‘Bombay Meri Hai’: How a party song from Bandra spread around the globe in the 1960s


Sung by Uma Pocha, who died last week, the tune travelled to Sri Lanka and beyond, serving as a reminder that it’s impossible to predict how sounds travel.
Uma Pocha with her husband Jimmy Pocha (right) and theatre personality Adi Marzban (middle) | YouTube.com
Bombay Meri Hai is among my earliest musical memories. When I was a child, the song was always being played on Saturday Date, the pop music request show on All India Radio. But mostly, I heard the tune being performed week after week by wedding bands at the Bandra Gymkhana, opposite my grandparents’ home. Bombay Meri Hai is among the songs in the “masala” section of Catholic wedding parties – the fast-paced crescendo during which revellers wave white handkerchiefs above their heads to conjure up a long-forgotten aboriginal past as they dance to Marathi and Konkani folk tunes.

Perhaps because it’s invariably performed alongside tunes like Galyan Sakli Sonyachi and Sonyachi Kavla, I’d always thought of Bombay Meri Haias a traditional Bombay Catholic tune. So I was more than a little intrigued when, deep into the graveyard shift at The Times of India in 1991, my Parsi colleague Roxanne Kavarana told me that not only did she know the man who had composed the tune, she was actually related to him. Over the next few years, I’d come to learn a little more about how Mina Kava came to compose the first-ever Indo-pop hit.

Mina Kava and the Music Makers. Kava is at the back, playing the drums.
Mina Kava and the Music Makers. Kava is at the back, playing the drums.

This photo was taken in 1958, when Mina Kava – peering out from behind the drums – was still a few years away from his burst of success (or at least success as defined by the standards of the tiny world of Indian dance music). It was shot at the Bandra Gymkhana when his band, the Music Makers, was staffed with best-known performers of the Bombay jazz world: pianist Toni Pinto, trumpet player Chic Chocolate and saxophonist Norman Mobsby. If you look closely, you’ll see that the photograph was signed at the bottom by two visiting American musicians: Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello. (Not pictured here are six men who were vital to the smooth functioning of the Music Makers and indeed, most Bombay dance bands of the time – well-muscled coolies. “Sure, we had to transport the piano from venue to venue,” Kava explained.)

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