Mention the name Lorna Cordeiro and 95 per cent of the Goan community will know exactly who you’re talking about (the other 5 per cent are the kids of NRIs). She’s a jazz singer- the ‘Goan Nightingale’- who once upon a time graced India’s most prestigious jazz clubs with her powerful notes and vibrant presence. She was most prominent in the 60s and 70s, but for a while shied away from her fame. She’s now back and better than ever, doing tours in the UK, US, Kuwait, Australia and as of Saturday night, New Zealand.
My relationship with Lorna’s music began when I was eighteen. It was a summer road trip in the South Island and one of the dads on the trip- an avid fan- played her CD every time we got in the car. As an Anglo/East Indian, I’d never heard of her. She was interesting- her trademark laughs and growls which she is most famous for in her songs made us kids laugh. But we weren’t paying too much attention to her. One Direction had released their first album two months prior and we were caught up in a teenage haze that Lorna just couldn’t penetrate. She was pushed to the back of our minds only to resurface at every family party when the adults danced to her songs.
When we were approached a couple months ago by organiser Andrew D’Souza of Happy Leander Productions, we took the opportunity eagerly (we dancers are from the same friend circle- Lorna was by now a familiar name for us). We choreographed a few songs to perform to, had old-school-looking costumes made through my very excited mum and stuck through the last minute group changes that can only come when Indians make plans.
Saturday came with six nervous tummies as we went for our pre-show practise. We were excited about meeting the singer who’d inspired our friends, playback singer Usha Uthup, and even a Bollywood film (Bombay Velvet). But Lorna was simple. A somewhat soft-spoken Goan woman in a fleece jacket and trainers, sipping from a carton of apple juice. She was enthusiastic about what we were doing; when we performed for her, she sang along to the music, even throwing in a small Lorna Laugh. It was the most encouraging thing we’d heard. And as this is 2016, we then took a selfie with her.
We also met her supporting act, rising star Ester Noronha- an Amazonian woman with a great smile (and even better skin!). They were down-to-earth and gelled well with us.
The show started in the evening with local band Velocity (featuring our very own Sheona Roque- singer and friend extraordinaire) and Ester opening the show. I was excited but not overly so, treating this as any other performance. But then Lorna took the stage. From the very first note she had your attention. Her pink gown dazzled, and the glitter on her face sparkled. Suddenly you weren’t listening to a woman in her 70s in an Auckland school theatre, but a young woman full of life in a smoky Bombay nightclub. It was startling, but the most welcoming surprise. It was also in that moment that I knew what true passion was.
The night carried on with Ester and Lorna alternating sets. Our performances were all grouped at the end which gave us time for practise, food and of course, selfies.
We were a little nervous getting on stage, but once we were up there, something changed. We were by no means perfect, our last minute changes making for some interesting moments throughout the performances. But the energy, vibe and adrenaline that rushed through us was unlike anything else. Dancing with Lorna was unlike any other performance we’ve ever done. She responded to us so well, that even when we mucked up, it was another dance move. There we were- Anglo-Indian, East-Indian, Manglorean and Delhiite- we had no clue what she was singing but it didn’t matter. The audience loved it, we loved it and she loved it.
That night something shifted. I garnered a lot of respect for a woman I thought existed only in fading Goan memories. She sang from the heart, a trait I find lacking in just about every modern singer I’m exposed to. It was astonishing and wonderful to see a woman her age having the same power in her voice and soul as she did fifty years ago. Thanks for an incredible day Lorna. Until we meet again.