Friday, May 16, 2008

The Thunders Of Macau


[All copied from contents of the publication/CD album of "A Story of Success in the 60's"]


Keyboard  Herculano Airosa (Alou)
Bass  Armando Sales Ritchie
Lead Guitar  Rigoberto do Rosário Jr. (Api)
Rhythm Guitar  Domingos Rosa Duque (Lelé)
Drums & Percussion  Manuel Costa
Lyrics & Music  Rigoberto do Rosário Jr.

We were half way into the 1960's, when a boys' band was a talking issue among those who attended dancing tea parties and nightclubs. Not only because of the "different" way in which they played and their voices, but mainly because they presented their very own original lyrics and scores, both in English and Portuguese. Not very common in Macau.

Herculano Alexandre Airosa, Rigoberto do Rosário Jr., Domingos da Rosa Duque, Armando Sales Ritchie and Manuel Costa, five names in a pop band, that in July 1968, scored success in Hong Kong, by winning the mostly popular Star Show organized by HK-TVB. A several step elimination contest for the many young and fiery bands that coloured the musical scene of that time. These and other – shows or quests – were the means record companies used to emerge from dullness and launch new talents among the so called "Pop Music" groups, that started imposing their different sound here and there.

Of the many contestants, the band featuring Alou, Api, Lelé, Armando and Manuel (household names by which they are better known by the Macanese Community) was the only one from this side of the China shore. With a great deal of persistency and skill, The Thunders defeated over a hundred Hong Kong local talents. But before that they were also placed second best amongst twenty in a previous contest: the Hong Kong's Talent Quest. But then with a different line up, including singer Daniel Ferreira.

By winning the Star Show, hosted by Samuel Hui one of Hong Kong all time stars, The Thunders earned the right to sign up a recording contract with a well-known international record company. This was the ultimate dream of many young musicians: so very distant and difficult to attain.

"She's in Hong Kong" and "My Love is a Dream", both songs by Rigoberto, were recorded and released in 1968 by Columbia/EMI, rival of the local label Diamond (that joined Polydor and Philips).

The second half of the 1960's – from 1964 to 1969 – was one of the most remarkable periods of Hong Kong musical scene and also Macau's by attachment. Separated from Hong Kong by a mere 60 nautical miles (for more exactly a "three hour ferry boat ride" in the sixties, that became "one and a half hour by hydrofoil" in the seventies), our sleepy town tended to follow, at its own pace, the trends of cosmopolitan Hong Kong. This distance seemed to be made shorter by the radio programs, newspapers and magazines that reached across the sea. Towards the end of the 1960's the influence of Hong Kong – mainly in terms of language and trends – started to strengthen via television.

Up till 1983 when local TDM (Teledifusão de Macau) broadcasts started, four Hong Kong television channels TVB and RTV (two in English and two in Cantonese) reached our gleeful local audiences. Free of charge. Open to everything happening in London, Paris and American and Australian capital cities, Macau and Hong Kong rode the pop music wave that was peaking its golden period, crowded with bands like the Beatles that stopped over Hong Kong in 1964 on their way to Japan, increasing its legion of fans, and then the Rolling Stones. Young fans from Macau were among the many that attended the Hong Kong City Hall concerts by the Searchers and also Herman's Hermits. Also cherished were the Hollies, the Yardbirds, Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Elvis Presley (whom the Chinese still call the "King of The Cats") and the Everly Brothers songs were still played, but were mostly favourites to audiences ten years older.

What was played over the radio, and on the Hi-Fi systems of those who could afford to buy and collect vinyl records, confirmed the public's acceptance of the new rhythms. With Commercial Radio and Radio Hong Kong leading the preferences, along with Rádio Vila Verde and Emissora de Radiodifusãde Macau, the pop bands' music was loud and cellar with the usual foursome; acoustic and electric guitars, bass and percussion. This instrumental music sounded louder, often overtaking the voices of the crooners (which were still the favourite of the older generation), and other soloists or groups with vocal supported melodies. Those were the days of music festivals staged in movie theatres, schools and charity bazaars. There were contests, Christmas and Carnival parties, birthday and wedding celebrations when one or two bands would be invited to entertain the balls that followed tea parties and suppers.

The local radio station would broadcast recordings of contests and festivals on prime times, and our Johnny Reis with his unmistakable vocal style, would always give the boys the attention they deserved.

Talented youths with an itch for success get together in "Canto-pop" bands – a Hong Kong made expression -, which critics called "bubble-gum music", due to the banality of lyrics and chords. Many of these bands were very short lived and unstable, since their members would indiscriminately mix and jump from one band to another. Groups would last until conflicts of interests and of personalities arose. Just the normal field day for those who would last until conflicts of interests and of personalities arose. Just the normal field day for those who would have their 15 minutes of fame and fade to oblivion the day after.

As in Hong Kong, many bands were formed in Macau, most of them grouping teenagers who liked listening to music and mimicked their idols. Many overflowed with talent and personality, but lacked resources by remaining in a then backwater town like Macau; no proper instruments, staves, studios or adequate music rehearsal rooms and above all no good teaching and music culture. Besides, the so-called Hit-Parade, including the USA and United Kingdom top-ten and top-hundred hit songs that reached us, were there and everybody would play those hits, some better naturally than other. This music scene became more diversified with the rise of a considerable number of Hong Kong Bands like the Fabulous Echoes, Teddy Robin & the Playboys, Joe Jr. (pr José Maria Rodrigues) & the Side-Effects (& Zoundcrackers), the Mystics, Anders Nelson & the Kontinentals. There were the Lotus, featuring the famous Samuel Hui who is still looking sharp in Hong Kong's music scene nowadays and also Danny Diaz & the Checkmates, and the Topnotes, just to mention a few who came to perform in Macau.

