Pakistan's Portuguese wonder: Magic fingers

Published: June 12, 2011
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Ralph D’Aranjo is one such person. Ralph is not only an experienced guitarist, he is also a member of Pakistan’s tiny Portuguese community ­— a community that has made an enormous contribution to the establishment and running of missionary schools all over the country.

In Pakistan’s early days, Portuguese artists were quite active on the music scene too, but as time went on, many of these maestros either passed away or emigrated.

Ralph, however, has been playing classical guitar for over 50 years, and has no intention of going anywhere. He is also in the unique position of being the only musician who has played (under one contract) in a five-star hotel in Pakistan for over thirty years.

Ralph began his musical journey at the tender age of 12, when his father presented him with a brand new guitar on his birthday. Two years later, he found himself heading for Europe. He tried to settle down in Germany after touring countries like Iran, Turkey and Greece by road. When he didn’t end up making a home for himself in Germany, he returned to Pakistan and started a musical career in a nightclub band.

This was back when Pakistan still rocked, and nightclubs were a big part of the social scene –from 1970 to 1979, Ralph played in various pop bands as a lead guitarist in almost every hotel, nightclub and discotheque in Karachi. Midway House, Beach Luxury, Horse Shoe Disco, 2001 Plaza, Three Aces Nightclub, Peacock, Lido, Taj and Nasreen Room … the list goes on, and Ralph’s played at them all.

But when the cabaret era came to an end, it was time to move on. He stopped playing pop music in 1979, and joined the Hotel Intercontinental (now known as the Pearl Continental Hotel). He played in the Nasreen Room for a few years and with the dawn of the 80s, he teamed up with Alex Rodrigues, who was a saxophonist, and Louis D’Souza, who was a pianist, and formed a jazz trio band.

A lot has changed in the past three decades, and just as in Bryan Adams’ song “Summer of ‘69”, the band members started drifting apart. The first person to leave was Louis D’Souza, who emigrated to the US in 1990. He was replaced by David Jospeh, who also emigrated in 1995, but to Canada. Christopher Carvalho was the next musician to join their band. He played with the band till late 1999, when he passed away. Ferdinand Goveas was the next replacement and continues to play with the band at present. Alex Rodrigues, the band’s original saxophonist, breathed his last breath on November 21, 2001. He was replaced by Dominic Gonsalves, who immigrated to Australia in 2007.

To date, Ralph continues to play with a jazz outfit at the PC Hotel. It is here that the hotel’s patrons drop by every evening to enjoy a variety of music from the likes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, to tunes ranging from The Blue Danube to the relatively recent repertoire of Miles Davis, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck and Clark Terry.

“We are not only known for our jazz music, but also for blues, ballad standards, Caribbean music, Latin music, the cha cha cha, the tango, waltz, bolero, rumba, and bossa nova,” says Raplh proudly. “Through these past thirty years, we have been also performing for our foreign guests at the hotel, playing music that is indigenous to their countries: be it French, Italian, German, Spanish, Malaysian, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Japanese … you name it and we play it!”

Ralph also had to recently deal with a personal tragedy, as his wife passed away on July 7, 2010. Cheryl D’Aranjo had suffered from a rare disorder called the Guillain Barre Syndrome, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Naturally, Ralph and his two daughters Pamela and Linda were shattered, and he still talks of what a beautiful person she was.

Despite all these setbacks, and the many changes in his band’s ensemble, Ralph D’Aranjo says he is still here to stay! Ralph will be applying for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records soon, claiming to be the only guitarist who has played under one contract in the same establishment for over thirty years.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 1:36AM

    I would like to extend my gratitude and thanks to The Express Tribune and Mr. Zarrar Khuhro for publishing my article. Mr. Ralph D’Aranjo is a true maestro of his art and absolutely deserves all the recognition and praise! God Bless all of you and KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! :-) ROCK ON! :-)Recommend

  • Pamela D'Aranjo
    Jun 13, 2011 - 2:44AM

    Noel, thank you so much for your write-up on my dad. I totally agree with your comment! :) I’d like to congratulate you once again because you are the first person who has been successful in convincing my father to do an article on him (my mother would have been as thrilled and proud of him as we are). You have managed to capture and deliver the true essence of Ralph D’Aranjo: his musical career and his God given talent to be one of the best musicians in Pakistan. I too would like to thank The Express Tribune and Mr. Zarrar Khuhro for publishing this beautiful article on my father. “THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE ROCKS!” :)Recommend

  • K. Khan
    Jun 13, 2011 - 4:23AM

    Noel, thanks for this article. I had no idea Pakistan has such a legendary Maestro of Portuguese decent.Recommend

  • Darryl Leachay
    Jun 13, 2011 - 4:44AM

    Hi Noel,

    My cousin Dana Pereira played keyboards with Ralph and Uncle Alex at pearl Continental for a couple of years.

