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Local artists rock at music fest

Felix Chaudhary
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BLISTERING guitar licks, smoking harmonica solos and deep drum and bass grooves were the hallmarks of the second Fiji International Jazz and Blues Festival at Port Denarau over the weekend.

With the port still reeling from the musical onslaught that marked the festival, there is no mistaking the deafening silence that has settled over the marina as stages were pulled down and amplifiers and speakers stored away in preparation for our musical guests' departure from Fiji.

As international artists prepare to leave our shores, they leave behind indelible memories like the gut-wrenching guitar of Australian blues-rock king Kevin Borich, the smooth guitar work of Kiwi Billy TK Junior and the musical prowess of the United Kingdom's multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Warwick Murray and his amazing band, The Brew.

Courtesy of the government of the United States of America, Denarau Island was privileged to be graced by former US Jazz ambassador Lenora Z Helm who added a touch of class to Fiji's biggest international music affair.

Former miners turned music-men, brothers John and Bill Clifton along with their group, the Mofo Party Blues Band from California, delivered high energy country infused blues with a hint of rock'n roll which brought people to their feet, dancing under the stars.

Acoustic solo artist Paul Ubana Jones, however, put the festival in perspective when he loaded praise on local artists David Black and Fiji Fusion.

"These guys are fantastic and deserve to be out there on the world stage," he remarked as we sat bobbing and swaying to the Nadi-based band's music on Thursday night.

Praise indeed coming from an internationally-renowned artist who has toured with the likes of Crowded House, Norah Jones and Taj Mahal. The Englishman has appeared at countless music festivals around the world and has even opened for the legendary Bob Dylan.

Waiting for the group to finish their set, Jones was quick to pour praise on band leader Simione Rova but also reminded him of the importance of playing original music.

"You guys sound great, you have your own sound but you need to play your own original music. I like the way you do covers, you give it your own twist but in between cover songs you can slip in a few of your own," he shared.

Suva's De Ja Vu also drew accolades from many local and overseas visitors who turned up to Port Denarau over the four days of festivities.

Legendary crooner Eni Kumar ably assisted by Porgy Nadore and the smooth sounds of the Police Jazz Band's horn section accompanied by Jonathan Bower on trumpet took music lovers on a musical journey with a set of smooth jazz hits from as far away as New Orleans down to South America.

"I'm glad we put in the hard work, it all paid off in the end, so many people have come over to say how much they enjoyed our performance," she said.

"Once we got on stage, the band just exploded and everyone in the crowd got into the music. This is something that I will never forget," shared Nadore.

Music aside, the Jazz and Blues Festival also provided a windfall for bars, cafes and restaurants at Port Denarau.

Cardo Slatter, the general of the food business in Port Denarau, said numbers were up when compared to last year's event.

"The festival was fantastic. It all went very well and I can safely say that everybody did good this year," he said.

"We did better when compared to numbers that came through last year and I have pledged my support for next year's festival."

The general manager of The Hard Rock Cafe, Ritesh Patel, said the festival was also very positive for his business and perhaps the biggest revelation was that it showed that local bands had more than risen to the occasion.

"A lot of people came in and patronised our place and it was great for our business," he said.

"Personally, I feel the Jazz and Blues Festival should grow and perhaps begin to showcase more of our local artists because they more than proved their worth during the four days of activities.

"Artists like David Black and Fiji Fusion, The Knox Brotherhood and De Ja Vu were just as good if not better than some overseas acts."

Mr Patel said he was advocating for more festivals and bigger events with the primary purpose of showcasing Fiji's talent to the world.

"During the four days I moved around and spoke to many of our international visitors and the remarks that came back were the same our artists are world class and we need more festivals like this to showcase their talent to the world."

Perhaps the best picture to sum up the Fiji 2012 International Jazz and Blues Festival was that of Australian guitar legend Kevin Borich capturing the gritty performance of The Knox Brotherhood in full flight.

When combined with Paul Ubana Jones' comments that David Black and Fiji Fusion were world-class and the many accolades poured on De Ja Vu from the crowd, the story is very clear.

Fiji music has stepped up and guitarist Billy TK Junior deserves a big pat on the back for the wonders he has done in just two years. The Kiwi blues superstar has taken local music up a few notches by getting Fiji's finest musicians to rub shoulders with some of the world's best. And in the process, they have realised their worth.

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