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Manu Railoa

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, January 27, 2013

It was a humid Monday morning and the breeze did little to appease the heat that was cooking Suva this particular morning. I was at the Procera Music headquarters perched on top of a three storey building at Suva Street.

Even sitting in the shade, one cannot escape the heat. I was there to interview Procera's newest staff member and sound engineer Manu Railoa.

Railoa is a legend in local music circles as he is one of the sound engineers who has given their job description more respect as they have more say in terms of creativity during the production of any music.

He is one of those who also redefined the iTaukei music genre, especially with his initial work with the Voqa Ni Delai Dokidoki albums early in the 2000s. That sound formed the bedrock of what iTaukei music is right now.

As I was led into the Procera studio, I had expected an elongated explanation of the technical aspect of making music but what I walked into was totally different. It was a hijack of sorts but nonetheless I would rather go while the tide is high than be caught in the ebb.

The Tobuniqio man was cut from a short bark cloth but still, it is a bark cloth - valuable and prestigious.

Probably tired from hearing more about himself he made no secrets about it and he would rather that the music be prioritised over anything or anybody else for that matter, and have nothing to do with the admiration for his work.

Not exactly because of his modesty but Railoa doesn't mince his words nor does he delve too long in the pleasantries and would rather just jump straight into it head on where he prefers hard facts and bare faced reality as the currency.

"You can't compare the work of an engineer with another.

That's what people would like to think but there's nothing here to measure the difference and besides that is just their opinions. And also I didn't go to music school to read music, simply because there is none here in Fiji and also if we all had read music, then there could be something there but apart from that, it's just the opinions of people," Railoa said.

Hearing him talk about it, one can finally understand the innovative work done by those musicians and sound engineers who cut up the old vude style, borrowed heavily from the reggae rhythm sections and with the upbeat tempo of hip hop and dance music came up with a totally new sound.

The sound which is usually called the "Dokidoki sound", as they are the credited pioneers for it, nearly made sigidrigi go out of fashion and as some would say, contemporised iTaukei music after more than three or four generations of sigidrigi and then much later vude.

Railoa was one of those people who were part of this cutting edge movement but to him it wasn't a genius stroke of creativity but rather the simple fact that at the time, music technology has just changed tremendously.

He said this allowed musicians to become sound engineers whereas before sound engineers and musicians are usually two different people. One just composes and plays while the other is concerned about the acoustics, recording the music and mixing the music.

"Before many engineers are not musicians and usually there's always there's that problem between musicians and engineers because these are two people who have different sets of ideas as to how the sound would be like.

"Then the technology changed with digital technology taking over from the analogue system we used to have before and this allowed musicians to become sound engineers themselves because the digital system is more like a band.

"Even today with the type of technologies that are available for recording music, one need to be a musician or be able to read music or knows the basic chord structures in order to become a sound engineer," Railoa said.

This was the driving force behind the 'Dokidoki sound' and the inevitable acceptance by the masses. Thirteen years later, it is still going strong.

Railoa acknowledged the opposition to the current form of iTaukei music has been glaring in the past few years especially with what he describes as the people termed 'program music'.

Some critics even go as far as saying that all they sing about is broken hearts, broken families and extra marital affairs when there are other subjects out there to sing about.

This term 'program music' is based on its comparison against 'live music' which was alive and well in Fiji in the late 1900s with the late Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, Tom Mawi, Ken Jansen, Laisa Vulakoro, the Police Jazz band, Rootstrata and Exdous to name a few.

The criticism is that the live music is played by musicians who knows how to play musical instruments and do have stage craft, instead of three men harmonising on stage and just holding onto the mic with a sound system in the background playing a CD of their songs.

"Firstly the kind of contemporary music that we have nowadays no other bands in Fiji can play this kind of music simply because they cannot keep up with it unless they have a full ensemble and also because of the upbeat tempo of Fijian music, no band can play that. It will take a whole lot of hours of practise just to perfect a song.

"Secondly there is only one band in Fiji and that is Rosi Loa. Apart from that, these guys play with one band this week and the very next they are playing with somebody else. How can you say that a band can play this type of music when they don't have the discipline and vision to try and emulate these program music.

"For programmers, we're a one man band. For example an intro to a song can take hours, and at the most, days, to compose it, but for these musicians, that is equivalent to more than two weeks of solid practising to nail it. In the current music world, that is uneconomical and time consuming unless you're preparing to host a huge concert," Railoa said.

He added one example was at the recent New Year's street party where it was jam packed whenever DJ music is played but when a band took to the stage people were not enthusiastic.

"Live music still sounds good to me but times have changed. The place was alive when DJ music was being played and that is something that is the trend in Fiji now. Remixes is the craze right now. Young people prefer the sounds of remix and that sound cannot be produced by a live band with their normal musical instruments unless they have a synthesizer," Railoa said.

And he is glad that he is back at the place where he first started off and said, throughout his career he has always been in his boss but now finds it refreshing to be part of the daily grind that is life.

"Now I have to come in early and have designated working hours and to come and face the regime of a workplace and for me I prefer that after being on my own for so long where I usually start work right in evenings and late into the night," Railoa said.

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