Cyprian Fernandes: Julian Costa Silva: a Goan pioneer, Mombasa Part 1

Juvy standing, left to right: Joel, Martha, Bonny. 

Seated Melba, Mona and Mina

Silva Girls performed a Giriama song written by Julian Costa Silva: (Mina,  Martha, Melba and Mona seated)
Julian and Mary Costa Silva



Julian Costa Silva

The unheralded pioneer Goan muso from Mombasa


JULIAN COSTA SILVA who was on born on October 6, 1892 in the south Goa village Betalbatim was an extraordinary Goan musician and pioneer. He was perhaps the first Goan to write songs in Swahili which were sung by Goans, especially children, backed by Goan musicians at concerts and any musical opportunities that presented. This was at a time when most people frowned upon engaging socially with Africans. Mr Costa Silva insisted that his family treated all nationalities with respect.

The Swahili was not the classic coastal version but what most people called “kitchen Swahili.”
He was utterly dedicated to teaching young Goans music, especially the playing of the Goan “national” instrument, the humble yet venerable violin.
He raised funds, penny by penny, to build a Goan club and a Goan school.
He was so busy with work and music he married rather late.
However, the Mombasa Goan community ignored his pioneering efforts until 2001 when Franklyn Pereira, the Mombasa Institute President and chair of the Centenary committee, acknowledged the huge contribution made by Julian Costa Silva to the Mombasa Institute and the Goan community for several decades.

By Mona Dias nee Silva
My father lost his father when he was just three years old. It was a struggle for his mother and sister; hence he had to leave school early to support them. Around 1912-1918 he sailed across the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean in a  dhow to Mombasa, Kenya, to seek work at a time when the British were opening up East Africa. In those days, it was a miracle if one landed safely across the waters. The more than a month-long voyage was treacherous and passengers slept on the open deck with limited food rations, so the family back home in Goa when farewelling them, never knew if they would ever see or hear from their loved ones again.
In the early 1900s he worked as a Clerk/Accountant in a number of private and government shipping companies, but mostly in the Railways & Harbours under the British Government, until he retired in 1956.
During those early years in Mombasa, he played the violin and with a small group of other Goan musicians, who met at the Old Mombasa Port near the Fort Jesus, for Penny Readings. After each of these gatherings, a hat was passed around to collect funds for the first Goan Club. The Liwali (Arab Ruler of the Coast) Sir Ali Bin Salim donated land to the Goan community on which the Mombasa Goan Institute was eventually built.  Dad was so passionate about nurturing young musicians that he tutored them for free in playing the violin.  He also sponsored a number of relatives to Kenya and assisted them in seeking work.
In 1931, Dad and A.C. Pereira jointly produced the first Goan Konkani Concert in Mombasa, with the funds going towards the Goan Institute, as well as for the Goan School – the latter school was also built on land donated by the Liwali and the foundation stone for its construction was laid on August 14, 1932. Following this Dad composed, produced and directed dozens of Swahili and Konkani songs, plays and English/Konkani skits over the years. 
He married at a late age as he was so 'wrapped' up in his music and with much coaxing from his mother, he married Mary Rodrigues in 1932. His close friend and orchestra drummer: the late Joe Sequeira, whom he took under his wing as a young naïve man, was his Best Man.  Mary was born in Entebbe, Uganda to Sebastian and Maria Rodrigues who were well known and had established a business in Uganda in the 1900s. They hailed from the village of Lotulim, Salcete, Goa. Her parents passed away when she was young and as such, she and her three sisters were then sent to the Convent School in Belgaum, India by her uncle Milo Rodrigues. 
Despite the tradition of an arranged marriage and the huge age difference, they were both close and had seven children: Juvy, twins Bonny & Joel, Martha, late Mina, Melba and Mona.  The three girls: Martha, Mina and Melba were born during the Second World war in a “godown” (sic warehouse), near the main Post Office as the hospitals were taken over by the British Army and Navy.   Mona was born at the end of World War II in a maternity hospital not far from the Railway Quarters and was brought home in a horse-drawn rickshaw! 
We lived in the Landi (sic Railway Quarters) for almost 15 years, until Dad retired in 1956.  It was a long road of terraced houses – four to a block with a grassy space between, where the young men played football, “gili danda” (a wooden bat & a pointed-whistle stick), Rounders ( a little similar to baseball) and, of course. competitive marble games between the girls and boys!!!.
As the World War II intensified,  the British evacuated the women and children to Uplands, Central  Kenya for safety.  On a second occasion, Mum was not able to take the children up north, as some of us had contracted measles and to prevent an epidemic on the ‘cattle truck’ trains, they remained on the island of Mombasa.  Times were very hard for all and food was rationed.  On many occasions we children would sit around Mum on her huge 4-poster bed listening to the war stories and thought it quite exciting when she told us how she had to quickly gather us to the safety of the air raid trenches as soon as the war sirens sounded, with the Germans planes circling above – much to her anxiety!!
Besides his love of music, his hobbles were carpentry, stampcollecting, gardening, poultry keeping, grafting roses and walking.  He often won the Seniors’ walking race at the Goan Institute Sports Day and refused to own a car or catch a bus wherever he went!  He also had a love of dogs and we always had one all our lives.
There was constant music in the house as most of the family members could play an instrument, be it the violin, drums, guitar, piano or ukulele and we would have regular sing-a-longs.   Juvy, the eldest played in a band headed by Abel Correa for a number of years. Martha, Mina & Melba sang periodically at weddings and Mona the youngest followed suit when she migrated to UK and Australia. 
The community spirit and neighbourliness in the Railway Quarters, where we lived, (not far from the Star of the Sea School), was unsurpassed.  Each year we would have a Christmas party on the grassy area in front of one block of the Quarters.  The tall Christmas Tree (casuarina) was “nicked” by the Railway Quarters neighbourhood teenage boys at night from the European (white) areas near the Lighthouse sea front and carried all the way back, with the African “askaris” (security men) in hot pursuit!! This tree remained, though dead, in the ground until April and almost every evening the adolescent boys and girls would sit around it in the moonlight after dinner chatting, until we were hauled back indoors by our parents to sleep!! 
In the early years, almost every Goan child attended the Star of the Sea Convent School, which was considered then the best on the island; it was run by the White Sisters of Africa and had a dedicated team of English/Irish Nuns and teachers.  Admission preference was given to the Catholic families, then Indians and Arabs.  Later in the mid-fifties the boys at the age of 10+ were sent to the Goan School in Ganjoni and only girls were taught at the Star. 
Dad rode a bicycle to work at the Mombasa Kilindini Port each day, as did the 3 brothers, so I learnt to ride one at an early age.  Juvy, the eldest was the “king-pin” of the Quarters – he had a ‘racing fixed-wheel bicycle’ – equivalent to the “Ferrari” of that time and the envy of many a boy, though they came to watch him clean/service his cycle with loving care each week.  The neighbourhood boys and girls looked up to him as being an avid reader, he was very knowledgeable and he imparted interesting information on worldly matters and film/photography to them.  During those days, he taught many of these boys to ballroom dance and we girls (including my sisters/self) partnered them. Those were the happy days!!