Seru Serevi strikes a lonely figure in the fight against music piracy in Fiji.
Forlorn, and like a broken record or even like the mad hatter in the wilderness, Serevi’s battle to gain recognition for musicians has very much fallen on deaf ears.
Serevi has been one of the biggest names in the country’s music industry, earning the name Fiji’s Vude King following a string of hits from his first album in 1980 called Vude, and then following it up with a CD in 1993 titled Vude Mai.
The title track for this album gained international recognition two years later and featured in the World Chart Show. This was followed by hits like Tuki Lose, Katuvu, Tekiteki Damudamu and others which propelled Seru to regional recognition.
For a musician who gained everyone’s respect all through his performing years, the same cannot be said for his fight against music piracy.
Even to the extent that he would rather, that other musicians speak out against piracy than him. He feels madua (embarrased) now.
“Just a few weeks ago, I was on a talkback show, talking about music piracy when a gentleman called up and asked me to shut up because they are tired of hearing me and my voice. But that’s sad because musicians deserve to be heard and rewarded for their hard work,” Seru said.
“For us, it has become a real struggle. We’re known by names, but our lives have been a struggle.
And just as late as last week, Seru again, took his message against music piracy to the Procera Music Festival that was held at Syria Park in Nausori.
And that is just a few weeks after government authorities raided a music pirate in Nausori Town.
“As you can see, it’s everywhere. In all towns and shopping malls, you can see people pirating other people’s work. It is a criminal offence under the law of this government, and we’re at a loss as to why nothing has been done until now. As I had said before, it has been a long, long, long fight for us,” Seru says.
It is a fight he had begun a long time ago as a budding musician - a time before he even became a household name in Fiji. And now almost thirty years later, Seru is still fighting the same fight and carrying the same message. Those who were with him from the start had passed away and there have been many governments too, who have come and gone.
“I was a young person when I used to go along with Eremasi Tamanisau Sr to see Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, and then going to see (Tomasi) Vakatora, going to Ratu Isoa Gavidi, government comes in and be involved, but it’s a same, same thing.”
“You know, if we go and steal a loaf of bread, they will charge us, definitely. It’s a criminal offence, but why aren’t they doing anything about our CDs? You know we work hard too, a lot of young artists are coming up, it’s not sour grapes,” Seru says.
Serevi is taking as many chances as he can to talk to the public about the plight of composers in Fiji, and also to the Police and the government regarding the copyright fight he has been actively fighting for.
And he hopes avenues like concerts organised by Procera Music will help musicians to take the stage and create awareness about music piracy.
According to figures released by Procera Music boss, Mohammed Akif two months ago, before the Musicians Against Pirates Concert in Suva, musicians today are only earning one sixth of what artists in the 1990s used to earn.
Akif blames music piracy for this adding that he has been forced to sell his CDs at $15 per album, but this is still not competitive enough as music pirates sell theirs as low as $2 per CD.
“Government is trying to help with this piracy thing, and we hope that results will definitely come by the end of this year,” Akif says.
Serevi is a little upbeat with the prospect of gaining more support from government which has just recently formed the Fiji Intellectual Property Office which is headed by Terrence O’Neil-Joyce.
O’Neil-Joyce refused to comment when he was approached on the work his office carries out.
The Office is managed by a steering committee which also includes the Director of Public Prosecutions, Police and the Fiji Performing Rights Association.
Apart from this, the government had amended the Copyright Act in 2009 which gives alleged pirates the burden of proof to prove they have not committed the crime.
The Intellectual Office has also formed the Copyright Enforcement Unit to assist the Police and the DPP in the investigation and prosecution of alleged pirates.