Last song of dusk

The Ashta Vinayak Band, formed by fisherfolk, meets at the Mahim beach regularly at sunset to keep the traditional beats of the community ticking, reports Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

One of the band members

One of the band members



   Mee aahe koli, sori la dori; thus goes an old Marathi fisherman’s folk song. This song is being rendered without vocals, aided by clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and a drum set. While the clarinets and saxophones are being used to denote a ‘female’ voice, the ‘male’ repartees are being thrown up by the trumpets. The drum set takes prominence in the crescendo – marking the consummation of this gender war. Amol Patil is at a drum, Hitesh Meher at a trumpet, Ganesh Tandel at a clarinet, and Sanjay Akre at a saxophone. These boys, the founders of the Ashta Vinayak Band, are from traditional Koli or fishermen’s families, as are the rest of the 20 odd members, the band’s current strength. They rehearse on some evenings, for want of space, at the Mahim Beach, facing a setting sun behind the unfinished Bandra Worli sea-link, surrounded by moored and floating dinghies and the beach’s diverse residents: who surrender to this ambience and shake a leg.
   The Koli community, Mumbai’s oldest inhabitants, have been marginalised by the city’s modernisation and cast into fresh oceans of employment by political vote bank seekers. Few of these band members, living in the Koli colony nearby, are fishermen themselves. The bitter-sweet melodies they play (always sans vocals), wring out emotional subtext, and align them with their ancestry. 

   The Ashta Vinayak Group has also set up a gym, organised cricket matches, Govinda events and picnics, and secured a club room on Muri Road where they run a free newspaper stand for those willing to read. They were among the first to rush in aid when the train blasts rocked Mahim station on a fateful afternoon last year. But the group’s members — who hold jobs ranging from sales tax office employee to swimming coach — incur their income for these activities from “performance calls” they get for weddings, functions and festivals. For playing genres ranging from Indian classical and Hindi film tunes to traditional Marathi folk, they charge Rs 2,500 per hour. “We play at Marathi and non-Marathi, often even Christian functions,” Akre, one of the key members, informs. “So our music has to match the demand.” The group started their venture “like some of our fathers long ago when they were our age” in 1993, when most of them were in school. “We started with a keyboard and drum set, before expanding to trumpets, clarinets and saxophones as we learnt and grew in numbers,” says Patil, whose father, a musician himself, taught the earlier members each instrument. “Each new member is taken onto a ‘learning period’ where he’s taught various instruments before he chooses.” Meher chips in: “We came together driven by our desire to learn and play music. All the other social activities that we organise today came later.” Much like their forefathers who, while and after fishing, crystallised community feeling with song. As they play “Gajaanana si ganarai” a traditional Koli Ganapati bhajan and get ready to start their performances, an onlooker shouts, “Enough now! Play us the dance numbers!” While most band members shout an immediate “Chup!” in chorus, three get ready to charge him down. The near extinct melodies of a clan whose goddess Mumbadevi gave this city its current name, come intertwined with dormant pride. The dance numbers do follow though. ‘Main nikla gaddi leke’ from Gadar weaves into ‘Mera piya ghar aaya o Ramji’ from Yaarana to emerge as ‘Holi aaayi re aayi’ from Mashaal in one continuous performance. Then comes another folk number: ‘Mala lagan karaicha aahe, maala reti wala nawra paijhe.’ Translated, these words traditionally sung by a girl, rendered in tune only by saxophones, mean she wants to be married to a man who has a cement business. She goes on to say it doesn’t matter how he looks, as long as he fits that criteria. This melody progresses into a different one, which we started with: ‘Mee aahe kohli, maar teel kohli, anaaye goli, chal jao bazaare.’ Translated, these words mean: “I’m a Koli. I’ve cast my net and caught a prize fish and am on my way to the market to sell it.”
 
The Ashta Vinayak Band

The Ashta Vinayak Band

 

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4 comments

  1. Sneha · April 14, 2010

    Hi,

    I m looking for the lyrics of the song me aahe koli!!
    plzzz anyone????

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      wish i could help. but ur best bet would be to locate this band in mahim (if ur in bombay)… which shouldnt be difficult if u go to the beach and ask around… if not let me know if u want it bad – ill stop by next time im in bbay or ask someone there.

  2. Priya Tandel · November 22, 2011

    my brother band grup

  3. avinash · September 14, 2012

    i like my ashtavinayak group

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