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10 years of singing God's grace

Filipe Naigulevu
Thursday, July 13, 2017

IT all started 10 years ago when seven young girls formed a gospel group in Labasa to praise God and inspire people through music.

The group — formerly known as the Grace Teens, now called Grace Symphony — is part of the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Church in Fiji and has become a sensation on the local gospel arena.

The name of the group itself rings true and tells you of their melodious and unified symphony of voices.

Grace Symphony also dawned as a ministry for the young and vibrant gospel singing group, fully utilising their talents in serving the Lord.

The group is well-known for their songs, Build a bridge, Au lumuti, Bula dredre and their iTaukei rendition of the song by the Karen Peck & New River — Four days late.

According to the group's lead singer Eseta Cokanasiga, who is also one of their pioneer members, Grace Symphony began in 2007 with girls who all had a passion to glorify God using their voices and talent.

"We initially began Grace Teens as we were all teenagers then and went to the same church in Labasa SDA," she said.

"One of my uncles, Simione Nauluvula, who passed away, had asked my dad if we could form a music group here in Labasa.

"Because that time, most groups from Suva were well-known so we had to start something from that side.

"We didn't really think it would be that big and that it would go anywhere but with God's leading and blessings, we grew in our music."

Backed with the support of their parents, the group grew not only through exposure but had new members joining which later led to the recording of their first album.

"We had to learn 25 songs in a month, just for the first concert that we were going to do which was also our first exposure," Cokanasiga said.

"We recorded our first album in 2008 called Na vakacegu and some of us, because of school, had to come to Suva to attend USP."

Their transfer to Suva also saw some of the members left behind in Labasa, but this did not stop the group's growth in the ministry.

"So the group moved and some of the active members of the group came to Suva," Cokanasiga said.

"Those who were left behind in Labasa stayed there, so whenever we went to and fro, then we would meet and sing, but otherwise everyone was still a member of the Grace Teens.

"It also wasn't easy at first with the big transition from Labasa to Suva back then, because there wasn't much exposure that side also.

"But we were happy that our parents had our backs and gave the much-needed support which was with us all the way."

In 2010, the members of the group recorded their first video album during a live concert which coincided with the release of their second album titled Build a bridge.

In 2011, Grace Symphony recorded another video album, but this time, it was a Christmas-themed one which saw them rise to fame.

"In 2013, we released our last album as Grace Teens which was Au lumuti and we did another video album in a live concert. So far, we have three audios and three videos," said Cokanasiga.

The group also recorded their fourth album last month which will be released later this year.

"We haven't decided on the album title yet but that will be the first album for Grace Symphony, otherwise it will be the fourth album for the group," Cokanasiga said.

Now with 22 members, the Grace Symphony members have grown fond of each other and have even bonded with each others' family members.

"It was challenging at first when we began, in so many ways, but it became fun since we were all girls and our parents even got to interact including our families," Cokanasiga said.

"So we became so fond of each other and we became so close that we knew each other inside and out.

"Ever since then, I am only one of the pioneer members left in the group, some have moved overseas, some are still studying elsewhere in Fiji but for me it's been fun, yet challenging."

Cokanasiga said she also learned from the other girls, and had to conduct minimal training to get them in sync with the group's melody.

"It also challenged me to be very patient, and to treat them equally as I knew some of the girls longer than the others. The girls came from different backgrounds and some of them came from broken families," she said.

"But together we were stronger through our music. It's inspiring when people come and say, wow, this song touched me, knowing what you're doing is worth God's calling in our lives."

The group's songs are written by several songwriters, some of which have topped the charts of Fijian gospel music.

"We had our grandfather, who used to write songs for Eagles Wings, Samisoni, and there were other people in our church in Suva," Cokanasiga said.

"We hardly write our own songs, people come and say, we want you to sing a song, so they give us a song and then we sing according to what they like."

The group has also toured various places in Fiji, including their international tours to New Zealand in 2011, December last year to January this year in the US, and to Australia in April this year.

As years went by, the girls grew into beautiful ladies, some of whom got married and started families of their own.

But their ministry continued to grow with the pioneers blissfully passing on the torch to other girls who later became members of the group.

This also saw the change of the group's name from Grace Teens to Grace Symphony.

"We changed our name to Grace Symphony sometime around 2013 and 2014, from the former name, Grace Teens.

"We thought of the name change as we were ageing, as people might think, hey these girls are not teens anymore," Cokanasiga laughed.

"We had to change it, but we still stuck to Grace because we feel God's grace in our lives each and every day so we sing about it.

"We also included symphony, which is like a group of instruments, so instead our voices came in and blended together."

For most of the members, their passion for music grew with the group which stands today as a well-known SDA singing group in Fiji and the Pacific.

"For most of us, it's a God-given talent because we have not taken music studies and music in Fiji is still growing," Cokanasiga said.

"It's also basically passion, like for me, every time I go through a bad day or rough times, I sing and it just soothes me."

The group meets every Friday for rehearsals and camp for more than two weeks if they prepare for a concert or tour.

Grace Symphony will this year be celebrating their 10th anniversary in September, which will bring together some of the pioneer members who have left the group.

The soft spoken Cokanasiga is also a powerhouse with her high note voice.

She has also featured in many other songs, including the famous Vanua domoni featuring Pasifika Voices and the Fiji National University band.

She also worked with Pasifika Voices during the recording for the soundtrack for the Disney movie Moana.

While Grace Symphony continues to inspire people with their music, Cokanasiga said they also wish to inspire young and aspiring singers.

"Be true to yourself and whatever talent God has given you, use it for his glory and giving it back to him through songs is what we do," she said.

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