The world as his stage

Inoke Baravilala at Methodist House in London 1996. Picture: SUPPLIED

Inoke Baravilala at Methodist House in London 1996. Picture: SUPPLIED

INOKE Baravilala has performed in about a dozen bands in exotic locations such as London, Beirut, Cyprus, Spain and the US.

He has even played at the same event as renowned British rock band The Who.

And his soulful voice and guitar echoed in the confines of a Beirut club owned by Hollywood icon Omar Sharif and he has performed for another superstar of the silver screen, Clint Eastwood.

And he did all this over a span of 50 years.

While he may not be a household name in Fiji, Baravilala’s story should inspire any youngster who feels that he or she has something special to offer the world to take a plunge in the deep end of the musical pool.

The age-old adage “the world is your oyster” may well have been written about Baravilala’s colourful life.

“I grew up in Suva and attended Suva Methodist Boys School in Toorak from 1956 to 1963 and then went to Ratu Sukuna Memorial School in Nabua until 1966,” the 68-year-old shared.

“I developed an interest in music very early on in life.

“It took me an hour to shower — all the while singing my lungs out and I thought this might be something I enjoyed more than anything.

“The shower room was my stage and the bar of soap was my mike.

“Often my family would have to chase me out so others could have their turn.”

Despite his shenanigans in the shower, his family grew to respect Baravilala’s keen interest in all things musical.

“A guitar and ukulele were the only musical instruments around the house.

“And back in the ’60s we had musical programs such as the IPANA Hit Parade on Thursday nights and Teen-Time on Saturday morning on Radio Fiji and these programs provided the latest music hits on the radio weekly.

“I remember being glued religiously to our little transistor radio twice a week, copying down lyrics of each song (which was the only way to get song lyrics at the time).”

By then his family knew that music was more than just a passing fad.

His parents, however, had other ideas.

“They were fine with music as a hobby or a past-time but not as a profession, which is what it turned out to be.

“Actually, halfway into a round-the-world trip, my parents dropped me off in London, England — in the hope of me furthering my education there.

“After touring Oxford University and Cambridge, they had high hopes for me. I guess destiny had other ideas.”

When quizzed about how the Baravilala family got to England at a time when not many Fijians travelled, he said it was because of his father’s work as a doctor.

“My father (who passed away in 2013) was a doctor who worked for the government.

“Back then (1950s) most doctors worked for the government.

“In 1966, as a fringe benefit of my father’s service in the government, both he and my mother and one child under the age of 18 — I was the youngest in the family, 17 at the time — got to travel by cruise-ship around the world.

“I had just passed my Fiji junior exam so when we got to London, my parents thought it’d be a great idea to set me up in a London hostel where students from all over the world stayed and attend a college to further my education.

“There were a couple of obstacles though. One was that I had to start all over from the bottom up because any and all prior education from outside the UK did not count.

“The other was that ‘bug’, that musical performance bug.

“When it clicks the way it did for me, it’s like finding the missing glove that was misplaced.”

Baravilala was literally bitten by the music bug while settling into life as a student in London.

“My first public musical performance, other than jamming with my friends in Nabua, would have to be in a London pub called ‘The George’.

“There’s not a whole lot of opportunities — as a youngster fresh out of Fiji — where you do what you love and people applaud, cheer and pat you on the back while genuinely having a good time. And you get paid for it to boot.”

This writer had the opportunity to listen to songs from three albums — Live at Saginaw Vineyard — which was a collection of soul and rhythm and blues remakes, Fiji Forever, — his take on classic iTaukei tunes and The Brighter Side — an album of original gospel songs.

Baravilala comes across as soulful and nostalgic, but has a depth and honesty in his music that speaks volumes of the myriad of musical influences in a 50-year musical odyssey.

“When it comes to influences for musicians like myself growing up in the islands, it’s wide and varied.

“I, as did others at that time, was like a hungry chick with an open beak scoffing down whatever the mother eagle brought to the nest. And the mother eagle for that period was none other than Radio Fiji (now Fiji Broadcasting Corporation).

“What it fed young music fans like myself varied from rhythm and blues, rock, country and western, and of course Fijian harmony-laced local gems.

“Along my travels I soaked in other genres such as soul, funk, reggae, blues, jazz and variations of all these genres as I traversed the likes of London town, the Middle East, Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Barcelona and various US cities.

“Even though the local music of Lebanon and Spain are not a main staple of my repertoire, their influences are very much present in all that comes out of me.

“Just as you can never unring a bell, we cannot void ourselves from the great experiences of our lives.

“In short, I’m thankful for music greats of all styles, from Elvis Presley to James Brown, Jim Reeves to Robert Cray, Wilson Pickett to George Benson, BB King to The Shadows, Chet Atkins to Waisea ‘Wise’ Vatuwaqa. All would be amiss if I did not give God the glory and attribute all my blessings to the Lord Jesus Christ.”