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Guardians of local music

Sikeli Qounadovu
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Accounts of Fiji's singing abilities can be traced back to the myths and legends of the past. There is the great musician of Ramacake and his bamboo flute, Senijiale the Ravouvou kei Muaira.

Voqa ni Delai Dokidoki, Veivueti ni Voqa kei Nasau, Caucau ni Delai Nakulakula, Malumu ni Tobu o Naivaukura, Leba Boi Yawa e Delai Nasau from the island of Koro, are said to have been given the talent by the musician Ramacake.

Senijiale is said to have given the gift of singing to Mua-i-Gau trio, Voqa kei Gau e Loma and Senidawadawa Serenaders from Gau.

Singing is part of Fijian culture because it is believed history is passed on through these songs. These songs talk about tradition, they talk about an event, origins, customs and identity.

From what started with just the mere beatings of the lali, derua, cobo (clapping of the hands) and singing has now turned into a multimillion-dollar industry in the country.

Fiji's music industry has spawned across all genres. From jazz, rock to the latest introduction of hip-hop targeting the younger generation.

During the precontact, contact and early days of the post-contact period, music was just a form of entertainment. It was not until the turn of the 20th century, that it slowly turned in to a money-making industry.

Slowly the introduction of musical instruments changed the face of the music industry. Musicians mastered the art of beating the dream, strumming the guitar, playing the keyboard, saxophone and other instruments.

With it, the composers produced songs that mesmerised song lovers — from originals to their own rendition — which also included English and Fijian songs. Some Fijian songs were even taken off an English soundtrack.

As the artistes and composers gained recognition, so did their songs. But there was one problem. They were not well protected neither were they given their fair share of royalties.

Thus the idea to form the Fiji Performing Rights Association (FPRA), which was instigated by singer and songwriter, former parliamentarian Manu Korovulavula, who was a member of the renowned band Southern Swingers, that took the stage by storm in the 1970s.

"The idea came about in the late 80s by the executive committee of the Fiji Composers Association (FCA) for Fiji to have its own collective management organisation (CMO), such as the Australian Performing Rights Association Ltd ( APRA).

"APRA was the CMO that looked after the Fijian composers then. Their works/songs were registered with them through FCA and they received their annual copyright royalties direct from APRA," said local artiste Saimone Vuatalevu.

Vuatalevu said FPRA was mainly established to protect Fiji's own local talent.

"Having our own CMO is an advantage to our Fijian composers who mostly compose Fijian songs. As for APRA, at times finding difficulties in identifying the title of the works because they are all in the Fijian language.

"Secondly, APRA being the licensing authority that collects all licence fees from music users around the country, money is taken offshore.

"Having our own CMO means all operations are confined within and we only pay out to APRA royalties due to international composers annually. FPRA administers all local and international repertoire."

In 1992 the APRA and FPRA entered into a reciprocal agreement before official operations started a year later.

The working committee was formed comprising the following:

Chairman: Manu Korovulavula

Members: Eremasi Tamanisau (Sr), Dr Manoa Masi, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi (legal adviser) and Saimone Vuatalevu (secretary).

"Only composers are entitled to become members of FPRA (not performers). But most composers are also performers who are members," Vuatalevu said.

Since its inception, Vuatalevu has been chairman of FPRA for the past two decades.

"The lack of expertise to run and manage the operations of a totally new organisation as such was there and I was appointed by the working committee to be the first chairman of FPRA, a real challenging task and continued to be a director to date."

If there is one thing many people need to know, it is the amount of work understaken behind the scenes to write, compose and record at least one song.

It is not a one-night job. For some, it takes days, weeks and even months while for others it can take a full year to complete the recording.

To calculate the efforts done towards production is something that is hard to be compensated. The monetary return for them may not be enough but these songwriters and artistes do it for the love of the work.

The least one can do is give back to the very people that had helped soothe the soul, and bring joy and relaxation through the music they produced.

"Piracy is a problem faced internationally. The enforcement to curb piracy locally is the role of the Government of the day and its law enforcement arm.

"FPRA's role is only in awareness campaigns through the media and workshops, etc. We need to educate the public that piracy is a criminal offence.

"If the song is already registered with FPRA by the composer, remixed by the experts and played by the radio stations, nightclubs, copyright royalties still goes to the owner of the work (the composer) and not to the experts. These experts are also regarded as pirates if they sell these remixed songs for their own pocket.

"If the experts are selling remixed songs without the owners' consent, they are also regarded as pirates, which is still very hard to monitor.

"It's only right that if you want to remake and sing or record old songs, one should seek the consent of the owner of the work. Otherwise, copyright royalties still go to the composers for all songs remade by any group.

"You are to declare on the registration form that you are using an English tune, the title of the English music/song to be declared with your Fijian lyrics title of the song.

"By doing that, the owner of the English music will also get 50 per cent of copyright royalties and the other 50 per cent goes to the owner of the Fijian version.

"The Fijian composer cannot claim that as his original composition. It will be regarded as his or her adaptation."

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