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.