With rare exceptions, at least in Macau, everybody "learned to play by himself" and whoever was more proficient would take part in teaching the others. Off keying was not a crime but it was quite a wet blanket. Special importance was given to good-will, dedication and punctuality in rehearsals and a certain amount of talent to yield harmonious vibrations from either guitar or vocal cords and make young girls hearts throb faster. In a town where resources weren't evenly spread, it was an added asset having the right "equipment"; guitars, piano, drums, amplifiers, a place to rehearse, and the readiness of understanding parents to provide assistance. It was away youngsters whiled away the time and spent their energy. It was "because we lacked other options for leisure that we chose music as entertainment. We would get together in lively rehearsals that would last for several hours and were filled with debates and jokes", says Alou.

The family was supportive and the neighbours would put up with the endless and loud sessions that took place in attics, cellars and garages. There was always quite a big group of girlfriends and admirers that formed the "fan clubs". They were always ready to attend the concerts staged on schools, cheer their idols, and provide props and dancers. Fan clubs would collect and mail popularity survey coupons, aimed at increasing the sales of newspapers, and magazines that published them,; and also gave out signed pictures and posters of their favourite bands, besides making phone requests to radio studios so their idols' songs would have most airtime.

Some of these Bands kept playing for a while in the so called tea-dances, organized by "café" and restaurant owners as they realized that "dancing weekends" were becoming increasingly popular with teenagers (and not only them), which made them "sure money in the pocket". The fixed price entry tickets entitled the bearer to two drinks, sandwiches and salty savouries, and at least three hours of dancing. The ranking of these amateur musicians was determined by their popularity with the girls that followed them wherever they were performing. The bands that pulled through the tea-dances phase, either by their real talent or simply by the fact of not disbanding but most importantly by their coming of age as musicians, would move on to play for more mature audiences in bars, restaurants and cabarets. They became semi-professionals and were often hired to play abroad.

But playing or singing in a pop band, would never be considered a job that would put food on the table, as most of the youngsters that lived the golden years of pop music here in Macau, agrees today. If was then, by late sixties and early seventies, that the pop age started losing its sparks, mainly due to the Cultural Revolution in China, which had strong consequences both in Macau and Hong Kong. But then it was also true that brought along pop music also faded slowly. And the professionals went to try their luck elsewhere. In this setting the Thunders were one of the most characteristic (and well deserved) cases of "reaching stardom while learning how to play". Deprived of formal musical education. Something that was only possible as those were changing times, a breeding ground for improvisation and creativity. Times that also brought a sense of tolerance and freedom that spread worldwide topped with "Flower Power", Bob Dylan and the Island of Wright.

To Stardom while "learning music on our own"....

One afternoon in 1964, the doorbell rang and Armando Ritchie went to the balcony to check out who it was. There stood Alou (Herculano), Api (Rigoberto) and Manuel Costa. Alou was carrying a typically African "bongo". He went down to get the door and invited them in the living room where there was a Telefunken Hi-Fi record player system.

Alou, Armando's schoolmate from Escola Comercial, introduced him to Api and Manuel who were students at the Colegio Dom Bosco.

We were thinking on getting the band together again and would like to know if you are willing to join us," said Alou. But I can't play anything!" – was Armando's surprised answer. Alou insisted, "it’s a piece of cake! (He handed over the small bongo to Armando. You know that song “Apache” by the Shadows?" (He took the bongo from Armando's hands, and started drumming it to the rhythm of  "Apache", and handed it back to Armando, who makes his attempt to the same rhythm).

"See? You got it already!" – says Alou excitedly. You just have to practice a bit more..." adds Api.

Full of enthusiasm, Armando accepts the invitation. The group exchanged some views and the party leaves, leaving Armando the bongo for further training. The first rehearsal is scheduled for Alou's house, who by that time was living at the Travessa da Misericordia, near the Leal Senado Square.

It was a joyful and proud moment for Armando, a 14-year old who suddenly recalled what he had watched just a couple of weeks earlier, in Macau's First Music Festival, at the Cheng Peng Theatre. There were Alou and Api, both sporting the flashy waistcoats of the Colourful Diamonds as they were then known, singing and playing their guitars along with Sonny Fernandes and Antonio Marinho. At that time, Bélinha (Isabel Batalha), Alou's girlfriend was also performing and she did sing well "I Love You Baby" and "Remember When?" Armando practiced so intensively drumming Shadow's "Apache" at home, that his fingers were all swollen and blue by the time he showed up for rehearsal. He was the barrel of laughs...and it was then that Api suggested he played bass instead.

"But I can't play this!" – Armando cried out again. "No problem. I'll teach you" – Api assured him. There you have how Armando learned to play bass.

"It took a great deal of work to refine one's tune perception and understanding music", recalls Armando who had to memorize the entire finger positions for each performance. It took endless and repetitive rehearsal sessions, thanks to Api who although he was perfectionist was always very considerate in the way he corrected any faults so as not to distress or discourage others. It was from him as well, that Alou managed to learn his chords on the guitar.

Leonel (Neco) Barros, an old hand at teaching music to beginners, was a usual presence at rehearsals. He would coach the boys in tuning their voices while singing the difficult but harmonius songs by the Everly Brothers like "Let It Be Me", "Pretty Blue Eyes" and "Bye Bye Love". Those were the ones who received more encore requests from the audience.

Herculano (Alou) came naturally as the band's leader, because of the way he was cut out for organizing, directing and marketing. Rigoberto do Rosário (Api) was full of musical talent, persistence and comradeship. The Thunders’ most remarkable songs are his compositions, especially the one entitled "Macu, terra minha" which still plucks the heart strings of most Macanese, young or old, whenever they listen to it. The electrifying wistful poignancy of its lyrics and melody evokes the soul of one in love with the land that bore him.

Nevertheless, Rigoberto recalls and his comrades agree, since there were no schools or academies for learning music, most of those who dedicated their time to playing music were self-taught, and would teach others. As to reading music and writing scores, although "nothing as complicated as Beethoven's", Api managed to learn how to compose by whim and will-power.

They also recall a Portuguese army sergeant named Mário Fernando Tomás that would be the first in Macau to introduce music contests for pop bands and other genres, thus making his contribution to motivate talented youths to get together in bands. Mário Tomás himself also had a band, and he organized the two first-ever Macau Music Festivals in 1963 and 1964 at the Cheng Peng Theatre.

