, and fusion violinist Dr L Subramaniam.

Selwyn has collaborated with many musicians and groups. His best collaboration was in the 90s with the group Gavana. Dubbed Goa's cultural ambassadors and led by Fr Thomas Aquinas, this group performed internationally. Selwyn performed with Gavana all over China for the International Music Festival in '93 with 15 artistes for 2 months. He says, ‘It was simply the best as we had to think out of our hat and improvise with different kinds of music on stage.’ He also performed in 8 countries with Gavana as well as in 16 countries with an ICCR recognised group called Goenchim Noketram, led by Gina Mascarenhas.

Child’s Play India Foundation is an organisation that is working hard to set young underprivileged children on the straight and narrow by inculcating in them the love and passion for Western classical music. Selwyn’s presence at the NGO’s Monsoon Concert in 2019 was thanks to a request from well-known guitarist Omar de Loiola Pereira on behalf of Dr Luis. He says, ‘Since I was already following the activities of Child’s Play and applauding their efforts, I promptly said yes. Selwyn has also played in aid of Caritas, Save the Girl Foundation and the Aids Cell/Unit of Goa.

The idea of music’s positive effect is something Selwyn adheres to strongly, saying, ‘Music for me has always been my getaway and happiness. I see it as a tool to getting people together and enhancing spirits and moods. What you cannot say in words, you say through music. It is a beautiful form of expression, which in my case has helped create a positive influence. It's not just about me playing but being able to teach many more the art.’

He is an avid proponent of teaching children classical music, ‘It would set up a strong base for playing, composing and recording music that you composed. You are able to write music for more than two instruments. It can also help you play music up to three octaves on a string instrument,’ says Selwyn.

Selwyn’s more recent uplifting performances during the gloom of this pandemic have been online. Last month he did a programme with Omar de Loiola Pereira and Nadia Rebelo for Goa’s premier feni brand called Cazulo. On the 7th of August he had another online performance of a mix of genres of music and Goan folk music, with Omar de Loiola Pereira, Errol Andrade and Nadia Rebelo for a private company based out of Goa.

Listen to some of Selwyn's delightful performances here: