LONG before the deejay, iPod and computer invasion, music played by local musicians were the highlight of big events.
Music played by real people kept the masses entertained and also captured the imagination of tourists visiting the country in search of solace from the rat race.
Long-time visitors to the country still ask after musical groups such as the Korolevu Beach Serenaders and the resident band at the Golden Dragon, the Dragon Swingers.
In the '60s and '70s flight crews from overseas airlines that used to overnight in Nadi would brave the dusty two-hour bumpy ride along the Queens Rd to travel to Korolevu to get lost in the music and parties that were held there.
Musicians from cruise ships visiting the Capital City were drawn like magnets to the Golden Dragon craving the opportunity to strut the stage only to be blown away by the unrelenting musical power of legends such as Tom Mawi, Wise Vatuwaqa, Marika Gata, Paul Stevens and Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, among many others.
Over time, as technology developed, the heart and soul of the entertainment caved in to the electronic and then digital age. Musicians who were once highly revered and respected faded into oblivion.
Vocalists, guitarists, keyboard players and drummers who had given their all to entertain the masses were dealt a double blow.
Many struggled to put food on the table for their families while burning the midnight oil developing their skills at impromptu music classes held around the tanoa before fronting up on stage with barely enough coins in their pocket for the journey home after the gig.
Decades of commitment by the same who brought joy to so many were ignored and forgotten as machines replaced artists.
Guitarist extraordinaire Robert Verma — former leader of Nostradamus which rocked the Coral Coast in the '70s and '80s — said a recent resurgence of live music events was a step in the right direction but more needed to be done to pave the way for the future and to acknowledge the efforts of musicians from the past.
"In those days, the only entertainment for tourists, apart from dances, were the live bands," he shared.
"From the '50s through to the '80s, I can dare say that bands were very much an integral part of our tourism industry.
"Most resorts had meke performers on Fridays and the Beqa firewalkers on Saturdays — they did their thing but it was the live bands that kept tourists entertained."
Verma lamented the manner in which musical greats from the past and their contribution to the country barely rated a mention.
"As tourism started to grow and evolve in Fiji, people have forgotten that live bands and the people in those bands assisted in that growth.
"It is sad that not enough acknowledgement has been given to people who dedicated their lives to music for the benefit of many.
"A lot of musicians who contributed to the growth of tourism can now be found drinking grog in the village — pushed aside and forgotten.
"This is a sad story and a sad aspect for those who chose to pursue a career as a musician.
"As tourism boomed, many forgot one of the biggest contributors to the explosion of visitors to our country."
While musicians are looking for recognition for past deeds, hoteliers believe that systems need to be developed to ensure that what happened in the past is not repeated.
"At one stage our musicians were the best in the Pacific and some would argue that our people could easily have graced the world stage. But somewhere along the way, we dropped the ball," said Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association president Dixon Seeto.
He said that just like the country's prowess on the rugby field, Fiji also had a lot to offer in terms of entertainment but there was a need to establish pathways and platforms to ensure the entertainment industry was developed in a more professional manner.
"We have some of the greatest musicians in the region and maybe even in the world but the question is how do we harness and nurture that talent.
"I believe a lot more can be done. Our entertainers have the potential to become successful and this in turn could be of immense benefit to the country."
Mr Seeto said because entertainment and tourism were intertwined, the development of one benefited the other.
"There is a need to develop our entertainment industry to be on par with the huge developments in tourism.
"While we have activities that cater to tourists' every whim, our entertainment industry has lagged behind.
"Once upon a time, our entertainers were at the forefront in the region but over the years that has virtually disappeared and there is a need to revitalise this.
"Not everybody will become an accountant or lawyer and we need to identify, at a very early stage, potential talent and nurture and support this to the benefit of the industry and the nation."
Mr Seeto said once potential talent was identified at primary school level, their progress could be monitored through secondary school via the school music curriculum.
"When they get to tertiary education level, these musicians can study music business and how to manage their money and also do practical attachments at resorts and hotels around the country just like the food and beverage students currently do."
Renowned iTaukei musician and the composer of countless Fijian hits, Iliesa Baravilala believes the answer lies in reviving the long defunct Vakalutuivoce Awards.
"By bringing back an awards night that recognises the efforts of composers, entertainers and artists — the country will acknowledge the effort and commitment that musicians put into their craft," the 67-year-old said.
"By putting the spotlight on the creativity of our people, an art that was slowly being lost over time could be revived and brought back.
"Musicians will get the respect they're due and those who've contributed in the past could be acknowledged through lifetime achievement awards."