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A unique singing style at awards

Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, July 24, 2014

VAULASI Cagitubuna has performed the traditional storytelling chants known as Vakalutu-i-voce ever since the first music awards ceremony named after this unique singing style was held in 1992.

At that first Vakalutuivoce Awards, Cagitubuna's haunting chants challenged the orthodoxy of western music in every shape and form.

This skill in storytelling through song is so unique that the Naisomua, Tailevu, villager earned himself an invitation to all the Vakalutuivoce Awards that followed — together with the late Misaele Tiko, also from the same village.

Interestingly, the music awards ceremony is the only event that showcases this almost "lost art".

This Saturday, with the revival of the awards event Cagitubuna will go on stage minus his trusty sidekick.

Tiko, an ex-serviceman who was a survivor of the atomic bomb tests conducted at Christmas Island in the 1950s, passed away in 2006 after a long battle with cancer.

With Tiko's demise and a lapse of the music awards ceremony from 1999, Cagitubuna thought the art of vakalutu-i-voce was destined to gradually fade away into oblivion.

He was, therefore, happy and somewhat relieved when the Fiji Performing Rights Association decided to revive the event that recognises and rewards local talent and approached the 80-year-old to perform at the opening ceremony of the 2014 FPRA Music Awards this Saturday.

After he was notified Cagitubuna began gathering young men from the village he deemed capable of singing the chants.

And this was when the challenges began.

The acapella has no defined melody. There is no set cadence or tempo and the notes that form the harmony go against every rule in the music theory book.

Perhaps, that is the reason for its uniqueness and appeal. Unlike iTaukei music written to western themes, vakalutu-i-voce is powerful because of the ability of chanters to defy the acceptable norm and capture the imagination of music savvy audiences.

According to the old man, vakalutu-i-voce cannot be defined in western music terms.

"The chant is not written or composed in the traditional sense," he said.

"The vakalutu-i-voce is simply a story about an adventure.

"It has no verse — chorus — verse arrangement like the music you hear on the radio.

"The chants are about how an adventure or journey begins, what happens along the way, the people we came in contact with, what we saw, what happened, how it affected us, what the weather was like and ends when we return home or get to our destination."

The old man said if every vakalutu-i-voce ever chanted had been documented and pieced together, the journey of the first iTaukei to Fiji and their arrival and dispersion would have been clearly pieced together and mapped out.

"The stories that remain today are all part of vakalutu-i-voce chants from years gone past."

FPRA executive and local music veteran Seru Serevi said including the Naisomua chanters in the awards opening ceremony was an easy decision to make.

"They define everything that is unique about iTaukei music," he said.

"And their participation at every awards ceremony since the first one we had in 1992 made it all the more reason to have them at the revamped FPRA Music Awards this Saturday."

Serevi said the Naisomua villagers would welcome Prime Minister Rear Admiral (Ret) Voreqe Bainimarama when he arrived at the Grand Pacific Hotel and escort him with their chants to the cocktail area and then into the hotel proper where the awards ceremony would be held.

"The excitement is really building as we draw closer to the event and this awards ceremony will really set the platform and standards of award ceremonies from this year onwards.

"At the moment we are finalising the inductees into Fiji music's first ever Hall of Fame and this is an event that is very dear to our hearts.

"We are trying to get in touch with the family members of those that have passed on.

"We want these amazing composers, musicians and performers to be represented on the night."

Serevi said 10 people would be inducted on Saturday and narrowing the numbers down was proving to be an arduous task.

"There are so many greats and what we have decided is that we will induct 10 every year.

"We are casting a wide net because we want to capture those that have shaped Fijian music in every shape and form.

"And this includes Hindi, English and Rotuman music as well."

The vude king said for iTaukei music, a lot of research and investigation had been done to determine who were the instigators of the three-part harmony that is heard on almost every Fijian song today.

Tickets for the black-tie event have been selling fast and Serevi said there were arrangements being made to increase the seating for the event.

"If you love locally-produced music, I urge you to purchase a ticket and to be a part of the biggest event for local music since 1999."

From the first music awards held at the Isa Lei Hotel in 1983 under the banner of the Fiji Composers and Performers Association to when it became the Vakalutuivoce and now the FPRA Music Awards, the event has been the pinnacle of music awards ceremonies in Fiji.

In 1983 only two awards were up for grabs— Best Composer and Best Performer. This Saturday 12 artists will walk away winners.

Tickets for the 2014 FPRA Music Awards are available at 66 MacGregor Road in Suva.

The Fiji Times is the print media partner for the event.


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Best English Song — PBS

Best iTaukei Song — iTLTB

Best Hindi Song — The Fiji Times

Best Composition — FPRA

Best Music Video — Fiji TV

Best Recording Engineer — Dept. of National Heritage, Culture & Arts

Best New Artist — NEWWORLD

Most Popular Song — Westpac

Most Outstanding Song — CFL

Outstanding Service to Fijian Music — TABS Investments

International Achievement — APRA AMCOS

Hall of Fame — FNU College of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences

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