WHEN he started out performing at religious ceremonies and celebrations around Labasa in the mid '90s, 11-year-old Manjeet Milan had no inkling of what music had in store for him.
This month, the 28-year-old refrigeration and air-conditioning technician will be among the 42 local composers and performers vying for a prize at the inaugural 2014 FPRA Music Awards at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.
From the dusty cane fields of the Northern Division, Milan has made a name for himself on the local Hindi music scene and has even tasted success Down Under.
During a visit to New Zealand, the rising star had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Bollywood tabla wizard, Avirbhav Verma.
The impromptu jam session in 2011 inspired Milan to take his music to bigger and wider audiences.
Watching him weave his way through Bollywood pop hits and romantic ghazals, one would find it hard to connect Milan to his roots and where it all started.
It was as a Class 5 student at Valebasoga Primary School in the mid-90s that he began his career, singing Hindu devotional songs.
As he grew in confidence with each public performance, Milan began to experiment with Bollywood pop hits and romantic love songs or ghazals.
"I released my first album, Prem Starsh, in 2007," he shared.
"And it was such a big thrill to hear songs that my father, Surendra Prasad, and I had written and recorded being played on the radio."
Prasad was a performer of renown around Labasa but it was his uncle, Mahendra Prasad, who mentored the youngster on his musical journey.
"My father was my inspiration but my uncle played a big role in making me the performer that I am today.
"I am a strong advocate for original music and the songs composed for my album have very deep and meaningful lyrics.
"It is very humbling that people like what I do.
"It was even more amazing that the songs became popular among the Hindi speaking people and this resulted in me forming a band and taking my songs on the road."
Milan formed a live band called Sur Saaz when his family moved to Suva and has not looked back since.
The group performed all over Viti Levu and Vanua Levu before taking its unique brand of religious tunes and ghazals to local Hindus who had migrated to Australia and New Zealand.
"We played to huge crowds in Suva, Nadi, Lautoka, Savusavu and Labasa because my music was very popular on radio.
"It was a really amazing experience singing my songs to crowds of 1500 people."
When he's not practising or performing, Milan earns his living as a refrigeration and air-conditioning technician in the Capital City.
Because of his widespread popularity, Milan has been chosen by the Fiji Performing Rights Association to perform at the inaugural 2014 FPRA Music Awards on Saturday July 26 at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.
"Playing at the FPRA Music Awards is a great opportunity for me and I would like to thank the association for considering me as a performer on the night," the 28-year-old said.
"And there is something I would like to share with other artists and aspiring artists, if you have music within your heart — then I urge you to take steps to get it out to the public.
"Music is a gift from God and it is a gift that is meant to be shared."
Milan's latest musical offering, his fourth album titled Prem Aadhaar, has been well received by the Hindu music lovers and the rising pop star is hoping to perform a few numbers from the new album at the awards night.
FPRA executive and seasoned local music veteran Seru Serevi said Milan's music ability and rise to stardom from relative obscurity made him a must-see act for music's mega awards night.
"From Labasa to Suva to countries overseas, Manjeet has risen to be a star on the Hindi music scene and we thought it fitting to get him to perform at the awards ceremony."
Other artists appearing on the night include roving musical ambassadors Rosiloa, jazz legend Tom Mawi, young stars — Elena Baravilala, Savuto Vakadewavosa and Ilisavani Cava and Drodrolagi Kei Nautosolo.
Serevi said the inaugural 2014 FPRA Music Awards was special because it would acknowledge the efforts of local composers, performers, sound engineers and music videos from 1999 to 2013.
"It will be music's night of nights.
"The program is designed to ensure that there is a little bit of something for everyone."
The vude king said more than 40 artists had registered 310 songs for awards consideration and as judges and the committee began to short-list the nominees for each award — mobile phone text votes would make a considerable impact on who would emerge as winners on the night.
"We are very fortunate to have three of the biggest media organisations onboard as partners for the night.
"The Fiji Times is our print partner, Fiji TV for television and Communications Fiji Limited will be running a series of promos on all their radio stations in the lead-up to the July 26 event.
"The media are very powerful in getting our music seen and heard over the past few decades and we would like to acknowledge their contribution to local music development."
The black-tie awards ceremony will also feature the musical talent of US Peace Corp volunteer Tricia Buzzard.
"She was a big hit at the All Back Home show at the Royal Suva Yacht Club last month when she performed with Eremasi Tamanisau junior and we are looking forward to hearing her haunting violin at the awards night."
Serevi said the biggest surprise for organisers was the support shown by the general public and the business community in terms of ticket sales.
"At $150 per head, we thought people might not be keen but the tickets have been going like hot cakes and this is a positive sign that people are appreciative of our efforts and are keen to come and help us celebrate the outstanding creativity of our composers and performers."
Tickets are on sale at 66 McGregor Rd in Suva.
Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket or enquiring about the event should call 3312494.