Returning home carrying the instruments on their backs

The first appearance of the new line up of the Colourful Diamonds (Armando Richie's debut), was at the Carnival party at the Club de Macu, where they playd all right until 4 a.m., performing in turns with the Grey Coats a band with older boys, whose leader and double-bassist was Neco Barros. At the end of the party, there would be still time to grab something to eat before returning home on foot all the way from the Santo Agostinho Square carrying the instruments on their backs. "There was no money for transport then", they all recall.

As a matter of fact there really was no money for anything at all... When the band got together, recalls Herculano, their main trouble was gathering money to buy proper instruments. At the beginning they managed by getting some material here and there. Their second-hand loudspeakers, restored to good use, were acquired from "Chico-Chai" who owned a sound system repair shop in a small alley of Rua da Palha, the area around St. Paul's Ruins. Their amplifier, also restored was recovered from another repair shop. Used to make ends meet, the boys would then have good laughs, especially Armando, every time the reconditioned material would give a "moan" to the snuffled bass sound, sounding like a "torn out drum".

But amplifying those mishaps during rehearsals added more insult to the injury. To this day, Alou is still mortified when he remembers teacher Augusto Canhota, who was their third floor neighbour, just below where he used to rehearse daily, in a bulding at Rua D. Belchior Carneiro. Forever praised the qualities of understanding and tolerance of the Canhota, a very religious couple that would recite the Rosary every night at 8 p.m. along with Rádio Vila Verde's broadcast. As soon as they got ready to retire for the day hell would break loose just over their heads with electric guitars and drums in full swing and blast. Mr. Canhota, who taught Portuguese classes in Escola Comercial, would wake up every morning at 7 a.m. sharp, regardless of whether he had slept or not. Who would certainly not wake up in time was this pupil of his...Anyhow, since the teacher didn't have a telephone at home, he would have to borrow his upstairs neighbour's one to call for a taxi and get to school in time. Then Alou would make the best of the situation, got dressed in a hurry and even manage to get a ride to school. The final result was plaint to see...a big flunk in Portuguese, Mr. Canhota's subject, as school term reached end.

After Herculano moved to Av. Conselheiro Fereira de Almedia, a landed property with a back door to Tap Siac road, they found new victims for the high decibels: the Batalha da Silva and Braga families. But since they played reasonably well by then, and there were other youngsters in the neighbourhood to lessen the sound impact, no reason for ill-feelings were ever created.

The original Colouful Diamonds appeared in 1960 and included two Rosário brothers, (Ricardo and Rigoberto): two Marinho brothers (António and José) and one Vasco Santos, all aged between 12 and 17. With Leonel (Neco) Barro's help, and just a few months of rehearsals they were ready for their public debut performing in 1961, in a bazaar at Colégio Santa Rosa de Lima. This traditional bazaard was held every year and attracted large crowds. The nuns managed little stalls selling raffles, games and tidbits along both sides of the school's large and long stone stairway. Prizes were voluntarily made and donated by society ladies for the bazaar and the labour for assembling the stalls was often provided by soldiers sent by the military headquarters and volunteers among the parishioners.

The Colourful Diamonds evoked peals of applause, due to their young age rather than their tuned performance. But Rigoberto (Api) acknowledges the importance of that debut, since many of the invitations for future performances came after that. But they soon lost two of their older band mates. Vasco Santos took a job in Hong Kong, like many other Macanese young men, precisely at the HKSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) and Ricardo Rosário got transferred to the Grey Coats. The Colourful Diamonds became a "trio",w ith the two Marinho brothers and Rigoberto turned lead singer at age 13.

They performed for the first time at the Clube dos Macaenses (previously called the Clube-Melco, located in the Areia Preta neighbourhood). It was a real box office hit, with Api receiving loud cheers for his rendering of the song "Little Darling". Never before in this town, had a child dared to sing a pop song, solo.

Music Festivals for Macau teenagers

The arrival of Mário Tomás, sergeant of the new military garrison that replaced the territorial battalion settled in the Mong Há barracks, brought some liveliness to town, since he formed a quintet who provided dancing music to members of the Clube Militar (previously called Grémio Militar). But Tomás went even further and came up with the idea of organizing a music festival for the local youth, following the trend in many European and American capitals.

He rolled-up his sleeves in 1963 and managed to get nearly every local music group to accept the invitation to take part. Next, he succeeded in getting the permission of the owner of Cheng Peng Theatre, Comendator Ho Yin to borrow the premises and also Dr. António Nolasco's promise of a sponsorship by the Centro de Informção e Turismo, as it was then called.

That year, audiences for the afternoon sessions of November 9 and 10 saw two multi-faceted shows although it was intended to be a local pop bands competition. It included Portuguese folk music, folk dancing,, fox trot and bolero rhythms in-between the ultra modern rhythms of twist and mashed potatoes. The Colourful Diamonds performed with Herculano, Rigoberto, Humberto (Sonny) Fernandes, António Marinho and Manuel Costa, all aged roughly 14-year. They didn't qualify and the three prizes were awarded to the Grey Coats, to Mário Tomás e o seu Conjunto and to The Lovers.

It was very disappointing for the boys and it led to a few desertions: Sonny Fernandes decided to leave the band and Alberto Amante stepped in (Amante was a former member of The Lovers, the band that placed third at the Music Festival and that had come apart meanwhile).

Nevertheless, the youthfulness and potential of the Colourful Diamonds caught the eye of entertainment entrepreneurs and very soon they were hired to play at the floating casino Macau Palace (at that time moored in the Inner Harbour) and also at Kam On nightclubs, which had recently opened, next door to the Riviera Hotel.

It was another local specificity of Macau: none of the band members was old enough to even frequent any of those adults-only entertainment houses. A lot of negotiating with the Administrative Police and the Censorship Department of Macau finally yielded positive results, compromising on the boys having to leave immediately after their performances. And that worked out fine.

The quintet became a quartet once more. Alberto Amante and António Marinho left and Armando Ritchie, the one who didn't know how to play anything, joined the band.

