IN 2013, when they accompanied Vir Das’s comedy rock band Alien Chutney at the NH7 Weekender in Pune and Delhi, The Salvation Singers travelled the farthest from the point where they had begun their journey. Dylan D’Souza remembers it as an experience quite distinct from the music ensemble’s first performance in 1997. “The Salvation Singers came into being as a choir to represent Dadar’s famous Portuguese Church at an all-parish music competition. Alien Chutney, famous for its bold lyrics, made us push our boundaries as they employ a variety of genres including rock, punk and blues,” says D’Souza, the conductor of the group.
It wasn’t so much their win at the competition as the fun the members had while putting together the performance that prompted them to look beyond singing at the church. The humble choir took on a formal avatar and has since been performing at corporate shows, cultural events as well as delivering solo concerts. The choral ensemble shot to fame with their performance for Coke Studio’s third season in 2013 when they accompanied Bollywood music director and arranger Clinton Cerejo. Later that year, The Salvation Singers also featured alongside Indian rock band Agnee on MTV Unplugged.
They are currently rehearsing for their next solo concert, titled The Flight of the Octaves, at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai on October 11 (tickets on Bookmyshow). “When we started 18 years ago, the members were all from the Portuguese Church parish. Now, we have musicians and singers from various social, religious and geographical backgrounds,” says D’Souza of the 40-member ensemble, which also includes a French national. The ages of the members range from 15 to 60-plus.
Among the recent entrants of the ensemble is Riddhi Sampat. The 25-year-old vocalist returned to Mumbai last year after studying Western classical music from AR Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory in Chennai. She discovered The Salvation Singers through YouTube. “Initially, I was hesitant as I am not a Christian but I soon realised that the group is secular and cosmopolitan in nature,” says Sampat, who will be performing with the group on October 11 for the first time since she joined in March.
The Salvation Singers doesn’t limit itself to sacred music and the selection of songs for a performance depends also on its audience or the event’s theme. During their show at Celebrate Bandra festival a few years ago, they used swing extensively so as to have the attendees identify and connect with the music. For the 2012 concert at the NCPA — their first solo show, titled Mad About Music — 24 songs ranged from piano classics of the 18th century to pop and jazz numbers accompanied by a posse of Western musical instruments. “Most of us have a day job yet we come together and rehearse every week. The frequency increases as the concert date nears. It’s through regular practice that we are able to attempt the variety in genres,” says Sampat. The desire to experiment runs deep. It’s why they jumped at the opportunity when Cerejo approached them for the episode of Coke Studio, where he fused Rajasthani tunes with gospel music. Or, to accompany artist Shilpa Gupta’s seaside installation on Bandra’s Carter Road, titled I Live Under Your Sky Too. “With religious, national, political, class, and gender harmony as its theme, one of the songs we performed was Rabindranath Tagore’s iconic poem, Freedom,” says D’Souza, a banker.
While each of these experiences has enriched the choral ensemble, it’s working towards a solo concert that they enjoy most. Says D’Souza, “It allows us the opportunity to select a theme, the songs and throw in a bit of choreography. The joy of a full house and having a resounding applause end the show is unparalleled.”