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Backtracks: Vanessa Quai - A rising Pacific superstar

Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, January 16, 2014

LAST week a prayer-turned-song for Fiji was broadcast to 5 million listeners in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Sung by soulful Vanessa Quai, the tune True Harmony features internationally-renowned music industry people such as James McMillan, who has worked on American Idol for five years. The English music producer earned a Grammy nomination for his production of Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland's tracks.

True Harmony also features former English pop band Simply Red guitarist Mark Jaimes and former Amy Winehouse drummer Troy Miller.

Backing vocals on the track are courtesy of Priscilla Jones, one of UK's best known gospel performers and her backing singers.

Written by former journalist, speech writer and public relations specialist Matt Wilson in 1996, the prayer was turned to song by his close friend, UK-based composer Mike Croft.

Wilson reckons the track could finally be the vehicle to take Quai out of the Pacific and onto the international stage.

He also believes True Harmony, broadcast by one of Europe's most popular stations BBC Radio 2, could also be the first song penned in Fiji to break internationally on its debut.

"The BBC, the world's largest broadcaster, has taken its own initiative, ahead of the official launch on January 20, and has already broadcast True Harmony on BBC Radio Two, reportedly the largest radio station in the UK," the 71-year-old shared from his Votualevu home in Nadi.

"This means that True Harmony has already been listened to by about 5million fans in Britain and Europe.

"It's a milestone for a new version of the Fiji song, sung by a Pacific Islander with a Fijian connection to reach such a big audience during its release stage."

Despite being labelled a Vanuatu artist, the Pacific songbird - as she is more commonly known - has a very close connection to Fiji. Her birth mother, Filomena, hails from Vuaki Village on Matacawalevu Island in the Yasawas. She also has ties to Naceva in Kadavu.

True Harmony was originally recorded by Daniel Rae Costello in 1997 and became a hit both locally and in the region.

Quai, however, has aims to take the song and her career to the international stage and spotlight when it is released for worldwide distribution on January 20 through Communications Fiji Ltd's indigenous station, Viti FM.

True Harmony will also be launched simultaneously on Yumi FM, one of CFM's Papua New Guinea stations.

Her quest for international stardom could be given a boost when she launches the song at Blackburn Cathedral in Lancanshire, England, on February 9 before an audience of hundreds of children attending an annual Education Day Celebration.

"My aim is not just to sing for the Pacific market, but to break out internationally and to see other parts of the world," the 24-year-old diva said.

"I've never been to the UK before. My visit in February will be my first time there and I am very excited about it.

"I'm used to hot, hot weather so it will be quite a contrast being in the UK in the winter."

After bursting onto the Pacific music scene in 2002 with her biggest hit to date, Freedom, composed by her father Nigel, Quai believes True Harmony could be the song that takes her to the world.

"I loved the lyrics, the melody and tune, everything about it.

"I relate so much to the song.

"It's just so powerful.

"It touched me very much.

"I believe it is in the heart of every person to live in true harmony.

"It would be just awesome for True Harmony to be sung throughout the world."

For Wilson, re-recording True Harmony and launching it to a global audience was the fulfilment of a divinely-inspired journey that began two decades ago when he became a born again Christian in Fiji.

"I was compelled to write the prayer early one morning in 1996," he said.

"There was a lot of hurt and anger in the aftermath of the coup and the words of forgiveness and reconciliation just came to me and I completed the prayer in its entirety in two days."

At the time, he said, Fiji was struggling to heal divisions caused by the military coup and he felt that the prayer's theme of unity would help the country in its reconciliation efforts.

"I circulated the prayer to political and religious leaders and got invited to share its message at a national prayer breakfast."

When his long time buddy Croft visited Fiji, Wilson asked him if he could craft the verses he had written into a song.

It was while cruising in Fiji waters that Croft received inspiration for the lyric and the musical score.

"The words are framed within a Christian context but what they express has a universal significance for all faiths and beliefs," he said.

"So in that sense True Harmony can be embraced by anyone who yearns for unity based on forgiveness.

"But I have to say that Vanessa's vocal delivery of the song truly captures the spirit of True Harmony.

"She sings True Harmony with power and conviction based on her own spiritual and moral beliefs.

"She gets to the heart and soul and gets under the skin of the song."

Wilson met Quai when they worked on the Walk On Walk Strong campaign in 2012 and after listening to her performances rated the Vanuatu artist as the voice of the Pacific.

Apart from the spin-off benefits to local music from the launch of True Harmony, there are other positives as well.

The global launch of the prayer will also focus on Quai as an artist and a person.

No doubt international media will wonder about the diminutive diva with the big voice who carries strong religious beliefs, principles and morals.

Perhaps the biggest is her chastity pledge, in which the Vanuatu native has made a vow to remain a virgin until marriage.

She made the pledge as a 21-year-old when she attended a youth training course at her family church in Centreville Heights in Port Vila.

This is a positive and powerful message from a rising Pacific superstar to the youth of today, many of whom are caught up in the no-holds-barred graphic sexually charged lyrics, imagery and fashion put out by international music idols.

"I'm not into that music.

"I want people to relate to my songs as inspirational. I want to offer hope through what I sing."

True Harmony is available at www.steepsmithy.com, itunes, Amazon and CD Baby.





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