ALMOST a decade has passed but the pain of heartache is captured in every word shared by loved ones.
Dead too soon. That's how they feel about the demise of three of Fiji's most renowned "background" musicians - pianist Tui Ravai, drummer Paul Steven and guitarist Vili Tuilaucala.
That they would be remembered was already assured, they remain a source of fascination both on the home and professional fronts.
A fixture at Suva nightclubs Traps and Birdland in later years, the trio as members of jazz-fusion band the Freelancers, was instrumental in the Jimmy Subhaydas and Marika Gata wave that crested in the '70s through to the late '90s.
Instruments in hand, the three channelled energy and intensity that belied their "quiet" personality.
One relative shared that one of the most enduring memories was the respect they had for each other.
"They knew how good each was," said David Steven, who himself is a living example of the quiet ambitions of his late father.
"He always encouraged us all as kids to play music and to do everything we did to the best of our abilities and to never be afraid of taking chances," the soft-spoken One2Eight drummer said.
Steven Sr put his children through school and provided a decent living for his family by teaching drums to expatriates' children during the day and gigging at night.
About 200 kilometres away in Lautoka, Lia Tuilaucala strums her guitar - fluid with the dexterity and jazz influence of her late dad - Vili.
For her, the memories of music and verbal jousts shared with her father are also tinged with the regret of not sharing her passion for the guitar with him.
"He never wanted any of us to take up music as a career because of the lifestyle and hardships we went through and just when he recognised the talent I had, he was taken from us. So I never got the chance to learn all that I could from him," the 31-year-old tourism worker lamented.
While talking to the Ravai family in Nabua, Tui Ravai Jr shared a similar tale.
"Dad never wanted any of us to take up music because of the struggles we faced growing up. He always emphasised the need for us kids to go to school and get decent jobs," he said.
In the '80s and '90s, the late Tui Ravai Sr was a household name, not only as the leader of one of the finest musical outfits in the Freelancers but also as the musical director of hit albums by artists like Subhaydas, Gata and Michelle Rounds.
The Freelancers, made up of Ravai on keyboards, Steven on drums, Tuilaucala on guitar and Saimone Waqa on bass guitar took locally-recorded music to another level.
Unlike the majority of local recordings which presently use computer programs to create beats, the Freelancers played and recorded as a live band.
Mohammed Akif, the now managing director for Procera Music recalls working with the group while he was employed at a studio technician.
"Tui was the key element in the group," he said.
"He was the silent leader. Paul, Vili and Saimone would look to him for guidance and he was like a orchestra conductor, telling them how the arrangements for each song would go.
"In my view, the Freelancers were the best musicians I have ever worked with and the easiest to get along with."
Labelled Fiji's golden voice in the '80s, famed iTaukei and Hindi vocalist Subhaydas said his recordings with the Freelancers were the best work he had ever put out.
"They created magic in the studio and I think a lot of it had to do with their relationship with one another as individuals and the great respect they paid each other as musicians. It is so sad that they have gone," he said.
Subhaydas said Procera's engineer at the time, Ramesh Hargovind, had asked him if he could sing Hindi songs.
"I told him I would give it a try. Ramesh wanted an Indian keyboard player to do the keyboard parts because Hindi music is very tricky but after hearing Tui perform all the different sounds, he told the Indian keyboard player to relax. Tui played all the parts and I think he played them even better than the musicians on the record."
Ravai's prowess as a keyboard player also played a huge role in the success of Marika Gata's cover of the Don Gibson tune, Sea of Heartbreak.
"Tui's arrangements on the song made it a big success and when it was released, it was such a big hit that he went with Marika to New Zealand to perform there," shared Nelly Ravai.
As the wife of the leader of the Freelancers, she had experienced the highs and lows of Ravai's musical career.
"We had so many laughs and beautiful moments but, at the same time, we went through so many hard times as well," she said.
"Times were so tough in the early days because musicians got paid peanuts. I remember days when he got $20 a gig and we had to stretch this because we had so many mouths to feed and bills to pay.
"And he cared so much for Paul and Vili and the boys that he would make sure they got paid well even if it meant that we had to go without."
Despite a stellar career that spanned about three decades, the Freelancers were never financially rewarded or acknowledged for their contribution to live music. And this, Nelly said, was something that needed to be changed.
"People only know the joy that Tui and the Freelancers gave with their music but they never look behind the curtain to see the struggles that their families went through.
"They never saw the sacrifices that were made, only us the wives and the children know that.
"People always call them legends but they forget that the legends also had families."
The late Vili Tuilaucala's wife - Eseta Kaciwai - shared similar sentiments.
"Just like Nelly and the kids, we struggled early on but Vili made sure that all the kids got a good education," the 60-year-old said.
"Because he opted out of school as a child and suffered the consequences, he made sure that the kids would not go through what he did by pursuing a music career.
"And I am thankful for that because they have succeeded in their individual careers through his guidance."
Ms Kaciwai said the close bond shared between Ravai, Steven and Tuilaucala also extended to spouses and children.
"We would often gather at Tui and Nelly's place. That was like our headquarters and we grew really close. In fact, the Freelancers wasn't just a band, it was a family."
The Freelancers were formed when Paul and Vili, who were playing at a hotel in Pacific Harbour, approached Tui Ravai in the early 80s.
Together with bassist Saimone Waqa - and then teenager Georgina Ledua - the group took up a residency at Traps.
After a brief stint with the band, Ledua left. Over the years, some of the country's biggest vocalists have fronted the Freelancers, including Laisa Vulakoro, Talei Burns, Sandhya Nand, Michelle Rounds, Steve Makaba, Manoa 'Twisty' and the Nadore twins - Porgy and Wes.
NEXT WEEK: A look at the lives and times of the Freelancers.