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Sebastian D’Souza: The Master of Counter Melodies

May 3, 2018 | By

The “parallel tune for a song” technique, known as a Counter-Melody, created with violin, cello, piano, Spanish guitar or an organ was introduced in Shankar-Jaikishan’s music by a musician – a violinist from Goa – Sebastian D’Souza. A tribute to a master musician.

Sebstian (L) with Mohd Rafi and Shanker

Sebstian (L) with Mohd Rafi and Shankar

If you listen to a film song composed by maestros Shankar-Jaikishan, O P Nayyar or Salil Chowdhury, you also hear a tune being played along with the song in the background. This parallel tune is created with violin, cello, piano, Spanish guitar or an organ.

This “parallel tune for a song” technique, known as a Counter-Melody, was introduced in SJ music by a musician – a violinist from Goa – Sebastian D’Souza. Sebastian D’Souza was a pioneer in creating counter-melody in film songs. This technique became popular and from 1950 onwards Sebastian became a well-known and most wanted Music Arranger of many music directors of Hindi Film industry.

Sebastian was born on 29 January 1906 in Reis-Megos, Goa. He learnt to play the violin and piano in a local church school. While learning these instruments, he also learnt to write music notation. It was during this time that he listened to the famous symphonies of well-known composers of the western world, namely, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Haydon and Richard Wagner.

Deeply interested in violin and piano, Sebastian continued his learning and toured different cities such as Allahabad, Mussoorie and Delhi. In Delhi’s Hotel Astoria, he started his own band and people appreciated it.

In 1942, Sebastian went to Lahore, and started his own band in Hotel Stiffels. This continued until 1947. After partition, he moved to Bombay and started his career as a violinist in the film industry. He played for well-known music directors like Anil Biswas, Naushad, Vinod, Ghulam Haider, Husnalal-Bhagatram, S D Burman, Sajjad Hussain and Shankar-Jaikishan.

Preetam Aan Milo – O P Nayyar / Saroj Mohini Nayyar / C H Atma

Sebastian’s first assignment as a Music Arranger was in 1948-49 with O P Nayyar when Nayyar recorded his first song Preetam aan milo sung by C H Atma and written by Saroj Mohini Nayyar (O P Nayyar’s wife). After three years, Nayyar signed his first film, Dalsukh Pancholi’s Aasman, as an independent music director.

Sebastian,Shankar, Raj Kapoor and Shailendra

Creating memorable music (From L to R) Sebastian, Shankar, Raj Kapoor and Shailendra

At that time he called Sebastian again to work as his Arranger. Sebastian, thus, started his career firmly as an arranger in film music with O P Nayyar in 1952, an association which continued till 1973. Their last film together was Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye, incidentally also the last film of singer Asha Bhosle with Nayyar.

In 1952, Sebastian’s friend Sunny Castellino, who worked as an arranger for Shankar-Jaikishan, introduced Sebastian to the duo. Amiya Chakravarty’s Daag (1952) marked the beginning of Sebastian’s work as music arranger with Shankar-Jaikishan. In Daag, Sebastian’s most successful innovative work was the creation of a memorable counter-melody for a song sung by both Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar Ai mere dil kahin aur chal. According to Sebastian, in this song he used the accordion for creating counter-melody along with violin and mandolin. And the result was excellent. Sebastian used accordion for interlude music in a number of songs but its use as the main instrument for counter-melody was rare.

Aye mere dil kahin aur chal (Daag, 1952)- Shankar Jaikishan / Shailendra / Talat Mahmood

Using cellos and piano to support his counter-melodies of violin obbligato, Sebastian arranged a number of memorable songs. A few examples:

* Kya hua O mujhe kya hua (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti hai)
* Raat ke hum safar (An Evening in Paris)
* Aaja re aa jara aa (Love in Tokyo),
* Soja re soja & Bol re Kathputli dori (Kathputli)
* Aaj kal men dhal gaya (Beti Bete)
* Aaja aai bahar and Janewale zara (Raj Kumar)

Raat ke humsafar (An Evening In Paris, 1967) Shankar Jaikishan / Shailendra / Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhosle

Another of his specialties was using chorus with violin, cello & piano combinations.

A few examples:

* Bol re Kathputli dori (Kathputli)
* Aa ab laut chale (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti hai)
* Dil ke jharokhe mein (Brahmachari)

and the musical fountain sequence in the film Around the World

Dil ke jharokhe mein tujhko bithakar (Brahmachari, 1968) Shankar Jaikishan / Hasrat Jaipuri / Mohd Rafi

While working with Shankar-Jaikishan, the first challenge that he faced was that both Shankar and Jaikishan preferred Indian classical Raga based tunes. And to create counter-melodies, interlude music as well as background music, he had to learn the basics of Indian classical music during his busiest recording schedules. Sebastian found this very interesting and it helped him very much during his career as an arranger.

