Fiji Time: 12:18 PM on Tuesday 20 March

Fiji Times Logo

/ Front page / Archives » Article Index

A larger-than-life drummer extraordinaire

Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, March 01, 2018

NOT many music­i­ans who achieved le­gendary status can boast that th­ey overcame debilitating physical disabilities and triumphed.

Perhaps one of the more renowned events was when Rick Allen, drummer for English rock/heavy metal band Def Leppard, lost his left hand after injuries sustained in a car accident in 1984.

Despite the disability, Allen — through the use of a drum kit designed to assist him play using his feet to compensate for the loss of one hand — and Def Leppard went on to record mega-successful albums and toured extensively from 1978 to date.

On the local scene, there was one individual who went through not one, but two major challenges and emerged triumphant.

His name was John Raoma, but everyone knew him as Baba.

As a drummer he knew no equal and, as a vocalist, he had the smoothest and most soulful voice this side of the Pacific.

His younger brother Malakia Raoma — also a musician of note — said Baba was gifted beyond measure.

"When we were little kids, running around Martintar, Nadi, in the early 1970s, while most of us were playing with tops or cops and robbers, Baba would gather mum's pots and pans and begin using them to create beats," Malakia shared.

"He just had this amazing ability to turn those noisy implements into music.

"And he had an energy, that I know was a gift from God, which he applied to music. And that made him different from everyone else on the scene at that time."

At a mere 15 years of age, Baba scored his first gig with a group that used to perform at a motel behind Ed's Bar.

"The group was called the Bula Band and from the moment Baba sat behind the drum kit, he owned it," Malakia said.

"Bobby, the guy who owned the band equipment and managed the group, just could not get enough of Baba. It was during his first few gigs at the motel that one of our uncles Joe Beraki, who was a very well known singer, spotted him and asked our dad if he could take Baba to the Regent Hotel (now Westin Denarau).

"At first he would just sit and watch Joe Silver, the drummer for the Regent band, perform. And then dad bought him a small tape recorder and Baba recorded all the songs as the band played.

"Within two weeks, Baba learnt all the songs and replaced Joe as the resident drummer.

"He had an amazing ear for music. Most people only knew him as a drummer and singer, but he was also an amazing guitar player, pianist and bass guitarist."

A vehicle accident resulted in Baba losing three fingers on his left hand.

Instead of limiting his ability to play music, the disability made him work even harder.

"He actually became even better than when he had all his fingers. People used to watch him play bass guitar and wonder how his two fingers could move so fast," said Malakia.

However, it was a health scare in the late 1990s that turned Baba's life around.

"He had a heart problem and because dad was working at ATS, he was able to take Baba to New Zealand for treatment. They fixed him up and he told me one day that God had spoken to him twice.

"He decided to give up all the worldly pleasures and decided to serve God.

"And that was how he spent his last days."

Malakia said one of his proudest moments was when he accompanied his elder brother to Traps nightclub in Suva.

"It was a big deal travelling all the way from Nadi to Suva and to go and hear one of Fiji's top bands — Tui Ravai and the Freelancers — was something most young musicians in the West would only dream about.

"As soon as we walked in Paul Steven — a top drummer and resident Freelancers virtuoso — got off the drum stool in the middle of a calypso jazz instrumental and handed the sticks over to Baba.

"For me, it was as if Paul, one of our legends, was showing the ultimate respect to someone he thought was worthy to sit behind his drum kit."

Baba's jam with the Freelancers that night caught the attention of the local music fraternity.

Fellow musician and bassist Henry "Sonny" Nautu described Baba as someone who never rested on his laurels. Sonny, with Baba on drums, John Kui and Vili Tuilaucala on guitars and Prem Chand on keyboard performed as C Jay Express at the Regent in the early 1980s.

"Baba was just a fantastic and progressive drummer," said Sonny.

"He inspired me and other bass players to pick up our game. As a musician he was young and energetic and as a person he was a good friend.

"He always had positive comments and encouraged the younger generation with their music. One thing I will always remember about him was that he always took his own snare drum to jams or gigs.

"He was very particular about his sound. He was on top of his game as one of Fiji's top drummers.

"And as a singer, he has soulful and jazzy and could do the whole R&B thing and even step out into jazz standards with ease."

Almost as legendary as Baba's musicianship was his ability to consume kava while keeping the party entertained.

"He could drink anyone under the table and was a great storyteller. He was one amazing guy and a huge loss to Fiji music."

Unfortunately, Baba is no longer with us.

After four decades of playing clubs, hotels and party gigs, Baba gave his life to serving God.

His last gig was at the World Festival of Praise held at Churchill Park in Lautoka in the late 1990s.

"He had just finished the last song in a set and just as he played the finale, he collapsed on stage. He was rushed to the Lautoka Hospital, but died not long after that.

"I think that was how he wanted to go. He had lived his life pleasing man and at the end of it all, he gave up his life serving God."

Fiji Times Front Page Thumbnail

Kaila Front Page ThumbnailFiji Times & Kaila Frontpage PDF Downloads

Use the free Acrobat Reader to view.

Code Inward TTs Outward TTs
CAD 0.65010.6311
JPY 53.348150.3481
GBP 0.35320.3452
EUR 0.40320.3912
NZD 0.69270.6597
AUD 0.64710.6221
USD 0.49890.4819



Exchange Rate updated on 20th, March, 2018

Today's Most Read Stories

  1. Meningococcal disease outbreak
  2. Changing politics
  3. Teacher reports male student in washroom for girls
  4. Police probe assault
  5. Next sevens challenge
  6. Parents fundraise for school dormitory
  7. Gaps in agriculture data
  8. Formal request to be sent to ODPP
  9. Commonwealth Day celebrates diversity
  10. Youths to become self-sufficient from scheme

Top Stories this Week

  1. Sims' 100th game Thursday (15 Mar)
  2. Men urged to marry Thursday (15 Mar)
  3. 'Forced to go' Saturday (17 Mar)
  4. Doctors speak out Sunday (18 Mar)
  5. Where are our horses Sunday (18 Mar)
  6. Baravilala's ode to Cessna victims Thursday (15 Mar)
  7. No desk for this girl Monday (19 Mar)
  8. A star in the making Thursday (15 Mar)
  9. Bathroom photos 'old' Friday (16 Mar)
  10. Police appeal to livestock owners Monday (19 Mar)