With Armando, there formed performances at formal parties of the Club de Macau, Clube Militar and other parties at the Escola Comercial and Liceu, and also at the old Clube Macaense, then located in the Areia Preta neighbourhood, totally unrecognizable nowadays. They livened up private parties and took part in several music festivals and contests – Top of the Pops and Seven-Up Show, among others – staged in threatres that were more inclined to such events as the Cheng Peng, the Nam Van and Apollo Cinema.

The boys would play at tea dances just for practice and basically for their own enjoyment, since payment came often in the shape of goods and fried noodles. The band was the first to play at the tea dances at the Esplanada, a "café" previously named Waltzing Mathilda established by an Australian gentleman. The Macanese manager, Cândida Vieira, would allow them to pick any of the dishes of the menu along with a small pecuniary compensation as payment. But they also played at the Vila Tai Yip, a guesthouse in Avenida Rodrigo Rodriques owned by Comendator Kou Ho Neng's family.

The Colourful Diamonds were very sought after, with several invitations to perform sometimes on the same day. Once they attended three parties on a Saturday: three hours livening up he usual Esplanada tea-dance, followed by a cocktail party at the British Consulate (then located at Calçada do Gaio) where they played mood music for the English guests; after dinner off they went to Club de Macau to provide the dance music for the birthday party of an Australian young lady.

Mário Tomás went on to organize a second festival on August 15 and 16, 1964. Once more Comendator Ho Yin let him use the Cheng Peng Theatre to host the event, but this time with a different sponsor: the Movimento Nacional Feminino presided by Natália da Costa Freire. It was another festival with mixed music genres, but this time the Colourful Diamonds earned themselves the second place, even ahead of Mário Tomás e o seu Conjunto. The winners were again the "Grey Coats", with the same line up as in he previous festival. But they added some originality to the contest by performing a burlesque limitation of the hit song "A little bit of soap" which they called "Maria traz a sopa" (Serve the soup, Mary). The audience roared with laughter. The Colourful Diamonds, with Alou, Api, Armando and Manuel Costa also decided to present new original songs and give it their best shot by including an acrobatic performance by playing guitar over their shoulders. Api sung his first composition "A minha tristeza" with Portuguese lyrics. The following day, the press highlighted the whole festival and the winners.

But the person who was best impressed by the quintet was an entrepreneur from Hong Kong who invited them over for a one-week tour, with complimentary lodging at Hotel Miramar, one of the best in town at that time. It would be just a treat, no strings attached work wise, so they got their tickets and went on vacations.

Their generous patron not only gave them a daily allowance for shopping, but also presented them with new instruments so they could perfect their tunes. Besides making available one of the houses he owned in Macau, in Avenida Sidób\nio Pais, just next to the Victoria garden and monument marking the 1622 victory against the Dutch, so that the boys would have plenty of space to rehearse. Up till the time the Colourful Diamonds broke up, the house was also used for hosting Saturday evening dance parties.

From the Carnival '65 till the founding of the Thunders

Alberto Amante rejoined the Colourful Diamonds in 1965, playing the solo guitar and piano so that Rigoberto could concentrate on singing. In that year, the band performed at the Liceu and Club de Macau balls, during the three days of Carnival frolic. They played in turns with long-running bands like the Banda Estoril (formerly the Rockers), thus named because they were the hotel’s house band, and also with Tony Abeladro’s well-known orchestra.

&Macau’s high society, including the Governor and his wife, would attend these balls, which always attracted big crowds. They would last all the way until 4 a.m., and a supper would be served around midnight, presenting a well-chosen menu prepared by Anita Assumpção, one of the most famous names in Macanese cooking. After that, they had two new opportunities to perform in the Clube Militar balls, and Api tells that one of their fondest memories is when the Governor and his wife, approaching the stage while they were dancing and cordially complimented the band, saying that by keeping their good work they would surely reach “the top”. The youngsters were sol filled with joy, that without noticing they speeded up their music.

Performing at Macau’s nightclubs, they played at the Macau Palace, the floating casino overflowing with colourful neon lights, docked at the Inner Harbour, besides at Hotel Estoril, first opened in 1963 and no longer in business. Also the Hotel Caravela, on the waterfront near “meia-laranja”, had a very pleasant "café", unfortunately torn down to give way to nothing as the grounds on which it stood remains unoccupied to this day.

The Colourful Diamonds signed a contract with Radiodifusão de Macau, then based on the penthouse of CTT head office in Avenida Almedia Riberiro, and recorded four half music shows to be broadcasted weekly. But the band would break up shortly after when two of its members (Manuel Costa and Alberto Amante) left to join the Black Cats, founded by Domingo’s Rosa Duque (and João Magalhães). Rigoberto (Api) himself followed them afterwards. The first line up of the Thunders were put together by two former Colourful Diamonds members: Herculano (Alou) and Airosa and Armando Ritchie. They invited César Place, Mário Pistaquini and António (Sonny) Gomes to join them.

Rehearsals would take place at Alou’s new home, which had moved to Rua deo Tap Siac. But this line up also didn’t last long, and the three new recruits left the band. Armando and Herculano made the best of the breaking up of the Black Cats (the band lasted between 1965 and 1966), and got back Manuel Costa and Rigoberto Rosário to put the old band back together, now called Thunders. The local press, steadfast to Portuguese language, would soon rename them: "Os Trovões". They invited Daniel Ferreira, who had already sung with several bands, to relieve Rigoberto as lead singer. On their first performances, at a party of the recently opened Escola Comercial, on May 28th, 1966, they found themselves face to face with the Mighty Thunders, put together by the three deserters from the Thunders: César Place, Mário Pistaquini and Sonny Gomes. According to Rigoberto, the party went on in a lively "musical war" with quarreling rhythms and decibels fed by rivalry. Nevertheless, it would be a "peaceful war", in Api’s own words….

Stepping to success

On July 24th, 1966, the Thunder loaded their gear and headed to pier number 10 at the inner Harbour and set sail aboard the Tai Loy on a 3 hour and 15 minutes trip bound to Hong Kong. Like other over a hundred bands from the former British colony, they had sent their applications through the Young Hong Kong newspaper, as contestants for the Talent Quest '66 music festival, sponsored by Canada Dry, Cathay Pacific, Volkswagen and Tissot watches among others. They took lodging on the infamous Chungking Guest House (on the fifth floor of the Chungking Mansion) right in the heart of Nathan Road, in Kowloon. It was a high turnover motel but there wasn’t much choice or money and there was no longer a generous patron.