Shankar, Sebastian and Rais Khan

(From L to R) Shankar, Sebastian and Ustad Rais Khan – Combination of sitar, violin and cellos almost became a hallmark of Sebastian’s counter-melody and interlude music

If you listen to SJ compositions such as Koi matvala aaya (Love in Tokyo), all the songs of Basant Bahar and Amrapali and many classical Raga based songs in which Sebastian created counter-melodies and interlude music, his mastery over both classical music as well as western music is well established.

Combination of sitar, violin and cellos almost became a hallmark of Sebastian’s counter-melody and interlude music. The last film that Sebastian worked on for Shankar-Jaikishan was Sanyasi (1975). It was a challenge for Sebastian as all the songs as well as the background music of the film was based on Raag Bhairavi. And he succeeded remarkably.

Koi matwala aaya mere dware (Love in Tokyo, 1966) Shankar Jaikishan / Shailendra / Lata Mangeshkar

Sebastian worked continuously with Shankar-Jaikishan for 23 years without break, creating a record of sorts for any arranger. And he enjoyed working with SJ thoroughly, calling it a great teamwork for the team had stalwarts such as Shankar, Jaikishan, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri and Dattaram.

Raga-Jazz Style

Vinyl, LP Back Cover of Raga-Jazz Style by Shankar Jaikishan/ Rais Khan ‎(Pic courtesy: discogs)

He remembered Shankar as a great song composer and Jaikishan as a rare background music composer. Sebastian, along with Jaikishan, Dattaram and Raj Kapoor completed the background music of Mera Naam Joker in 5 days.

Shankar-Jaikishan being lovers of Indian Classical Music, composed a LP record titled ‘Raga Jazz Style’ in which they presented 11 Ragas in a Jazz format. Sebastian arranged the music and wrote the notations. The 11 Ragas were Todi, Bhairav, Malkauns, Kalavati, Tilak Kamod, Miyan Malhar, Bairagi, Jaijaiwanti, Mishra Pilu, Shivranjani and Bhairavi.

Raga Jazz Style Shankar Jaikishan / Rais Khan – Label: His Master’s Voice ‎– ECSD-2377  of The Gramophone Company Of India Ltd. Arranged By – Sebastian D’Souza; Music Assistant – Dattaram; Bass – Eddie Travass; Drums – Leslie Godinho; Electric Guitar – Anibal Castro, Dilip Naik; Flute – Suman; Piano – Lucilla Pacheco; Saxophone – Manohari Singh; Sitar – Ustad Rais Khan; Tabla – Ramakant; Trumpet – John Pereira

Sebastian also worked for great music directors like Salil Chowdhury, Vasant Desai, S D Burman, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Dattaram and N. Datta. And he never forgot to express his gratitude towards renowned musicians such Robert Correa and Mike Machado (the Pianists), Albuquerque, Verga, Simplicio D’Souza  and John Gonsalves (the Cellists), V Balsara and Goody Seervai (the Accordionists), Duorado, Narvekar and Karnard (the solo Violinists) and David (the Mandolin player). He would also fondly recall his contemporary music arrangers such as Johny Gomes, Castellino, Chic Chocolate, Ram Singh, Rizbert and Franky.

“How individual music directors could maintain their originality as well as identity even when he worked for them as their Arranger?” I asked Sebastian. He replied that he never interfered with their original tune.

Sebastian’s remarkable contribution was his ability to combine Western orchestra with Indian instruments. His are the songs which we remember even today due to the richness of his musical arrangements and the variations in his melodies.

Sebastian was a complete musician. His music lovers will remember his music for years to come.

This article was first published in Shankar-Jaikishan Blog run by SJ Yahoo Group.

More to read on Shankar Jaikishan

Rhythms of Shankar Jaikishan

Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana: Shankar Jaikishan’s Melodies of 1971 – 18 Films, 104 Songs

Flashback 50 Years (Part I): Shankar Jaikishan Hits of 1966 – Bahaaron Phool Barsao

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In late 50s, during his stay in Mumbai, Dr Padmanabh K Joshi met lyricist Shailendra who introduced him to maestros Shankar-Jaikishan. He attended many of their recordings, discussed film music, background music, etc with them. He also met music arranger Sebastian D'Souza and musician-composer Dattaram. Dr Joshi wrote a musical biography of Shankar-Jaikishan in Gujarati and also many articles on SJ and other music directors due to his interest in film music. He compiled and edited a biographical volume on Dr. Vikram Sarabhai in English. He worked in Indian Space Research Organization, Indian Institute of Management and Nehru Foundation for Development, Ahmedabad. At present Dr Joshi is organizing Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Archives at the Nehru Foundation for Development, Ahmedabad.
All Posts of Dr Padmanabh Joshi

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2 thoughts on “Sebastian D’Souza: The Master of Counter Melodies

  • Probir mukherjea

    It is not correct to state that what is played as a counter in “AE MERE DIL KAHIN AUR CHAL” (DAAG”) Talat Mahmood version is a harmonium played by none other than guru V BALSARA same with “YAAD KIYA DIL NE” (PATITA)

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