    Regards
    DarrylRecommend

  • yoyoaj noel
    Jun 13, 2011 - 9:11AM

    oh wow!Recommend

  • yoyoaj noel
    Jun 13, 2011 - 9:23AM

    what’s the point in all this. most of these so-called stars in music have severe psychological issues. the likes of amir zaki, rodney judd, ali tim and ralph himself are perfect examples of failed lifestyles. these guys can’t even play in a band because of their nutty peculiarities. Zaki was so intolerable despite being a musical genius that he was refused sessions at coke studio. these guys are better off playing in some restaurant hotel, living quietly because that is all they can afford to do while their social and family life falls apart. Recommend

  • Lynette Dias-Gouveia
    Jun 13, 2011 - 9:25AM

    Noel I’m so happy to see this article on Ralph.
    Well done!!

    And thanks for posting on the Legendary Musicians of Karachi (LMK) group.
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_294901767645

    We hope to hear more from you.
    -ldgRecommend

  • Lynette Dias-Gouveia
    Jun 13, 2011 - 9:31AM

    As requested earlier..
    More articles on our musicians please. :)Recommend

  • Jun 13, 2011 - 9:47AM

    My first ever guitar teacher, one of the most genuine human beings ive had the pleasure to know. And truely awesomemusician Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 10:25AM

    You are welcome Mr. K. Khan. I’m glad that my article is able to reach out to the masses and give the well deserved exposure to this humble and noble music maestro! I once again am grateful to The Express Tribune for making all of this possible! :-)Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 10:29AM

    Hi Darryl, good to see your comment! :-) Duly noted. Keep on banging that BASS bro! :-)Recommend

  • Michelle
    Jun 13, 2011 - 10:43AM

    Hi Noel,

    I am extremely happy to read your article on Uncle Ralp. I’ve known Uncle Ralp and the family since childhood. He was my mama’s good friend. I take this opportunity to thank you for taking out time and writing such a beautiful article on Uncle Ralp. I would also like to thank “The Express Tribune” for publishing your article and appreciating such a legend.

    Thank youRecommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 10:44AM

    Hi Lynette, thanks for all your help and support in promoting our Legendary Musicians of Karachi. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! :-)Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 10:49AM

    Hi Roydon, thanks for your kind words of praise for Mr. Ralph D’Aranjo. As always you remain a TRUE GENTLEMAN! :-)Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 13, 2011 - 11:06AM

    Hi Michelle, thank you so much for your kind words! It was an honour for me to write this article on the legendary Ralph D’Aranjo. He truly deserves all the love, support, recognition and praise that all you beautiful people are showering him with! :-) KEEP IT COMING! :-) GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS! :-)Recommend

  • Emily
    Jun 13, 2011 - 3:04PM

    A great article honoring a well deserved musician.Recommend

  • Ferdinand Goveas (Ferdy)
    Jun 13, 2011 - 4:19PM

    Wow, an amazing writeup…Way to go uncle Ralph and it is true the you are here to stay….It is a pleasure performng with musicians like you and uncle Domnic who took me in as a kid and a learner while i was hardly 20 years old 11 years ago and groomed me and taught me all you could without asking for anything in return…..I salute the 2 of you….I now understand what you always meant by sayin dont run from hotel to hotel just for the money but stick in one place learn and do it for the passion of music. May God bless u and give you the courage to go on doin what you do for many more years to come…I hope you do get enrolled with the world record books… best of luck…..FERDY Recommend

  • Rufus Gill
    Jun 13, 2011 - 4:28PM

    Dear Noel.

    Thank you so much for writing about my dear uncle. He is indeed an inspiration to everyone around him. I miss being around him and benefitting from his wisdom. He is a true gentleman an an awesome musician.Recommend

  • rupert dcosta
    Jun 13, 2011 - 5:52PM

    The good professional musicians of Karachi….Heard this group many times when Alex Rodrigues used to play with them….lovely entertaining music….Keep it up RalphRecommend

  • natz
    Jun 14, 2011 - 2:25PM

    @yoyoaj noel:
    who r u n how do u knw so much abt dis guy?????Recommend

  • Emmanuel Rodrigues
    Jun 14, 2011 - 8:20PM

    The Amazing Uncle Ralph. Words cannot express how grateful I am for all the time you took out to teach me how to play the guitar. You brought music into my life and now it is a very important if not most important part of my life. You were there to teach me my first chord, my first scale, my first song, you were also there with me when I bought my first guitar followed by my 2nd one. I am and always will be very proud to be your student. May God always bless you for all that you have done to make a difference to our lives through music.