They were very down to earth and didn’t aspire to win the contest, which was quite out of reach being foreigners and all that. They were actually the only non-local band among many contestants from Hong Kong. Anyhow, they managed to reach the semi-finals and all the useful free publicity from the press and the opportunity of being seen and heard by so many was well into their goals of trying to leave a mark on that difficult ground. There were even some people who highly commended them for their boldness. "My Special Angel" was on the most applauded songs.

On their return to Macau, Herculano who was in charge of marketing the band, took a meeting with José Silveira Machado, teacher at the Escola Comercial, and got his support and thumbs up from the school board to organize musical shows in the school’s gym, in which some of the Hong Kong bands the Thunders had met during the Talent Quest ’66 would take part. The contacts were established with the Hong Kong bands, and on November 5th, 1966, the Thunders, Silveira Machado and other members of the school board went to greet the guest artists and journalists at the pier of the "SS Macau" in the Outer Harbour. The guests were lodged in a "villa" on Avenida Sidónio Pais that used to belong to the decreased (as they later found out) former patron of the Colourful Diamonds. On two shows staged at the Cheng Peng Theatre that were performances by Michael Remedios and the Mystics (which included other luso-descendants from Hong Kong), the Skippers, the TNT with Roman Tam, the Thunderbirds and Irene Ryder, and Eurasian and a flawless "a-Go-Go" dancer turned famous singer furing the 70's-80's. The success of these shows didn't take long to persuade others to stage similar shows at the Nam Van Theatre and the Apollo cinema with the Thunders and the Mighty Thunders taking part on the first show, and the Flipsiders on the second. This last band would also introduce something new to Macau: a trio of young dancers on stage to liven up their performances. They were the Tap Siac Sisters (Carolina de Jesus, Zinha Borralho and Nana Brito).

The perfomances were beginning to be more regular but only in parties, until the Tap Siac Sisters, with the Gazeta Macaense as a sponsor, organized a new show at the Nam Van Theatrre. The Thunders and the Flipsiders were the only local bands invited for the event, and from Hong Kong we had Anders Nelson & The Kontinentals, the British singer Dina Webster and Darryl Patton, a Hong Kong Commercial Radio's deejay.

And it was really an unforgettable show. The Thunders presented Api’s second original song "My Love is a Dream", that later cut a record and what a show by the Flipsiders with lead singer José Manuel Rodrigues (Chai Chai) fetching hysterical cries from the girls sitting in the first row. He would later be turned into a craze in Hong Kong.

One week later, Anu Khan, the entrepreneur who organized the first shows at the Nam Van and the Apollo, would bring another event to the Cheng Peng Theatre gathering the Thunders, the Irmãos Espirito Santo, the New Telecasters and the Flipsiders.

Since in 1967 and faced with the need to hire a band to share the nightly performance with the nightclub’s Banda Estoril, Hotel Estoril’s management got in touch with the Thunders and gave them the opportunity to perform for several weeks in one of the city’s most luxurious clubs. This invitation tasted as a sweet victory, since it was an unusual honour for teenage bands to be given the change to occupy such a post. By then, they were faced with yet another desertion, this time that of lead singer Daniel Ferreira who left the band for personal reasons.

Along with performances in parties at the Escola Comercial and in a show sponsored by the charitable institution "Obra das Mães" at the Cheng Peng Theatres, as from Spring of 1968 the Thunders played at the Macau Palace Casino for three months. They did attract big audiences, but lost in turn part of their devoted female fans, since it was ill regarded for young ladies to hang out in cabarets. As their season contract reached the end they returned to the Club de Macau and other parties to once again entertain their cherished audiences.

Success in Hong Kong…and the first record

In July 1968, newly created broadcasting HKTVB organized a pop music contest, to be aired during the television program Star-Show, hosted by Sam Hui, TV audience would decide voting. The Thunders had some doubts as to whether they should take part. Their last experience in Talent Quest '66 was still fresh in their minds. But as HKTVB sent a team to Macau to make some shots of them and the Heartbeats, they finally decided to take a chance.

It was then that Domingos Rosa Duque was invited to join the band. Besides the guitar, he was a good keyboard player, and that was one of the instruments in fashion at that time. Lelé recalls that he first started strumming the guitar, borrowed from a friend, when he was about 13 years old. Against his father’s wishes who would order him to study instead, but his mother’s gave precious advice telling him to learn with "someone who knew more than he did".

On the first trial round of the competition they decided to perform some of their original songs as a way to stand out from the crowd. Songs like "Do it" and "I Won’t Say Goodbye" granted them the lead through several trial rounds.

In the meantime they kept on rehearsing continuously and diligently back in Macau, while local newspapers and audiences started turning their attention to the event.

The boys travelled back to Hong Kong to take part in the semi-finals, which would be broadcasted live from the HKTVB studios. There they performed a song already familiar to Macau’s audience. "My Love is a Dream". Victory came to them once again.

Appraised and heartened by their fellows back home, the Thunders decided on making a strategic move. "She’s in Hong Kong", a song composed by Rigoberto "in the wink of an eye" was destined to sweep the neighbouring ex-British colony’s girls off their feet and get them to cast their votes for them in bulk. It was a song about a sailor who travels the seven corners of the world and falls in love with a Hong Kong girl.

On July 14th, 1968, they were brooding with anxiety. After all it was the final test, to decide between some "strangers" from Macau and the only surviving Hong Kong band. And as the Thunders performed "She’s in Hong Kong" they felt as if a million eyes were set upon them from the other side of the TV cameras. Telephones started to ring showing that the local votes were coming in. The voting from Macau’s audience would arrive by mail.

When they boarded the homeland hydrofoil, they entertained some hopes of victory, but still unable to cast away the feeling that it was a long shot.

Two days later, Herculano got a call from the producer of the Star Show, announcing the Thunders’ victory and telling them they were on the line up of the following show with the awards ceremony.

