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Golden era of live music

Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, March 21, 2013

JUST as New Orleans set the trend for music in the US in the 60s, Suva City was where careers were launched and legends were created in Fiji during the same era.

The Capital City was a hive of activity as the promise of independence beckoned with unbridled excitement, possibilities, and opportunities that the birth of the new nation would usher in.

Suva was filled with a carnival-like atmosphere during the day, and activities gathered momentum as the sun sank over the sea.

Bula shirt-clad men complemented the bright tropical colours of long mumu-adorned women and offset the Colonial khaki of expatriates in the city streets.

The music of Perry Como, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald broadcast over the radio spilled out of cafes during the day and picked up tempo as the sun set over the bay.

As dusk set in, the humidity gave way to cool breeze fragranced by the perfume of frangipani trees that littered the central business district.

Under moon-lit, star-filled skies, dance halls drew city-siders from far and nigh, with music from what many have described as the 'golden era of entertainment' played by local artists who grew in stature and renown at every gig.

At the time, the St John's Hall (now the Bayly Clinic) and Old Town Hall (now The Vineyard) were two of the most popular venues where bands like The Silhouettes played to jam-packed audiences night after night.

Love songs like Dean Martin's rendition of Memories Are Made of This and The Shirelles' Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow brought young lovers together on the dance floor and sparked romances that sometimes led to walks down the aisle.

Lovers would begrudgingly disengage as the band struck up Chubby Checker's The Twist and The Four Tops I Can't Help Myself and the dance floor would once again fill with couples doing the twist, jitter-bug and swing dances that were the rave at the time.

In the mid-'60s and into the '70s, The Golden Dragon on Victoria Parade became the mecca of live music.

Those still around today, that were privileged to have witnessed the unrivalled genius of musicians like the late Waisea Vatuwaqa, Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and Paul Stevens among others, say it was a time like no other.

"There was something about Fiji during this time that was exciting. It was an age of innocence and excitement and the music was out of this world. Bands were coming out of everywhere and they were all good. Rock, jazz, funk and the blues, they could play it all and people would gather at dance halls and The Golden Dragon just to hear the musicians play. That is probably something that we don't see much of these days because now people have access to deejays and computers that can play all types of music. That is something that I miss," shared guitar legend and jazz king Tom Mawi.

Ken Janson Ho, the man music industry greats hail as the pseudo-godfather of the live music scene in Fiji, said: "People stood in awe when the band played. Even visiting professional musicians that came off cruise ships and tourists that had travelled the world could not believe the calibre of musicians we had in Fiji at the time."

Along with Mawi, Ken played a pivotal role in developing and nurturing the live music scene in Fiji, from when The Dragon Swingers were formed in the late '60s, through to opening Dragon Music a decade later.

In fact, he still fronts The Hearts, a musical group that plays at special functions and parties around the country.

Music enthusiast, journalist and anti-nuclear activist Bharat Jamnadas was a vigilant observer of the local live music scene.

He still believes that the '70s and '80s were the heyday of live music in the country.

Jamnadas, who now lives in New Zealand, maintains close contact with some of the musical greats. He said the current music scene paled in comparison.

"Before the disco era there were many house bands everywhere, especially in clubs and hotels," he said.

"Every club in town had a live band which played six days a week. Clubs were not allowed to have a band on Sundays and dancing was also forbidden but it did not stop clubs hosting midnight dances on Sunday nights, especially during long weekends.

"Every night at The Golden Dragon was like New Year's Eve."

* NEXT WEEK: THE Golden Dragon ruled as the

mecca for live music in Suva in the '60s and '70s.

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