AFTER more than two decades away from Fiji, Sonny Nautu has returned with a burning desire to share his wealth of musical experiences with our youth.
The 56-year-old bass guitarist, a music teacher in Australia by profession, has taken six months off his work schedule to inspire young people with talent in Fiji to look at music as a serious career.
Perhaps, Nautu's own musical journey is the best inspiration for those who are musically-inclined but fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The former Marist Brothers Primary School student only went as far as Class 8 but this did not stop him from achieving a Diploma in Education, Music Pedagogy at the Southern Cross University.
Nautu not only completed studies in music theory, he excelled and received distinctions in several key components of the course, a huge achievement for someone who had to work overtime to overcome handicaps and get up to par with university-level education.
"It was a huge challenge, going to music school and keeping up with students who had completed high school and even done university studies," the former Samabula resident shared.
"And I can confidently say that it was my desire and love for music that took me through those difficult times.
"And the lessons I learnt at music school and during my teaching career over the past 10 years and playing career over the past 30 years is what I want to share with the youth in Fiji.
"Anything and everything is possible.
"Just because you didn't do well in school doesn't mean you can't turn your life around by making your passion your career."
The bass man is working with one of the few remaining live bands in the Capital City - Dej Vu - to achieve his dream. There are also plans to record a contemporary-meets-traditional album with the band in an attempt to give rhythm and blues music an iTaukei flavour.
"Dej Vu has been so supportive of my dream to spread the music to our youth because the band has been living this gospel since they started.
"Their work with students at the Fiji National University is exactly what I want to do.
"But I want to go one step further by taking music as a performance art to primary and high schools."
Nautu said his experience of directing musicals like Godspell at Griffith High School is what he wants to share with students in the country.
"Fijians are expressive people and musicals are a great way to harness, nurture and develop this talent.
"In the course of my research, I noticed so many videos of sigi-drigi groups and home-made comedy uploaded on YouTube.
"We haven't really tapped into the talent in rural areas - most of the music and entertainment programs are focused on urban areas - and this is where I want to focus my development programs."
During his more than 30 years in the local music industry, Nautu had extensive experience playing in nightclubs and concerts around the country. And this is an experience he wants to share with students.
"I began my music career when I was 13-years-old and despite the ups and downs it has taken me to places I have never been before and led me to achieve things I had never thought possible."
Nautu may not be a household name a la Tom Mawi or Waisea Vatuwaqa but he has performed alongside some of the greatest musicians that Fiji has produced including the late Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, Tui Ravai and Paul Steven.
In 1971, when he was a mere a 13-year-old, Nautu would walk two kilometres from Samabula to the Golden Dragon.
"The footpath outside was always packed with people listening to the awesome music that was being played by the Dragon Swingers and I remember at that time George Knight was the lead singer and guitarist of the band.
"One night I managed to sneak in even though I was under-age and I was blown away by the music.
"I made up my mind that this what I was going to do with my life and nothing would stop me from achieving my dream."
Nautu met Raymond Nair, guitarist for a group called the Fire Dragons. The encounter led to him being called up for his first gig.
"I remember that he took me to a nightclub called Trio on Mark's Lane in Suva and gave me a brief lesson in playing bass guitar.
"I knew how to play guitar and had never played bass in my life."
Nautu's stint at Trio was a brief but memorable one.
"The manager fired me that same night. He told Raymond that I was a terrible bass player. It was a very exciting and humbling experience - all at the same time.
"And I learnt some invaluable lessons like the importance of practice and perfecting skills on an instrument."
Nautu paid tribute to former Ulysses bassist Joseph Singh and Freelancers bass player Saimone Waqa for tips and impromptu lessons which helped him develop his love for the bass guitar.
Now adept at the instrument, Nautu moved on to La Tropicale on Nina St in Suva.
He gained more experience playing with some of the cream of Fiji's musicians in the mid '70s at the venue before setting sail for Vanua Levu.
"I went with Raymond Nair and the Koi brothers from Kinoya to Naidu's nightclub and boy that was one hell of an experience.
"I remember playing there the first night and looking outside the window.
"There was a playground outside the nightclub and it was packed.
"Later, I found out that the whole village of Nasekula was there that night."
Nautu returned to La Tropicale then journeyed across Viti Levu to a spot called Main St in Nadi Town.
He continued his musical trek westwards and joined guitarist extraordinaire Coco Emberson at the Lantern Inn in Lautoka.
Nautu also played at Raymond's in the Sugar City before returning to Suva to take up a residency as the bassist for the house band at Chequers Night Club on Waimanu Rd.
After his stint at Chequers, Nautu hooked up with Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, Nesbitt Hazelman and Henry Cork and began working for businessman Tony Stephens.
"Live music was happening back in the '80s.
"I was the bass player at the Regent (now Westin Fiji) alongside Tui Ravai, Vili Tuilaucala, Joe Beraki and Baba Raoma.
"I even scored a gig on Treasure Island with Gu Vananalagi and Rusi Ralulu - which was a different experience."
The bassist also performed with the house band at the Hyatt Regency (now Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa) that went by the name Nostradamus.
"The last band that I played with before I left Fiji in 1991 was with Seru Serevi at The Naviti.
"If I could relive my life, I wouldn't change a thing," he said.
"I would do it all over again."