    PS: Noel, you did an awesome job with this article. Make sure you don’t stop after this.Recommend

  • fus
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:17PM

    Thanks for sharing this story with us. It is sad that many ppl of many such communities have moved to other countries. That was the beauty of Karachi at one timeRecommend

  • Yasser Nomann
    Jun 14, 2011 - 9:20PM

    Amazing! Many times I discussed with my European friends Portuguese words we use in our daily life in Pakistan but had no idea about the presence of Poruguese musicans in our cultural circle here. I am taking this article about Mr. Ralph D’Aranjo along to Loulé, Portugal where a group of our artists, Faiz Ali Qawwal & Ensemble from Lahore and French musicians Titi Robin & Quartet are giving a joint performance at Festival Med on June 22. No doubt this article will be a great news for my Portuguese friends. Thank you, The Express Tribune. Recommend

  • Ali
    Jun 15, 2011 - 12:11AM

    So lovely to hear of Pakistani people of Portuguese descent, como vai voce? my aunty is Brazilian and she will be thrilled to hear of Portuguese people in Pakistan! May God Bless you all.. Amen

    PeaceRecommend

  • Kim
    Jun 15, 2011 - 11:52AM

    Whenever we go to the PC I always enjoy the music played my Ralph and the band. You get lost in the music and forget where you are suppose to be and all your stresses. They are great. Best of luck with the Guiness world record! You deserve it!Recommend

  • Pamela D'Aranjo
    Jun 15, 2011 - 2:24PM

    Dear All,
    Thank you so very much for all your lovely comments on my dad (Ralph D’Aranjo) article.
    May God bless all of you :-) Have a Great Day!

    Regards
    Pamela Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 16, 2011 - 12:27PM

    ‎@ Emmanuel – Thank you for your kind acknowledgement! :-) This is just the beginning and I’m never going to stop representing all those outstanding musicians from our community, who truly deserve all the recognition and praise for their contribution and ongoing dedication towards the field of MUSIC! I look forward to doing a write-up on you as well in the years to come: you know that I’m a HUGE fan of your amazing talent and command over the AXE! :-) I think it was rather sweet of you to share with us all your wonderful experiences with the peerless maestro and virtuoso Mr. Ralph D’Aranjo! :-) ROCK ON!!! :-)Recommend

  • Alden D'ouza
    Jun 17, 2011 - 1:54PM

    Nice Article!! can someone vouch the credibility of the person who wrote this though? heheheRecommend

  • Kevin Mendonca
    Jun 19, 2011 - 9:56AM

    Thanks Noel for the wonderful Article on Ralph, Its strange I know Ralph from the 70s when he played with Ronnie Boy D’sousa, Caji D’sousa, Paul Sebastian, The Feu boy on piano, I think they went by the name of Silver Styx, and came to know Ralph more personally in the 80’s and remember Cheryl who was a beautiful and kind person that I was very fond of, strange I never knew Ralph was a Portugues, I guess I never asked him, but he is an excellent person and a great musician, and I am glad he is getting recognised for his talent, PC , Intercont has such a great accustic and you could hear the music from afar, I hope I get a chance to visit Karachi and have the experience of enjoying music once again with good old familiar faces, Keep up the good work.

    PS I know Rodney Judd and he is an excellent guitarist, and have come to know Ali Tim thru LMK, I dont agree what some one has commented about them, He must be someone who has no idea of music to state something utter rubbish.

    Keep up the good work Recommend

  • Noel Correa
    Jun 19, 2011 - 7:26PM

    Thanks Kevin for your kind words of encouragement. :-) It was an absolute privilege and honour for me to write an article on the maestro and virtuoso Ralph D’Aranjo. I totally agree with you about Rodney Judd: he is an excellent guitarist indeed! Ali Tim is a fabulous bassist and was one the founding members of Milestones (a local Pakistani band) in the mid 90’s. Candida Pereira who now resides in Canada, used to be the band’s vocalist. Amir Zaki who will always remain an ICON in my eyes has to be one of the most brilliant and versatile guitarists Pakistan has ever produced. I wish I had the same chance as you did to know Mrs. Cheryl D’Aranjo, unfortunately I only got to know her 6 days before she departed from this world. Even though I met her when her health had deteriorated tremendously, lying in a hospital bed, she continued being the pleasant and smiling Cheryl that everyone knew her to be. Coming back to Ralph D’Aranjo, Rodney Judd, Amir Zaki and Ali Tim: to all those who are stupid enough to even try to criticise them, in the words of the legendary Frank Zappa I’d like to ask them to “SHUTUP AND PLAY YOUR GUITAR!” :-) Recommend

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