A Konkani Baila that Crosses the Indian Seas

This lively presentation was sent to me as a venture of “Batticaloa Burghers singing in three languages”. But digital commentary indicates that the words are (mostly?) Konkani … and raises questions as to where exactly this lively collective was located when they sang. SEE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=munAPKRQ0nk So, that means we are definitely in Thuppahi territory! Ole! Ole! Hai Hoyi! ………. Thuppahi. 

The Comments that this event has drawn are vital and introduce important correctives

  • the words & language are apparently Konkani and this singing collective could well be Goan – because one of the prevalent lanugaes there is Konkani
  • However there is also a Sinhala twang and twist here and there ….

So, we need intelligent and knowledgable interventions here from Batticaloa Burghers, writers with backgrounds rooted in Goa, Portugal and from those dwelling on both sides of the Palk Strait or having deep experiences there.

Well and truly a Thuppahi project.



A DEFINITIVE ANSWER from Professor Dennis B. McGilray in USA, 26 May 2023 … definitive because Dennis pursued anthropological research in the Batticaloa area of the Eastern Province for many years and knows the dialects of the coastal regions in particular:

“Michael,……… My guess is that these are Goan farangis singing in Konkani.  It is conceivable that a Konkani song might have traveled to Ceylon during the Portuguese period, but this strikes my ear as a modern Baila beat, not an archaic folk tune. Someone in, or from, Goa will solve this puzzle.”


Dennis uses the word “farangi” in the plural …. that is, what we in Lanka know as “parangi”– derived , I believe, from the Farsi language of Persia and incorporated into the languages of the coastal regions of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands — often with pejorative denotations.

Ironically, the term parangi is closely linked to the pejorative “thuppahi” — and thus to the doubled denunciation thuppahiyaa/parangiyaa.  

Note that “Farsï” belongs to the Indo-European language grouping and is distinct from Arabic (https://www.lingualinx.com/blog/farsi-vs-arabic-comparision#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20Farsi%20is%20not,in%20a%20separate%20language%20family).

Note that the picture of the animated female dancer deployed in this item [now below] is taken from my presentation of Pon Kulendiren’s insightful essay.

For the implications in Sri Lankan history,  visit Roberts, Raheem & Colin-Thome: People Inbetween, Ratmalana, Sarvodaya Book Publishers, 1989, pp. 5, 10-21, 140, 145, 160, 171.

Also note that the combination of authors behind this book is as “parayo” (firangi) as one could wish for …. while the two photos I deployed [now placed below these lines] depict Sinhala kaberi personnel from the Puttalum coastal area dancing to music that would have also animated the Goan Konkani personnel seen in the You Tube above. That is the beauty of captivating tunes: it transcends boundaries and animates.  ….. So, say, Hayii, Hoyii … and step forth into the world ….. discarding ethnic prejudices.


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5 responses to “A Konkani Baila that Crosses the Indian Seas

  1. I’m not at all sure that Prof. Mc Gilvray’s answer is definitive. The Konkani influence need not have been confined to the Portuguese era. There were plenty of contacts with Goa and the Konkan-speaking regions of India during the British period as well. And plenty of migrants to Ceylon from that part of the world, too. The famous ‘rationalist’ Abraham Kovoor, who exposed many Lankan frauds trading on religion and superstition, was one such. Michael, you’re probably familiar with the name – he taught at Richmond College for a while. When I was a very small boy in Bambalapitiya, I played often with the children of a neighbouring family who were second-generation Konkani migrants.

    Speaking as a musician, I must disagree with Prof. McGilvray. This isn’t ‘modern baila’ unless, by modern, he means the music of C.T. Fernando etc – the music of seventy or eighty years ago. Modern baila is highly produced and heavily influenced by Western pop music, from which it often borrows melodies, etc.

    But that, I have to say, is a detail; traditional folk music styles are always ‘vulnerable’ (as the purist might have it) to the influence of contemporary ones. Unless the musicians performing in that video were under the direction of an expert music historian who was deliberately trying to recreate the style of a certain period, this is exactly how they would present a ‘traditional’ song – in a style that seems ‘old-fashioned’ to the performers but is not necessarily that of the period in which the song was actually written. You cannot reliably date a piece of music (far less a style) by listening to a modern rendition of it; that ship sailed with the spread of recording and broadcasting technology, I’m afraid. Musicians are always listening to the music around them, and it influences what we play unless we make a specific, informed effort to avoid this.

    I am no expert in the field of musical anthropology (and I actively appreciate the work of Prof. McGilvray, which I have often drawn upon as research to feed my own writing), but as far as I know, the musical elements Lankans identify broadly as ‘baila’ appear in varying permutations and combinations throughout the former Portuguese empire in South and Southeast Asia as well as in littoral Africa. So do the songs. ‘Singili (Jingili, Chingili) Nona’, for example, used to be heard from Goa to Macau. The musical elements of which I speak sound recognizably ‘Latin’ to the educated ear: 6/8 time, orchestrated breaks and added beats to spice up the dancing, the arrangement of vocal harmonies, shouted interjections of the ‘¡Ay! ¡Ay! ¡Ay!’ variety, etc. You can hear them all in the vernacular music styles of Latin America.

    Most obvious (to my ears, at any rate) are the similarities between our baila and the living Mexican folk style known as conjunto. Like baila, it is simple music.

  2. AaaaaaaaaaaaaaHHHHHHHHHHHH …. David SANSONI’s clarification in detail:

    Good morning.

    This is an old story!

    Cutting to the chase…here are the facts.
    Composer: Henry D’Souza
    Choral Arrangement: Jossie Moras
    New Music Arranged, Mixed & Video by: Thushara Kuruvitage – TK Studio, Dubai – UAE
    Project Co-ordinator: Diany Dsouza
    Lyrics: R N Jaygopal
    Original Music: M Ranga Rao

    I have supplied this truth on many occasions, and I expect I shall, on many more.

    Here is an earlier contribution.

    “These are not ‘Batticaloa Burghers’. They are a group of Indians from the state of Mangalore, living and working or studying in Dubai, who have formed themselves into a choir.
    “MELODIA MOTIYAM” (You can see details on the video). They are singing in the Konkani, which is the local ‘tongue’ in Goa/Mangalore, former Portuguese colonies in India.”

    Blessings. …..David

  3. EMAIL COMMENT from Sidney Fernando, now back in Colombo, 27 May 2023:
    “Let me add my two cents worth to this discussion.

    The beat is much like the SL Baila which originated with Portuguese music.When I first visited Trinidad there was in vogue a type of music very much like our baila. It was called Parang. This music originated in the San Fernando valley a part of Trinidad which was occupied by the Portuguese before they were ousted by the British.

    It is possible that the song has been mixed with other forms of music, but the base remains baila to my ears.

    What is common is the word Parangi (in Trinidad Parang) …. a very close affinity.”

    Trust this helps.

    Regards, Sydney

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