As the news of Kersi Lord’s passing spread on Sunday morning, tributes slowly started pouring in. And each tribute seemed different from the other. “He imported the first synthesiser to India”, “He introduced the musical instrument glockenspiel, used for the cigarette lighter sound effect in Hum Dono (1961)”, “He played the accordion in several classics in the 60s and 70s”. The list went on. Such were the musician’s achievements and body of work.
Among Hindi film music’s finest yet unsung heroes, Lord, 81, passed away Sunday morning. He was suffering from age-related illnesses and had been hospitalised for nearly a week. His funeral was held at the Parsi Crematorium in Worli.
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Born in 1935, Lord had music in his blood. The son of Cowas Lord, a pioneering percussionist in the Hindi film industry who brought the bongo and congo to film music, Lord started his career at the age of 14. He would accompany his father to the studios and soon joined the orchestras as a percussionist, playing various Latin-American instruments, especially the jazz drums.
However, what most remember him for is his proficiency with the accordion, which he played in many songs composed by RD Burman. “Many musicians can play multiple instruments. But Lord mastered a variety of both the melodic and rhythmic instruments, which is uncommon,” said Rudradeep Bhattacharya, who directed the documentary The Human Factor (2013), which extensively talks about the Lord family’s contribution to Hindi film music.
Bhattacharya, who stayed in touch with Lord, says his last conversation with the musician was over the phone. “The documentary was recently aired on EPIC channel and Kersi called up to congratulate me. He was very excited that the stories of some unsung heroes who made music was reaching people through the film,” Bhattacharya says.
Over the span of his career, however, Lord graduated to an accomplished film music arranger and conductor. His first was for Naushad’s Saathi in 1968. He later also worked with Laxmikant-Pyarelal. “He also fought for credit for music arrangers and was the first to get a title card on screen,” said Pyarelal, one half of the composer duo who encouraged Lord to compose background scores. In 2013, Lord received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to cinema.
His popularity was only furthered by his dynamic personality. Most remember him as a jovial man and an archive of music. Recounting his first meeting with Lord, Balaji Vittal, who co-wrote The Man, the Music on RD Burman, said, “The last name of the gentleman I was about to meet sounded imposing. He had sounded friendly enough over phone though. A large, square man with broad features greeted me. Soon I was in a temple of time. Gramophone records dating half a century back, old relics, photographs. Thus began my association with Kersi Lord.”