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Backtracks: Hazelman holds on to his musical prowess

By Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, September 19, 2013

WHEN he realised that playing music would not be able to provide for his family, Nesbitt Hazelman hung up his guitar in 1996 and enrolled at university.

After about two decades in the music industry, the singer-guitarist realised that the local music machinery was not big enough to provide the financial security that families required.

Even those who were fortunate enough to secure hotel contracts, remained at the whim of visitor arrival numbers and global financial trends.

Hazelman is today an industrial relations specialist with a Masters degree in Industrial Relations and Human Resources from Sydney University. He is presently the CEO of the country's biggest private sector organisation - the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation.

"When Sneak Preview - one of the most successful groups that I was involved in broke up in 1996 - I decided to go back to university because I knew that music wasn't going to provide a decent living for my family," he said.

"When you spend countless hours practising - and factor in the cost of electricity, bus fares to practise, guitar strings and buying the appropriate performing attire - and you're taking home $80-$150 a night and only gig one night a week, it just doesn't cut it.

"I had seen too many of our older musicians like Sakiusa Bulicokocoko just fade away which was a pity because these were the people we looked up to.

"They were amazingly talented and brought so much joy to people's lives but had nothing to show for all their years of dedication and commitment.

"I guess I was lucky in the sense that I was mature enough to be able to see that and I had a motivation to make the change."

Bulicokocoko was the person who most inspired Hazelman to become a musician.

Watching the partially blind Namara, Tailevu, man hit the drums at his elder sister's wedding about four decades ago sparked a desire in Hazelman to play music.

"My older sister got married to Victor Heritage, one of the founders of the Bilolevu Club.

"Victor's best man was Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and having him perform at our home for the wedding reception was a huge thrill because Sakiusa had just returned from Sydney where he had recorded with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

"Sakiusa was managed by Bill Rounds, who was a Catholic priest at the time."

Hazelman stood beside Bulicokocoko mesmerised by the sheer energy and rhythm he displayed.

"The wedding was oblivious to me.

"The only thing that I knew was that from that moment on, I wanted to be a musician."

Mr Bill Rounds noticed Hazelman's keen interest and invited the youngster to Radio Fiji's Studio G where Bulicokocoko was due to record an album the following day.

"So I tagged along and watched Sakiusa record some of his most famous songs with The Fiji Five.

"I was right there when he laid down classic hits like Lewa Noqu Lewa.

"Kisa Petueli was on keyboards, my mother who was also a big musical influence on me gave Kisa his first upright piano, Jeff Taylor - who is now an executive with Marsh - was on bass and George Williams on guitar."

After watching the recording process, Hazelman was smitten. Succumbing to his persistent requests, Ellen Hazelman bought her son a ukulele.

"My mother was a very good ukulele player and the first song she taught me was a very famous old tune called Matches.

"I was in Class Six at the time and was in the process of moving out of Veiuto Primary to Suva Grammar School - in those days SGS started at Form One level."

Hazelman received his first guitar a few years later courtesy of a cousin who worked on a gas ship.

"The first tunes I learnt were Shambala by Three Dog Night, Bad Moon Rising by Credence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles' classic, Yellow Submarine."

At the behest of a close cousin, Tony Stephens, Hazelman's parents financed his first band which was called Racial Harmony.

"I played guitar along with William Wakeham, Thomas Rogers was our keyboardist and his brother Vincent was on drums.

"Victor Buchanan, the Rogers' cousin, was also in the band, all these guys were from Nukuwatu and this is also where Tom Mawi used to live at the time.

"The oldest player in the band who played vibes was Tony Kapio and we also had David Galuvakadua from Suvavou who was the singer and rhythm guitarist, they passed away a few years ago."

Despite being teenagers, Racial Harmony became popular and gained the respect of older musicians in the mid '70s.

"It was a huge thrill for me being in Form Four and playing in nightclubs.

"I had money in my pocket but it was secondary to me at the time, I just couldn't wait to get up on stage and perform.

"At one stage, George Speight joined us on saxophone and we used to do numbers like Pick Up The Pieces and Cut The Cake by the Average White Band because of his influence.

"He was a good singer and saxophonist and left a big void when he left us and joined Ulysses."

After Racial Harmony disbanded in the late '70s, Hazelman took over Marist Rock in 1978, playing alongside musicians such as George Niumataiwalu on bass and John Sachs on drums.

"Those days everybody just sat around and learned their parts, so the onus was on each individual to put in the hard yards to develop as a musician.

"Another factor that had a positive impact on the music industry back then was the fact that we used to have rock concerts every Sunday in Suva in the mid '70s.

"And I think this really helped develop musical groups because every band got to watch others play and every band lifted their game.

"Every suburb or community had a musical group.

"We were the band from Lami, Sangfroid Ride was from Samabula and Ulysses was from Toorak and the competition was like how you have club rugby today, where the bands went, their community would follow."

Hazelman has toured the Pacific with numerous groups including the Erections and Sneak Preview.

After a stellar music career spanning about 40 years, he now sits at the helm of the country's biggest private sector organisation - the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation.

He also fronts his latest musical outfit - One2eight - and performs on Fridays at Traps in Suva.

"People say that now that I hold such an important position I should not be on stage and my response to that is that by being active on the music scene, I am providing employment, that's how I look at it.

"I don't play golf and I don't fish - which is what executives normally do - I prefer to sit with my boys and play music.

"Music is a god-given talent and it is foolish if we don't make use of it and in the process make other people's lives better, I provide an avenue that allows musicians to put food on the tables of their families."

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