Nemani & Talei

IT has been estimated that throughout the world about 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese.

With a visibly growing population of Chinese in Fiji it is no surprise then that the linguistic reach of Suva based ensemble Nem & Talei would not go unnoticed, particularly as they had just spent about three years playing for a largely Chinese audience in China.

The pair once belted out a popular Chinese number during one of their performances at Mango Café which triggered an immediate and hilarious response from the shopkeeper next door.

“The Chinese shopkeeper besides Mango ran outside to see what was happening. For a moment he probably thought he was back in China,” recalled Talei, with a laugh.

Nem and Talei now entertain for an eclectic crowd although what is intriguing is the passion they put into to actually mastering other languages in their efforts to increase their fan base.

They now have a group of Chinese “groupies” who more less follow them around wherever they play and have a strong group of Asian admirers at the Pearl Resort in Pacific Harbour.

Their flexibility is certainly gaining attention which is why they are eagerly sought after for functions around the country and even regional nations such as Australia and the Marshall Islands.

In fact the dynamic duo can sing songs in French, Mandarin-Chinese, Malaysian and even Marshallese, making them a truly versatile set-up.

After breaking new ground in China they are determined to push the envelope in terms of their local performances.

“Those three years we spent in China actually motivated us to get out of our comfort zones and become more adaptable to other languages in our performances,” revealed Talei.

One of Fiji’s best known divas, Draunibaka said a new focus on recording would take their music to another level.

If a recently released single by Nem and Talei titled Tuisi, which is getting airplay in local radio stations is anything to go by, the future looks promising. The dancey pop song with Fijian lyrics was partly written while the couple were in China and completed in Fiji.

They spent a year and half playing at the Sheraton Tianjin and the second half of their Chinese adventure at the Sheraton Jiazhou during their sojourn in the giant Asian country between early 2011 and late 2013.

It was culture shock at first but the pair managed to get over the initial hurdle of learning basic Mandarin and this essentially paved the way for well received performances from a generally appreciative audience.

“First of all people had to get over the initial shock of us being there in China,” said Talei, who shot to fame in 2004 as the winner of 2004 local talent show Join The Band.

“Chinese audiences are very appreciative of music and they love ballads. They basically brought back my appreciation for old music like the Carpenters,” she said.

“Chinese culture is very different from ours and in other ways very similar. They are generally very respectful of people and have a certain simplicity about them.”

The romantically linked duo first came together in the early 2000s as members of Traps based outfit, Jeriko.

Nemani kicked off his career as lead guitarist and one of the founding members of Black Rose, now known as Rosiloa and went on to tour Australia, New Zealand, Germany and around the Pacific.

Recognisable as a past judge on the Vodafone MIC Show, Talei has been a mainstay of the local music scene in recent times.

She spent years entertaining patrons at the ever-popular Traps Bar and other nightspots within Suva’s vibrant nightclub scene.

In search of greener pastures Draunibaka went on to strut her stuff at the Sheraton Fiji and The Westin on Denarau Island in Nadi

On returning from China last year, the duo teamed up with vocalist Kathleen Waqa, a finalist from the Vodafone MIC Show.

They also enlisted the services of young bassist Philip Tigarea, making them a solid four-member team that is one of the busiest ensembles in the country.

Waqa, daughter of local guitar great Sam Waqa, said it was an easy decision to join the group as a lead vocalist.

“My dad was a musician and as Sam Waqa’s daughter I was always hanging around them at one time or another,” said the 24-year-old, whose graphic artist career has had to take a back seat to her musical aspirations.

When Nemani and Talei returned from China, something prompted them to go through their collection for lyrics and the unfinished lines for Tuisi stared back at them waiting to be completed.

This they did over kava and subsequently collaborated with Makare member Phil Dakei’s Noisy Oyster studio.

The result is Fiji’s newest original pop song which has been gaining a steady stream of admirers since it started getting airplay in recent months.

“Whatever feels good because as musicians we are more or less driven by our emotions,” explained Talei on her musical tastes which range from jazz, rock, classic rock and reggae to vude and rhythm and blues.

The couple will be putting the finishing touches to a number of original compositions with an eye for more studio time in the not too distant future.

They are hoping to put out an album with Fijian lyrics by next year and are confident that market is here to receive it well as judged by great reception Makare is getting.

With a sample of what’s to come from the dynamic duo currently playing on the radio, fans will surely be eagerly anticipating this recording when it does arrive.

For now though, Nem & Talei can be found at Traps Bar on Thursdays, Mango Cafe on Fridays and at the Pearl Resort in Pacific Harbour where their groupies often converge in anticipation of their multi-cultural and versatile performances.