Members of the Musical Warriors sit outside Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim, India, following an hour-long performance earlier this year. The group's founder, Bismarque Dias, far left, was found dead in November. (Photo by Salu Corriea)
It was pouring rain while a group of Goans played guitar and sang on the footsteps of the iconic church of the Immaculate Conception in Panaji, capital of the coastal western Indian state of Goa.
Some curious officegoers stopped at bus shelters and stores, while tapping along to the music and pitter-pattering of the rain.
"First I wondered who were these mad-hatters singing in the rain," says Vivek Dabolkar. "But it was music with meaning. They were singing about Goa, our nature, and perhaps about my dreams that had gone awry … they were echoing my sentiments."
The 20-odd musicians, cutting across religion and age, are popularly known as the Musical Warriors. They sing songs on environmental activism.
Sudeep Dalvi, the group's convener, says they aim "to galvanize the people to preserve the fast depleting nature of whatever remains of our green Goa."
As they gained in popularity, the group's founder Bismarque Dias was found dead. His body was fished out of Mandovi river Nov. 7, two days after he went missing.
Supporters of Bismarque Dias, founder of the Musical Warriors, believe the former priest was murdered over his environmental activism. (Photo by Salu Corriea)
His funeral is held in abeyance following widespread suspicion that Dias, a former priest of the Blessed Sacrament congregation, was murdered because his campaign opposed mega projects that had the potential to destroy Goa's beaches and farmlands.
Dias' friends and supporters have delayed the burial, pressing for a high-level inquiry into the suspected murder.
On Nov. 8, a day after Dias' body was discovered, the Musical Warriors performed in support of farmer Amarnath Naik, whose land was taken over by the government.
The concert was held at the site of Naik's destroyed house, where participants challenged the government move.
Dalvi said the group mainly focuses on state land grabbing in the name of development. He also said the Nov. 8 performance was a tribute to Dias.
Land is a premium in the beaches and villages of Goa as state officials, developers and hoteliers have begun setting up housing projects and resorts in this top Indian tourist spot.
Dalvi said the Musical Warriors group was formed as an artistic response to the state's move "toward capitalism, trampling upon peoples' rights, their culture, corruption and environment."
Most often their singing is "an urgent call" to authorities to protect the environment, said Dalvi, a Hindu-born pharmacologist who identifies himself as a Marxist folk singer. He also plays damru, a small two-headed traditional India drum.
Zico Rodrigues, their singer-guitarist, said they sing songs Dias "left behind."
"Each of these songs has a powerful pro-people message on environment, Goa's devastation and the need to take action," he said.
He said most songs are untitled, like a song Dias composed about his island village, which describes a village elder talking to a youngster on the need to observe nature and the beauty of the fields.
Their music is influenced by gospel, reggae and traditional music, singing in English and the local Konkani language to the accompaniment of assorted guitars, handheld drums and tambourines.
"Our objective is to create awareness of the social ills plaguing the state, particularly concerning our land, which is being sold to the highest bidder — at times with the active connivance of the government,"Rodrigues said.
Group member Sidhanath Buyao said the group offers no speeches during their concerts.
"We focus on music … If one member takes to the vocals, others join in the chorus, because many a times we create songs on the spur of the moment, related to the issue at hand," he said.
"We want to give momentum to the movement through music. This is not a political meeting; we only hope people come enjoy and support the cause, which is exactly what is happening," Buyao said.
Dalvi said the response of the public has been good, "but I am never satisfied because revolution and satisfaction are opposed to each other. We want people to stand up and fight for their rights."