The whole Tap Siac neighbourhood was overflowing with joy when the results were announced over the HKTVB. Macau’s media, friends and admirers showed up by the dozen. Celebration went on till wee hours of the morning, with a great stir. There were no complaints… after all the neighbours were all partying there as well. Rather than winning the contest, they were rejoicing most for the fact that they would be able to cut a record deal with EMI. They would be the first Macanese band to launch a record with original tracks under a famous record company.

Tony Pereira and Alberto Alecrim, from the Emissora de Radiodifusão de Macau, interviewed them the following day and broadcasted their words that same evening.

On the day of the award-giving ceremony, the boys realized how popular they had become, when dozens of new fans awaited them at the studio entrance in Hong Kong, screaming out their names, and pulling them by their clothes while asking for autographs. This was a surprising experience they gathered with joy, but also frightful as they couldn’t help being a bit overwhelmed. Never before in Macau had their more discreet admirers displayed a behaviour such as that. Drummer Manuel Costa jokingly sighed the remark: "We resemble the Beatles, don’t you think?"

They were much applauded by the studio audience. And also received watches as prizes, medals, invitations to dinner in luxury restaurants, and from the hands of Columbia-EMI sales manager, Robert Ascott, the contract, or more precisely the “makeshift” contract (since the real one would be signed some days later pending legal advice and support).

It was a contract for the recording of a single issuing only two thousand copies, since the company wasn’t sure how well they would sell. On the other hand the Thunders had nothing to lose because they didn’t have to invest any money in it.

"She’s in Hong Kong" and "My Love is a Dream" were the two songs selected, and the rehearsals started for the already scheduled recording session. Their neighbours had the privilege to be the first to listen to the songs that were on their way to be immortalized on vinyl, but were also taking the risk of being fed up over the repetitive tuning sessions.

Unprecedented sales success

They travelled to Hong Kong one day before the date they longed for: making the first recording. Robert Ascott and Johnny Herbert, the producer, were there to greet them. The ambiance of a studio was no stranger to the boys, as they were used to those at the Emissora de Radiodifusãde de Macau. But this was somewhat different: you could "fit a whole symphonic orchestra" in this one, Api later said. The recording lasted for seven hours, with a half an hour lunch break. On the return trip to Macau, on the SS Macau, Lelé would comment: "The sound truly reminded me of a record!" To which Manuel replied: "Hey Lelé, it is a real record!"

This only shows how difficult it was for the boys to believe they weren't dreaming: after all that they would truly be the first Macanese teenage band to cut a commercial record.

A fortnight later, Alou's phone ringed once more. The records made in Singapore, had arrived and they were expected in Hong Kong to receive the first copies and hand them out to the Macau radio broadcasters. The record players at home played the records over and over again, making their neighbour's lives miserable.

A couple of days later, the record was already available at the shops, and the first shipment, with the support of Macau and Hong Kong's press and radio, quickly sold out. A second edition of 50,000 copies was issued and later on a third one of 100,000 copies. Robert Ascott was so happy with the records sale that he admitted in an interview he had never seen anything like it in this part of the world. The only reverse of this phenomenon – as Api mentions – was the circulation of counterfeit copies at half the price. They showed up in light green vinyl (because on those day counterfeiters made sure their product had some "uniqueness" too).

You could hear "She’s in Hong Kong" anywhere, as long as there was a record player. The success of the first record led EMI to sign a new contract with the Thunders and this time they recorded "Look at my Eyes" and "A minha tristeza" (released in 1969).

A group of friends led by José dos Santos Ferreira (Adé) then secretary of STDM, was organizing a homepage party for the Thunders, in which all the profit would be handed over to them.

The party took place on September 5th, 1968 in a overcrowded Hotel Estoril’s restaurant, as Samuel Hui and the Lotus were also present.

The following week, the Thunders were invited to perform at the Casa Lisboa restaurant in Hong Kong. It would be their first professional contract.

There were also performances at some events like Irene Ryder’s birthday party, the Menace show, a farewell party for Marilyn Palmer and the Blue Star Sisters and also appearances on TVB and RTV.

In Macau they started playing on weekends, at the new Hotel Caravela, facing the "meia-laranja" bend at Praia Grande. The restaurant had been turned into a dance parlour and the Thunders shifted with the Flipsiders.

New Music shows became happenings in Macau, like the one organized by Leonel Sequeira, on November 3rd, 1968, at The Cheng Peng Theatre a gain sponsored by the "Obra das Maes". Besides the Quests from Singapore, Marilyn Palmer, a five-year old child-star Rowena Cortez and also Anders Nelson, the only local band that took part was the Thunders, Ray Cordeiro and Johnny Reis co-hosted the even in English and in Portuguese. The Thunders became professionals in 1968, when they signed a three-month contract to perform daily at the Copacabana Night Club in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It was one of the hottest nightclubs of the 60's. EMI’s manager was thrilled with the idea since it would put the band in much closer contact with their audiences and ease presentations on TV and theatres. It was not a light-hearted decision for the parents and family to make, but the boys took off to Hong Kong on March 30th, 1969, after one last performance at a party and judo show at the Municipal Pool.

But Manuel Costa and Armando Ritchie made their choice to stay in Macau and bid farewell to the Thunders, Armando Lopes took their place.

Sent back for lacking visas…

But things turned sour right on their debut. They were held up by Hong Kong’s immigration officials or lacking permanent work permits, and were sent back to Macau where they would have to duly apply for necessary work permits.

While "forced" to enjoy three weeks of compulsory holidays, they watched four Hong Kong based bands take their place at the Copacabana. The contract signed with the Copacabana allowed them or engage on other arrangements. So they performed at the Scene Discotheque's matinees and on TVB and RTV shows, and they also took part on the Spectacular' 69 show at City Hall.

Robert Ascott led them to record their third single featuring "Summer Fun" and "I won’t say Goodbye" (1969), but only the second has Rigoberto’s authorship. The song "Summer Fun" was written by a young Chinese couple, winner of a contest launched by the Hong Kong Municipal Hall for a beach promotion campaign, and it was given to the Thunders to record. That song played all summer long at the beaches, radios and TV.

