WAISEA Vatuwaqa lived and died with a song in his heart.
While he may be honoured as the creator of vude — the iTaukei contemporary dance music genre that took the country by storm about 30 years ago — there is no doubting his commitment to serving God through his love of family and music.
Just as he pioneered a new music genre and broke new ground with his rock-fusion live performances with the Dragon Swingers and Mantis, Wise also changed the way gospel music was recorded and he continued producing praise and worship tunes right up until he passed away in July 1994.
There is no doubting his contribution to Fijian-recorded music, beginning with the pioneering breakthrough album, Marika Gata's Uqeuqe Disco Vude recorded on his label Lali Recordings, just as there is no question about his unwavering faith in God in his recordings of Amazing Grace and Jisu Sa Wekada Dina.
In the lead-up to his final days on Earth, Wise frantically rushed to finish a gospel album that is yet to be released.
According to his son, Jerry Vatuwaqa, Wise's musical epiphany may be his greatest ever recorded work yet in a career that spanned about three decades and brought fame and fortune to numerous iTaukei artists.
"He was recording a very well-known gospel tune called I'll Fly Away Old Glory the morning before he passed away and I remember my mother commenting on how good he sounded as he recorded its vocal parts.
"He sounded so happy and I have no doubt in my mind that he prepared himself well and was bound for Heaven.
"His fascination with recording began a long time ago and although I wasn't around then, artists like Ken Janson, Laisa Vulakoro and Seru Serevi always tell me about how he helped shape their careers and made them the stars they are today."
Wise created a craze that has morphed over time and continues albeit in a different form today.
His production of the Vuna Brothers' music, which created timeless hits like Isa Sobo Kara — written by the late Viliame Mainanukuloa, continues to be enjoyed today.
Modern Fijian recording artists owe their existence and widespread appeal to the sound created by Wise in the early '80s. Hits like Shake Shake Selimen set the platform for iTaukei musical groups.
"He always thought outside the box on stage and he took that energy into the studio when he began Lali Recordings in the '80s," shared Fiji's pseudo-godfather of music, Ken Janson. Wise's son and production protÃ©gÃ©, Jerry, said his father's fascination with recording often kept him awake into the wee hours of the morning.
"After returning from a gig about 2am, instead of going to sleep he would read manuals and notes on equipment and recording techniques and would try them out on the little home studio he had created," he said.
"Sometimes, because of his limited vision, he would call me to read out instructions and connect different pieces of equipment together and this is where my interest in audio production and recording first started."
After engineering recordings at Senibua Studios, SPR and Procera in the early '80s, Wise decided to venture into the music production business.
Experience gained while touring New Zealand with a group called Mantis was put to use when he established Lali Recordings.
Mantis, a group which featured Paul Stevens on drums, Wise on lead guitar, Ronnie Samuels on keyboards and Rupeni Davui on second guitar, created a stir on the Wellington live music scene in the early '70s. The group had a huge underground cult following after the release of their only album Turn Onto Music which was released under the Vertigo label in 1973.
When Wise began Lali, he incorporated into his productions a lot of the funk-rock elements picked up during his stint in New Zealand.
Jerry said although his father recorded work sold extensively throughout the Pacific, it was unfortunate that he never reaped the financial benefits that were due him.
"He had a big heart and could never say no to anybody," he recalled.
"Whenever dad heard someone that had potential as a recording artist he would invite them into the studio, record them at his own expense and put out the album without any regard to the costs he incurred.
"It was always about the music for him and he forgot that the business end of music needed to be taken care of and that led to Lali Recordings winding down after some time."
Despite the Pacific-wide success of albums he produced for other artists and going into partnership with Kenny Williams — also a renowned producer at the time — Wise's generous spirit eventually led to Lali closing down in the late '80s.
"There was nobody there to guide him or advise him on how to run a record business and without good management, dad lost the studio. It was one of the saddest days of his life."
Despite the disappointment, Wise took to performing with Ken Janson and The Hearts with fervour.
Live shows across the country and the Pacific and performances at Darling Harbour in Sydney exposed his guitar prowess and inimitable singing style to brand new audiences.
However, despite the travels and accolades, Wise felt that something was missing.
"His faith was always there and he felt that playing music for the world was taking him away from praising God, so dad approached Ken in 1993 and told him that he could no longer be a part of the Hearts.
"From then on, all his music and recordings was purely to praise God, and he rushed to complete the mastering of a gospel album right up until the day he passed away. That's how important he felt gospel music was in spreading the word of God to the world."
Waisea Vatuwaqa's music and production genius will continue to bring hope and happiness for generations to come. Despite his passing close to 15 years ago, his engineering techniques and musical style stand true today as it was when he recorded decades ago.
His commitment to family and to consistently challenging himself as a musician and engineer is an inspiration to all artists in the country.
His legacy lives on in the many musical works he produced and in the success of his children in their various endeavours — musical or otherwise.
While most of his music career was spent with the Dragon Swingers and with Ken Janson and the Hearts, Wise also interacted with numerous groups and touched the lives of many musicians and his calm and encouraging demeanour will never be forgotten by those who knew him and those who were fortunate enough to share musical memories with a legend in Fiji music.