RAMESH Hargovind has recorded and produced albums for all the local greats. From the evergreen Gaunavou Group to Seru Serevi, Marika Gata, Joe Beraki, Melaia Dimuri, Lela Seruvakula and Danny Rae Costello — he has worked with the best and produced some of the most memorable music ever.
But when asked which project was the hallmark of his long and illustrious career, the former Procera recording engineer pointed at Waisea Vatuwaqa's collection of classic iTaukei tunes and originals titled Bula Talei — a musical work of art which was released in the late '90s.
"Wise was a great musician," Hargovind shared.
"When you talk about the guys who took live and recorded music forward for the country, he rates as one of the best producers and musicians ever.
"Unlike some of the guys from his era, he never shied from the advancements in technology and because of that he became a great producer and engineer."
Hargovind said he still recalls the day the renowned guitarist walked into the Procera Studio on Suva's Moti St.
"He came in and went straight to the point and asked me to record him.
"We used to joke around and he had a real sense of humour, so I thought this was one of his usual pranks.
"But when he insisted that I do it, it was a very emotional moment for me because here was the genius of the local industry asking me to do what he did best.
"It was a big honour working with him and I can say that if every musician in the country had Wise' professionalism and talent then the industry would have progressed a lot further than it has.
"We recorded Bula Talei and it was a huge success. And he really blew me away when he even asked me to mix the music tracks."
With Vatuwaqa reclined in the co-producer's seat, Hargovind began mixing the individual vocal and music tracks together.
"I can still remember him sitting there with his eyes closed listening to each track.
"Fijian music has a very unique vocal style and there is a very high pitched alto harmony that is common to sigi-drigi.
"When I had mixed the music, I had lowered that particular voice and he immediately picked it up.
"He tapped my shoulder and said: 'Where's the dog voice?' He must have seen the puzzled look on my face and burst out laughing.
"Dog voice became our new slang. We shared a lot of laughs during that recording but even then we got the job done and the success of the album was a real testimony to his genius and I can only take credit for my little part in putting it all together."
Another artist who struck a chord with Hargovind was Levuka crooner Jimmy Subhaydas.
After recording a string of successful hits written by legendary iTaukei composer Iliesa Baravilala and touring the Pacific, Subhaydas began popping into the Procera Music Studio in Lami. In 1983, Hargovind cornered the artist and asked him to try his hand at a few Hindi tunes.
"He had a very unique voice so I thought it would be an interesting experience getting him to sing some famous old tunes. And because Jimmy couldn't read Hindi, I had to write out the songs phonetically in English."
Initially, Hargovind had planned on bringing in an Indian ensemble to play the music behind the songs but Subhaydas was insistent that iTaukei players be employed instead.
"Tui Ravai just happened to be around at that time, so he roped in Paul Steven, Vili Tuilaucala and Saimone Waqa and the result was truly magic.
"That album continues to be very popular to date and this tells you how good those musicians were."
Ravai and company also featured in another album that reaped huge rewards for Procera in the late '80s.
"One day we were waiting for an artist who never showed up and Sakiusa, Tui, Paul and the boys were there.
"So I said to them instead of wasting time, let's record something and we put together an album called Sakiusa's Party.
"I literally turned the recorder on and together with the boys, Sakiusa did everything else.
"He sang his rendition of old songs and in between shared some jokes.
"We mixed, mastered and put the album out and it sold 2000 copies in the first week.
"Sakiusa was our answer to Stevie Wonder. He was a music genius who created something out of nothing and when he died, Fiji lost one of the greatest entertainers and musicians of all time."
Another interesting project that Hargovind found personally satisfying was the production of an album in 1993 from which part of the proceeds went towards the Cyclone Kina relief fund.
"That was a bad year for Fiji. People suffered loss to property and business went into a slump. So, we came up with the idea of recording Indian bhajans for charity."
Hargovind roped in 10 artists and recorded the album over a six-week period. Radio personalities Sammy and Anirudh Divakar recorded the introductions in the album and this increased its popularity at that time.
"We sold 8000 copies in the first month of release and this kept the artists in business, raised money for a good cause and kept us in business."
Hargovind's enthusiasm in giving the music industry a conscience by doing the 1993 charity album has resurfaced, creating a renewed interest in helping those less fortunate.
Recently, he has begun making contact with George 'Fiji' Veikoso to launch a song recorded 14 years ago.
"George was in the country and came over to Denison Rd, where I was operating a studio with Margot Jenkins and Tui Ravai.
"After sitting around, I suggested we do something and we wrote two songs and came up with the music with Tui.
"After recording Wise Vatuwaqa's Bula Talei and working with Jimmy Subhaydas, I believe this is some of the finest work I have ever produced." Titled Fijian Children, the first single speaks about the struggles of shoeshine boys and street kids while Alone With You is a love song written for people living in the islands.
"It was unfortunate that we couldn't release the singles because of his contractual obligations at that time but I really want to get this music out because of the strong message that it has."
Veikoso, who lives in Hawaii, said he was keen to release the singles when contacted by this writer, especially if the revenue from sales could be put towards a worthy cause.
Plans are afoot for a possible launch in December to raise funds for a trust to benefit street kids and shoe-shine boys.
Hargovind said he believes that given a chance, many would opt to return to school, learn a trade or legitimise and improve their business to gain a better life.
The former music producer now enjoys mixing a different type of product. He hand picks spices and prepares and sells his own brand of masala — Hargovind's Chatak Taste Spices — through the RB Patel supermarket chain.
After more than three decades in the music business, Hargovind said there was an abundance of talent in the country that remained unharnessed.
"We have a gold mine of talent sitting here but the platform to harvest it and give it access to the international arena is not as solid as it should be.
"It is an industry that has not been given the support.
"If we support music like we do rugby, one can imagine the financial benefits, development of skills and reduction in unemployment that could happen."