They also got a role on the Hong Kong made movie "Red Light, Green Light", with Margaret Miller and Allan Tang. Their name on the movie posters served as extra publicity for them.

The Thunders shared the stage of the Copacabana with Hong Kong's luso-descendant Michael Remedios and the Mystics. It was six months of earning very good money: about one thousand patacas a month, with free meals and lodging, and also TV and radio show appearances. During that period, they recorded eight of the ten Thunders themes we know today, nine of them composed by Rigoberto.

When the contract with the Copacabana ended, they signed another to perform at the Spider’s Web, but Armando Lopes chose to quit the hectic nightlife and return to Macau. Hong Kong born Butch Ackber and Esther Andres were hired to fill the gap and they were the first non-Macanese to join the band. The Thunders with Rigoberto, Herculano and Domingos played every night at the Spider's Web, one of the many nightclubs bubbling with many American marines and GI’s on leave in Hong Kong. They took refuge for a few days, drinking and enjoying the nightlife, trying to rid their minds of the Vietnam war unfolding just a short hours’ flight away. The Thunders' repertoire changed according to the taste of clientele, at this time it became more inclined towards Woodstock rockers and Jimmy Hendrix.

A new contract ensued, and a new nightclub: the Nightbird. By then another "old timer" left the Thunders. Called to serve military duty in the end of 1969, Lelé is also forced to quit the band and return home. To replace him but not for long, came Sonny Gomes, one of the founding members of the band then playing at the Macau Palace.

Deals to perform in Bangkok, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore came out one by one. But really very attractive money-wise, was the invitation to perform in Saigon. Being a high-risk war zone, their parents managed to persuade them not to take on the offer. And it was good time they refused. The Filipino quintet that benefited from their refusal was decimated on their debut when a terrorist planted a time bomb on the drums. The explosion also killed some of the many American soldiers, usual customers at the club.

"Macau, terra minha": fifteen hours in a studio

One day, Robert Ascott called Herculano and Rigoberto and told them that he wanted a "record with a fuller sound, combing EMI studio’s symphonic orchestra".

Rigoberto still had some originals he had never played, but nevertheless he decided not to use them and do something he had been intending to do for quite sometime, ever since he wrote "She’s in Hong Kong": a song dedicated to Macau. He asked for three days to do it, and that is how he came up with "Macau Terra Minha", which was immediately approved by Ascott and maestro Vic Cristobal.

They spent their night-off from the Nightbird at EMI recording studios, starting at 9 p.m. and ending about noon the following day totally exhausted. Vic Cristobal's Orchestra recorded the entire strings and wind instruments tracks on a row, so it would be used afterwards for editing and mastering. It would be the Thunders most popular song, in Macau as well as abroad. Several other bands made covers of this song, it was used as an overture for programs, and it was also turned into the soundtrack for many shows on various occasions. It was also one of the most heard ballads during the time of Macau’s handover to China, in 1999.

EMI's chairman had the good thought of asking for an audience with Macau’s Governor General Nobre de Carvalho, so that the Thunders could offer him the number one copy of the record, in a symbolic gesture before it was made available for sale. The press coverage of the event was enough to increase the sales. But that wasn’t the last piece of good news for Thunders because Henry Chua, a Chinese entrepreneur recently returned from England, signed them for a three-month appearance (that would be extended for another six at the Mocambo. Surely one of the richest nightclubs in Hong Kong, honoured by the cream of Hong Kong’s millionaires and businessmen, and they had a full house every night. Pelé and other soccer stars from Brazilian Santos Futebol Clube, were among the many of the Club’s famous visitors who left a mark of their good disposition and some photographs.

Just before their debut, scheduled for August 1st, 1970, the homesick young Macanese, decided to perform again before their home audience and so they did on the evening of July 27th, at Hotel Estoril, with the two new members of the Thunders, Avelino Cortez Jr. and Gabriel Yuen. It amounted to a gathering of old friends and old band mates (Manuel Costa, Armando Ritchie, Daniel Ferreira and Domingos Rosa Duque were there).

The end of the contract with Mocambo also marked the end of the Thunders, leaving Herculano, Rigoberto and Sonny Gomes as the stubborn last remainders of the original line up. The other musicians that joined the band, Filipinos and Chinese, came as they went. Their break up became public. The newspapers announced the band’s end, and the public took a while to believe but the facts where true. Fate has it that April 30th, 1971 saw the last of the Thunders.

As a matter of fact, lately some had been drafted for military service, others were tired of a life of a long nights and nightclubs, conscious of the need to find a more reliable job, get married and start a family. Waking up to real life or coming of age fed the members of the Thunders to pack up one by one and return home or start a life elsewhere. Armando went back to studying and Manuel Costa to his old job at the Post Services (CTT). Herculano quit being a professional musician and took a job at the Brazilian Consulate in Hong Kong but Sonny Gomes was hired for the Moulin Rouge’s band. Rigoberto (Api) teamed up with Jimmy Chan (former Quest) in a duet performing at a dancing restaurant, and later formed a trio with Dally Chun (ex-Flipsiders) and Johnny Yip (who was famous during the 80's) to play at an English restaurant in Hong Kong, up until the time he migrated to Brazil, as did Alou and Armando Ritchie.

Api was the one who lasted longer in the music business, as he worked with Brazilian bands and orchestras all the way until the end of the 80's. Manuel Costa migrated to Canada, where still lives. But Lelé, Domingos Rosa Duque, chose to remain in Macau.

"There is no longer drive, or room.  The type of music playing today at hotel bars and nightclubs is not music for dancing, as it was in those days, and you no longer invite local bands. Macanese don't throw birthday or other parties at home anymore, inviting local bands to play. Times have changed " – remarks Lelé, which in six years went through the Flipsiders, the Black Cats and the Midnight Riders before joining the Thunders.

"Everybody knew everybody. We all got along very well, although we were constantly drifting to the next band because of minor disagreements during rehearsals. But there were no hard feelings. There was no rivalry, and in truth, at that time when all was happening, we didn't realize the lengths of our success", he says with a hint of nostalgia still finding it a bit hard to believe.

