MIXING grog for bands in Vatukoula in the late 1950s just for a chance to see and hear guitarists play, John Kui made up his mind at a very early age that he was going to be a musician.
For most players with potential or those with a keen interest, mixing and serving kava during practice sessions was the informal classroom where invaluable music lessons were learnt.
"That's how it was in those days because there were no schools or professionals who could teach music; the only way to learn was by mixing grog for bands and learning by 'choro chord' or by watching while pretending not to know anything," the now 62-year-old chuckled.
"There were three bands that really stood out and they would pack out the dance halls every time they played — these were The Wanderers, The Searchers and The Saints.
"I used to walk from my home at the low-cost housing to Korowere just to mix Paul Petueli's grog and hear The Saints practise; he was their singer.
"Those guys were so good, they could really play and seeing how they made people happy and forget their troubles, I wanted to be able to do that too.
"I began taking a lot of interest in music and learning as much as I could, I knew in my heart that I would one day become a musician."
Because of financial constraints, the lanky Juju lad unfortunately only managed to reach Class Seven at the Convent School in Vatukoula.
After doing odd jobs and moving to Martintar in Nadi with his sister, Kui began playing at the Skylodge Hotel.
"Just because I didn't complete school or have a full education, I did not let that hold me back.
"When you have music or any talent in your heart, you have something unique and a lack of education should not be something that stops you from achieving your dreams.
"God gave all of us talents and it is up to us to use it and make something of our lives from it.
"I was only 17 years old when I first went to play at The Skylodge and it was a big shock to go from mixing grog for musicians to playing for tourists, but I used the experience to learn from the older musicians who were there as much as possible."
Among the more seasoned players were guitarists and vocalists Meli Cagilaba, Jerry Tuwai and Adriu Silimaibau.
After his first taste of live music performance with the group, Kui returned to Vatukoula in 1967.
When he returned to Nadi three years later, he hooked up with guitarist Gu Vananalagi and forged a musical and personal friendship that has lasted about three and a half decades.
"Gu was already a very good player and I learnt a lot from him.
"Over the years we played in bands together and have become very close friends as well as musical buddies."
Kui began a stint at the popular Nadi Hotel in 1971 with a band called the Rolling 40s with two vocalists who had made a name for themselves in the Jet Set Town — Joe Lutumailagi and Tawase.
He then returned to the Skylodge, the place where his musical journey had begun a few years before.
"It was a different experience because we didn't have a drummer, there was Gu, Wavi and I on guitars, a guy called Ilaitia played bass and Sakiusa Cava played congas.
"Even though there was no back beat, the people found our sound interesting and we even managed to get people dancing."
One night while entertaining there, the band received a surprise visit.
"We were playing when three legends of Fijian music — Wise Vatuwaqa, Rupeni Davui and Samisoni Koroi — suddenly walked in and everybody just freaked out.
"When they came up and jammed, I made sure I learnt as much as I could because these guys were the best."
The band's success at the Skylodge, however, was short-lived. A misunderstanding resulted in them being fired.
"Gu was playing a Chinese tune because he wanted to have something to entertain Asian guests who visited the hotel and one of the managers, David Low, thought that we were making fun of him so he fired us."
Kui began working for a laundry shop delivering sheets and towels to the Korolevu Hotel and Fijian Resort.
"It was an interesting experience because I got to see how the real world worked and it wasn't for me.
"One day while I was at work, Gu and another guitarist Vula came looking for me. I knew that it was my way back into music but I didn't know that they wanted me to play bass — something I had never done before.
"During the practice sessions and my first gigs with the band, my fingers were blistered and no amount of Band Aid plasters could fix it.
"But after a while I got used to it and enjoyed playing bass for a while."
In 1973, the group became the house band at the Moons, a nightclub on the second floor of a building opposite the Nadi Municipal Market.
"The place used to be packed. Dancing going on one side and the scraps going on the other side. And because we were so popular with the girls we used to get it too from the villagers in the area."
Over time the band which featured Gu on guitar, Sakiusa Cava on vocals and Vula on keyboards became known as The Moons.
"We became really good because we practised every day from 10am to 6pm.
"It was hard work but everyone was happy and our chow every day was long loaf and tuna curry."
As the band grew in stature, party-goers who used to frequent Nadi's most popular club, The Fijiana, began filling Moons.
"One night Sakiusa Bulicokocoko came in and jammed with us.
"He began by playing bass and then went through every instrument before finally sitting behind the drums.
"Everybody just freaked out because he was so versatile and good."
After a brief stint at the Naviti Resort when the band at Moons broke up, Kui was offered a chance to play in the first resort that was developed on Denarau Island, The Regent.
It was here that he switched from bass to guitar and also where he spent about two decades playing with musicians who would later become legends on the local scene.
"I played at the Regent on and off for more than 20 years with musicians like Sam Waqa, Joe Beraki, Wilson Emberson, Tui Yaca, Simi Rabaka, Claudie Larry, Joe Heritage, Theresa and Henry Purcell.
"I was also very lucky to have played here with Tui Ravai, Vili Tuilaucala, Bill Natewa, Saimone Waqa and Baba Raoma — I really learnt a lot from these great musicians and use the lessons learnt right up until today."
These days Kui freelances for bands such as Divine, Red House and anyone else that needs a fill-in guitarist.
His versatility and experience forged over about four decades of playing with some of the country's best makes it easy for Kui to fit into any musical situation.
"I was lucky but it also took a lot of hard work and practice and that is the only advice I can offer younger musicians.
"Take every opportunity to play music with good musicians and practise daily to be the best that you can be."