By Maxwell Dias
I was born on March 12, 1954 in Chittagong, Bangladesh (at that time it was East Pakistan). My parents relocated to Karachi in 1960 when I was just four. My initial education was in St. Philomena’s school which is now Christ the King school. Thereafter I went to St. Paul’s school and in the year 1966 my parents with all children visited East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and returned to Karachi leaving me behind as I wanted to study in St. Placid’s High school. Here I studied from class VI to class X but did not do the board exam in Chittagong as there was trouble brewing and my parents wanted me to come back to Karachi before any incident could take place. I came back toKarachiin 1970 and Pakistan split up in 1971 and East Pakistan (where I was born) was renamed Bangladesh.
My father Terrence Santan Dias (famously known as Sunny Dias) was a very good trumpeter. He could read music which he was taught at his school in Goa. Many times I would watch him writing music by just humming a tune. When I was about 10 years old he wanted me to play the clarinet for which I took classes from the great Mr. Alex Rodrigues (late). I could blow the clarinet quite beautifully I must say in those days. I also had an intricate chart which my dad purchased from Anthony Couthino and Co. booksellers from which I learnt to play some of the highest notes possible in the clarinet which few musicians knew. However, playing the clarinet did not appeal to me so I stopped. I was more interested in learning how to play the guitar.
A very good friend from my school, Dean Heppolette had an old Wood & Tone Pakistani guitar. I borrowed that guitar from him and started teaching myself how to play chords by requesting some of the musicians in Karachi including my uncle Errol D’Sanges (who had just come in from Bangladesh) to show me some of the chords, positions; this was in the year 1972. The first song that I learnt to play was House of the Rising Sun by the Animals and I would keep strumming this song almost every day not playing anything else. My father got absolutely fed up listening to the same strumming and one fine day he told me “you have to learn to play melody, what you are doing is worthless!”. “Melody?” I asked him: “What does that mean? He said “Melody ta ta ta ta ta ta ta” (huming the tune of House of the rising Sun). I realized then that he was encouraging me to start playing lead instead of rhythm.
Whilst I was still at the learning stages, a heart wrenching tragedy took place in our family. My mother passed away and my father was sent as a refugee back toBangladesh. From there he went toIndiaand I have just recently learned that he passed away a few years ago. But we do not know which part of India he is buried.
The first band I played with was the Petrao Brothers and Francis on bass at the Merchant Navy Club. We had a wonderful time there, met many foreign sailors, witnessed a horrific brawl between Indonesian and Greek sailors. We would walk back from the Merchant Navy Club inQueens Road to Saddar every night. Never afraid to get mugged in those days, it was never even thought of.
After that I joined the Surfers in Sindh Club, played with Bunti (now in Australia), Kenny Fialho on drums, Michael and John Rodrigues (I think), but they were very good musicians and I was the worst of the lot. When these guys left Pakistan, I took over the Sindh Club contract and invited Jeffery Bestewitch to join my band.
We played for a while and then the band broke up and after the Incrowd’s original band disbanded (due to the death of Ivan Menezes) John Rodrigues (Michael Rodrigues’ brother) and myself joined Edgar Saville, Norman and his brother Sydney.
It was in this band when I started to explore and enhance my skills at playing lead; took a lot of tips from foreign musicians who were visiting Karachiand also from our legendary (Iggy) Egan Fernandes (late). We played at Midway House (KLM Hotel near the airport).
I was extremely fascinated by Carlos Santana and always tried to emulate his style. In the beginning of my music career, I was impressed by the Beatles and in later years David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and the Eagles.
From 1976 to 1980, for sometime I played with Iggy, Either he would be on bass and I on lead or he would play lead and I would play bass. We played with the Fatah Brothers and singers Bobby and David Fredrick. We played at 3 Aces, Horseshoe and 2001 (a discotheque at Beach Luxury Hotel).
In 1980 I joined the Keynotes’ only band member left in Karachi (the rest emigrated to Canada) Hilary Furtado and together we formed Keynotes (II) and played for six years. This was definitely the peak of my career as a musician. We learnt, we practiced and played good professional music. The band consisted of Hilary Furtado, his brother Nobby Furtado, Trevor D’Mello, Ainsley Highfield and William Joseph. Alan Vanderloven and David Joseph were the replacements of Trevor D’Mello and William Joseph respectively.
After that I played with Black Jacks and Radiation; With Black Jacks we played at the Holiday Inn (now Regent Plaza) and with Radiation at the Village Restaurant (near Metropole).
Then I joined Hilary Furtado again and we started playing at various hotels, Avari, Marriott, then Sheraton. A three piece with auto rhythm keyboard, guitar and saxophone; not quite the same as a full fledged live band that I was used too. However, during this time I started playing eastern music and learned about eastern raags.
A musician never wants to stop playing music and to this day I still perform at live gigs with some very talented young and old or as I would prefer to call them veteran musicians. We play music of the 60s 70s and 80s. Thanks to a special gentleman, musician and pilot, Captain Akeel Akhter who is a lover of music, has constructed a stage at his residence where we perform twice or thrice a month for distinguished guests and also at various parties at the Boat Club, Sindh Club, Yacht Club, etc.
We also practice at his place using all utilities and facilities without any charges. He also performs with us at all our gigs and God bless him for all his support and generosity.
The line up for our current band ~ Akeel Akhtar (Capt) (vocalist/lead), Maxwell Dias (vocalist/lead), Hilary Rodrigues (vocalist/ saxophone), Neil Araujo (bass), Lenny Massey (keyboard) and Giles Goveas (Drums)
I would like to promote the young musicians of our band. Giles Goveas is a good drummer and the son of the great Alan Goveas and Lenny Massey is a talented young piano teacher at NAPA. I am blessed that at my age I’m still able to do what I love doing and that is music.