As for the other members who at one time were part of the Thunders during the golden days (some staying longer other less), only António (Sonny) Gomes has departed from this world. César Placé moved to Los Angeles and Daniel Ferreira and Mário Pistaquini live and work in Macau.

Returning to the sounds at the new millennium

Recently, thirty years down the road, one of them decided to call the others; "Lets’ play for old times sake?" It was Alou. Armando enquires his hands where they still remember their place on the bass arm, learned by heart half a life ago. And Api finds it a good idea.

On June 24th, 2001, the Day of Saint John the Baptist and Day of Macau, the three decided to get together for a performance at the Casa de Macau in Sao Paulo. The good reception they got from the audience, led them to repeat the feat.

With the invitation from the organizing committee of the Encontro dos Macaenses to perform in Macau in November 2004, they got in touch with the other two Thunders "old timers", Manuel Costa and Domingos Rosa Duque, to start rehearsing… "via Internet". In Macau, surrounded by his sound system, old vinyl records and new CDs, of images and sounds, Lele never got to forget. And he goes back to rehearsing whenever time allows….just to keep alive the memory of something that binds them to Macau, that left a mark in their lives and in the identity of a whole generation, fortunate enough to be born here.

The Story behind the music

Written especially for the finale of HK-TVB "Star Show", which gave the Thunders their victory. Music and lyrics by Rigoberto do Rosário Jr. in collaboration with Herculano Airosa. During the show’s several eliminating trials they performed other Rigoberto do Rosário Jr.'s compositions some with lyrics selected from Isabel Batalha (Airosa) and Bambi Leitâo’s notebook, which never recorded in a record. It’s a song about a sailor who travels around the world and finds true love in Hong Kong.

Written by Rigoberto do Rosário Jr. in 1966 and performed for the first time before an audience during the "Top of the Pops" at the Nam Van theatre. Later, it featured on the Thunders first single "She's in Hong Kong", released in 1968.

Music and lyrics by Rigoberto do Rosário Jr. written during the time the Thunders were performing in the Hotel Caravela in Macau. It was included in the Thunders’ second single released by EMI-Columbia, right after the success in sales of "She’s in Hong Kong".

Written in 1964. This was the first song Rigoberto wrote, at the beginning of his career. The spoken verses are by Armando Ritchie.

Written by young couple from Hong Kong, winners of a musical contest sponsored by the municipal authorities to promote beach safety. Recorded in a record by the Thunders, it was a sales hit and played all summer long in 1969 on the radio, television and loudspeakers on the beaches.

The "other" side of the single "Summer Fun" (EMI-Columbia). The fact that it included the Chinese instrument pipa in its melody (as in "She’s in Hong Kong"), labeled the Thunders as an "Oriental Bubble-gum" music group.

MACAU (1970)
Recorded due to EMI’s Robert Ascott's insistence. It is the debut of the Thunders with a symphonic orchestra backup, and also the first time the lyrics don’t include any of the usual themes of that time: dating, love and jealousy. "Macau" is a song dedicated to the Macanese's hometown and profoundly patriotic. Lyrics and music are by Rigoberto, with some changes introduced by Herculano. There are three different versions of lyrics and music to this ballad.

Another track of the record Macau, as it is the next song, "Goodbye my friend" Inspired in the sounds of Bossa Nova, predicting, perhaps, the future of the three members of the Thunders. The flute is played by Cardin, Filipino musician who later performed with the band at the Mocambo Night Club in Hong Kong.

Lyrics and music by Rigoberto. Again a theme apart from the usual boy meets girls songs from that time. It is about the parting of two song, somewhat premonitory, foreseeing the future for the members of the band.


After A Long Searh I've Made Around The World,
I Net A Girl In Hong Kong.
She's The Nicest Girl In This World.
So To Her I'll Belong.

I Had Many Girls From Other Countries
But None Of Them Were My Right One.
The One I Love Is Staying In Hong Kong.
So I Sing A Song, A Happy Love Song.

Now I Have Someone To Call.
Now I Have A True Love To Fall.
She's Everything Good To Me
And My Love For Her,
Is Bigger Than The Sea.

I Got No Words To Tell Her
'Cause I'm Happy As Could Be.
I Really Have Fallen For Her
As You All Can See.


The Tropic Night Is Still
And I Stand Alone Upon A Hill.
Soon I’ll Meet One True Love.
Knowing But One Above.

The World Will Whisper Through The Trees.
The Leaves Will Dance Along With The Breeze.
The Moon Over Our Heads Will Shine.
Happiness We Both Shall Find.

We Shall Meet, We Shall Kiss,
We Shall Be Filled With Untold Bliss.
The Fire Within Our Hearts Will Flame.
Kiss Me Sweetheart Once Again.

My Love Is A Dream, My Love Is A Dream,
My Love Is A Dream, My Love Is A Dream


Triste que sou, triste que sou
Sem tu ao meu lado, tão triste que nem me lembro
Se fui alegre algum dia
Nem me lembro ÔÔÔÔÔÔÔ

Quando os altos cues esplendem a lua
E o mar mumura sobre a praia
Ecoa os meus pensamentos
O teu nome adorado ÔÔÔÔÔÔÔ ÔÔÔÔÔÔÔ

"Meu amor, numca amei ninguém como a ti.
Apaixonei-me por ti pela minha primeira vista.
Mas, sinto-me tão triste por não ter te encontrado.
Onde estarás meu amor?"



P.S.  :

On October 13, 2006, 4 members of the ex-Thunders who emigrated abroad returned to Macau. Together with Domingos Rosa Duque (Lelé) who stays behind in Macau, they rebanded temporarily and performed in a public gathering, namely Festa da Gastronomia E Cultura Macaense (土生葡人文化及美食聯歡會), with their historical composition song【Macau】......


At 5:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My homeland, my tears...

thank you for those memories

At 8:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hola reflejando de esta mensaje es muy palpitante , Reflexiones como éste destacan quien visitar este blog:)

At 4:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christmas comes but once a year, (but when it comes it brings good cheer).


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