For Kimberley Rodrigues it was just another jam session with her uncle, noted Delhi-based guitarist Desmond Powell, when he visited the singer last month. But no one knew it would be the last time they jammed together. The 52-year-old musician, best known as the lead guitarist of Hindi rock band Bandish, passed away last week.
His demise comes as a huge shock for not only his family but his colleagues and the scores of musicians he has inspired since first forming a band in 1985 called Nirvana. An absolute rockstar on stage, Desmond, like all accomplished guitarists, developed his distinct tone. His melodic yet aggressive guitar playing immediately struck a chord with the rock-deprived Capital city.
If for some reason his music didn’t touch people, his persona would. “He was humble and giving. He was never jealous, and would always praise other musicians,” says Christopher Powell, Desmond’s younger brother, who has played the drums for bands such as Bandish and Euphoria.
Desu, as he was fondly called, was born in Chakradharpur but he grew up in a boarding school in Dhanbad, with his brother Chris. It was at school where he saw his seniors playing the guitar and instantly fell in love with its sounds. Without any formal training, young Desmond honed his skills and by the time he completed school (at 14 because he was given a double promotion), he had mastered the instrument.
But since he was too young, colleges were reluctant to admit him. But he struck a deal. “Desmond got admission into Don Bosco Technical Institute, in Liluah, because he promised to play for the Sunday mass,” says Christopher. He later played lead guitar for Nirvana which was disbanded in 2000. It was among the few bands to play out and out rock music in Delhi at that time. Christopher quit Nirvana in 1994 and joined an international airliner as a ramp manager. Two years later, he was invited to join Euphoria, one of the most popular bands in India now, and he asked Desmond to come along.
“He said okay but later backed out as he wasn’t convinced with the style of music we were going to play. For someone who plays AC/DC songs, Dhum pichuk dhum wouldn’t be that appealing. He knew what he wanted,” says Christopher, who was with Euphoria for almost a decade. But it was in Bandish, formed in 2006 by Christopher, that Desmond got to restart his music career. The Hindi rock band became immensely popular with their singles, like Goonj topping the MTV World Chart Express, and winning music awards.
For Desmond, who never married, the guitar was his first love. His passion for music inspired several budding musicians including Anirban Chakraborty, the founding member of the band Orange Street and also the director of Rock Street Journal. “He was the reason I picked up the guitar. I used to watch him and wanted to be like him. He taught me my first chords. He was such a gentle soul and always ready to help. He has inspired several musicians of that generation,” says Chakraborty, who has worked for several Bollywood projects, including Anushka Sharma-starrer NH 10.
For his nieces, Rodrigues and Liza, who grew up listening to their uncle play at home, Desmond was the reason they developed a liking for music. Rodrigues had no idea that her last song with Desu uncle, Meghan Trainor’s Like I’m gonna lose you, would mean so much.
As the lyrics go: I’m gonna love you, like I’m gonna lose you, cause we’ll never know when we’ll run out of time…