Some 13 years ago in 2006 the first musical on Mother Teresa of Calcutta entitled Madre Teresa il Musical with lyrics by Piero Castellacci and music by Michele Paulicelli featuring 13 songs in Italian was performed by parish theatre groups in Italy.
Now, for the first time, the English speaking world has another musical on Mother Teresa with lyrics and music by Luís Remo de Maria Bernardo Fernandes. Popularly known as Remo Fernandes the composer of the tribute to Mother Teresa is an Indian singer, with naturalized Portuguese citizenship. Known as a pioneer of Indian pop music, he performs pop / rock / Indian fusion, Remo is also a film playback singer.
The singer realised his magnum opera Teresa and the Slum Bum, a double album musical featuring 26 songs and two instrumentals on 10th October 2019.
Remo, the Bob Dylan of India, whose music has been part of several popular civil society agitations in Goa says about the furture of his musical, “At the moment, there are no concrete plans to stage the musical [in a theatrical setting].”
The 66-year-old musician adds, “It’s up to whoever hears it, if they want to stage it. It’s a standalone album for now.”
Teresa and the Slum Bum features 35 singers from India, Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. who have all contributed to the album gratis. Mr Fernandes himself who played all the instruments says, “all funds raised will go to “to the poorest of the poor” through a charitable organisation based in India.”
Goa’s own Singer Fleur Anne Dias croons some 15 lyrics dedicated Mother Teresa, the saint of the gutters as President Ronald Regan christened the Albanian origin nun from Calcutta.
Remo comments on Fleur’s performance as Mother Teresa saying, “what a beautiful, perfect job she’s done of it! With unending dedication and commitment. As soon as she sang one line at the audition, I just knew this was the voice I’d always wanted for the part.”
Giving Fleur’s character representation of Mother Teresa as examples in various song renditions Remo tells, “The feeling, the sensitivity, the empathy for the destitute, all shine warmly through in the song “Take me to Calcutta;” The despair comes through in “Give me a Sign;” and the teacher’s voice rings brilliantly in “Happy Happy Song” the catchiest and most popular song in the musical.
The optimistic practical dreamer is portrayed in “We need a new Congregation;” and the pathos of dying sickbed-ridden Teresa in “And when I’m Gone.”
Remo recalls the most touching song ‘Give me a Sign,’ when Mother Teresa had her first doubts when she was an unknown, and weakened with exhaustion and hunger, she passed by a rather well to do convent one day, and knocked on the door asking for some food. The nuns there took one look at her and sent her to the back door to eat in the kitchen with the servants.
The composer had the privilege of singing ‘She Can See’ (song 19 in the musical) personally to Mother Teresa at Mother House some 30 years ago. At that time she gathered all the nuns in the courtyard for the occasion.
When the song ended, Remo recalls, “Mother quietly told me the words which I incorporated in the musical: “It is He who sees, my son. I just follow His instructions.”
The genesis of the project dates back to December 1987, when at the height of his musical career, the singer was stuck in Kolkata for a day and decided to visit Mother Teresa at Mother House on 54A Lower Circular Road.
In that chance meeting, the septuagenarian nun made a lasting impact on Remo that he blurted out, “Mother, I would like to compose a song about you, and contribute it’s earnings towards your work” I managed to speak. “I don’t wish to waste your time, but your blessing is all the inspiration I need.”
Her eyes twinkled even brighter. “Sure, my son. Do it. But do it with love”.
The impact was so great that on his return flight to Goa, the musician wrote three full songs with lyrics and music, three of which are Welcome My Child and Take me to Calcutta, and She Can See. At the time, Remo had “fame, fortune and the works” but he was wondering how he could give back to the less privileged.
After some 30 years, the singer recalls, “I never forgot those songs and that intention, and once I left Goa and settled in Porto, Portugal, their time had come. As I set out to finally record them in 2016, those 3 songs over 3 years gradually turned into a full-fledged 2-hour musical – a double album with a total of 26 songs and 2 instrumentals.”
In a moment of tearful ecstasy, Remo pledges, “I am not going to deduct a cent for the 3 years that I’ve worked on it, or for the cost of recording studios, mastering engineers, instruments, travel, stay, designing art works and making ad videos. All this is my little contribution towards the poorest of the poor of this world.”