IN Fiji, talented musicians and artists have never been compensated commensurate with their talent.
This is a true statement known to many, especially the struggling families of about 6000 musicians who live in less than modest abodes and who perform for a pittance throughout their working lives.
As a musician myself, it was therefore encouraging to see politicians — Prime Minister Rear Admiral (Ret) Voreqe Bainimarama included — at last Saturday's FPRA Music Awards.
I applaud the government's efforts in advancing copyright law, enforcing regulations and offering tax incentives for musical instruments brought into the country but as an industry insider, I feel there are several other key areas that needs to be addressed to make music a viable industry and career.
Musicians need to be paid what they're worth and as a start, venues that pay musicians to perform should be given tax incentives.
Lifting the status of musicians will give them a sense of worth and enable them to give their families a better life.
While the FPRA Music Awards at the Grand Pacific Hotel was a glitzy affair, with all due respect to the organisers and those who attended, it was no reflection of the reality that most musicians face on a daily basis.
This has to change.
And for this to change, like other every day people, musicians need the help of their government.
Meanwhile, the awards ceremony was where music greats of years gone by were honoured but the event also celebrated the rise of young emerging stars like Ilisavani Cava, Kula Kei Uluvuya, Ben Morrison and Elena Baravilala.
And as much as the close to 500 strong crowd at the inaugural FPRA Music Awards came to pay their respects to pioneers like Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and Waisea Vatuwaqa, it was obvious they also came to hear what the youngsters had to offer and the new direction Fijian music was taking.
Former iTaukei music pop star turned gospel artist Sekope Raikoro blessed the opening of proceedings with a heartfelt song and prayer.
It was a fitting start to a night that showcased the amazing and diverse talents of local artists.
Since the last music awards held under the Vakalutuivoce banner in 1998, locally produced sounds has developed and grown.
And last Saturday night, the one man who shaped a sound that has come to define a generation scooped the Best Engineer Award for the work he has done over the past decade and a half.
ITaukei artists regard Manu Railoa as the greatest music producer after the late Waisea Vatuwaqa and rightly so. Railoa's work with artists like Voqa Ni Delai Dokidoki and Delai Sea has been hailed as musical works of a genius.
Drodrolagi Kei Nautusolo, another group that gained popularity through Railoa's production work, kicked off the entertainment and despite technical issues with the sound, the boys from Vanua Levu epitomised what iTaukei artists are renowned for — smooth harmonies, rhythmic ukulele and chugging guitars.
Next up was evergreen jazz virtuoso and guitar legend Tom Mawi, accompanied by someone many regard as Fiji's resident alternative rocker, Inoke Kalounisiga, better known in the industry as Knox.
The duo exchanged guitar licks on brand new instruments made by US guitar manufacturer Taylor, using locally grown mahogany timber.
Knox is on the verge of breaking out on the Australian scene after several sold out performances Down Under and his greatest strength as a musician is his unorthodox style.
Knox development as a musician is clearly charted in the diverse sounds he has come up with over the years. From when he first burst on to the local scene with the loping reggae groove of Jah Love Jah Crucify a few years ago to the rock ballad Candy released this year, he has created a niche market for his music. Knox is one of few musicians in the region who has the ability to captivate audiences without the need for a backing band.
His unparalleled rock-meets-reggae guitar style and gritty vocals caught the attention of musicians and music appreciators at the awards night.
Two musical acts stood out on Saturday night, Knox and his guitar-driven sounds and the international standard musical delivery of Rosiloa.
The band formerly known as Black Rose, rocked the crowd with the music that has taken them out of the canefields of Solovi in Nadi to countries as far away as Germany, Morocco and the US.
After years of flying the Fiji flag at international music festivals, the Nadi-based band was acknowledged with the International Achievement Award.
"We are humbled and honoured and we accept this award on behalf of all the musicians that have helped us and been a part of our struggle and journey," said frontman Jim Ratusila.
Rosiloa's flawless performance and sound, courtesy of Ratu Joe Tabakaucoro, showed up-and-coming artists what was possible if effort and thought was put behind every performance.
For Elena Baravilala, watching Rosiloa go through the motions was as much inspiring as entertaining.
"I have been a big fan of the band from the days that they were known as Black Rose," the 25-year-old shared.
"Rosiloa has inspired me to take my music beyond Fiji and it was a real pleasure watching them receive the International Achievement Award because they really deserve it.
"They have put Fiji on the map musically and paved the way for artists like myself to venture out onto the world stage.
Baravilala scooped the Best Composition Award for her song titled, Tinaqu. She also took the Best English Award for her single, Fire and Best Music Video for the song, Viti.
"I thank God for blessing me with this wonderful talent and it was a real honour to be acknowledged for the work that I have done and to stand on the same stage that honoured the legendary artists that have made Fiji's music industry what it is now," she said.
"I hope and pray that this new generation of artists and the music we write will continue the trend that was set decades ago and will take Fiji music to the world stage.
"I think the FPRA Music Awards is a great initiative because it will inspire other young people out there to write, record and perform their own songs."
Baravilala's biggest musical influence was her grandfather, Jone Sivo. She does not remember much about him because of his untimely passing in 1988 when she was a mere two years old.
"The only thing I know about him is the fact that he wrote Masese Masese Masese, a song that was made famous by Sakiusa Bulicokocoko.
He also wrote a number of other songs that became famous which he recorded with his group Caucau Ni Tomuna and in many ways I am trying to continue his legacy," she said.