A rising star in the making

BEING raised in a family which loves singing, Viliame Cokanauto was destined to making a name for himself in the music industry.

The Welagi, Taveuni native clearly remembers growing up in their family home in Labasa with his mother teaching him and his siblings to sing various notes in the hymn book.

He was still pursing a degree at the University of the South Pacific majoring in accounting and information systems when he released his first album.

This is the story of Viliame Cokanauto and the rise of Kula kei Uluivuya.

Like every other kid, Bill as he is commonly known, lived a normal life and quite often being mischievous. Born in Nadi but spent most of his life in Labasa, his father was a senior technician with Telecom Fiji Ltd and his mother was a primary school teacher.

“I remember telling my dad that we had been riding on the siviyara with my big brother Uraia one day. We got a hiding after that, apparently it was supposed to be a secret, but I was too innocent to know that,” he said.

For many successful musicians, most of their inspiration and motivation started from home, the same can be said for Bill.

“Growing up, I used to watch my big brother Samu listen to music, mostly English songs at that time, then I started taking an interest in music. A lot of people don’t know this but Im pretty sure that was where my interest in singing started.

“Then over the years, I used to watch my other brother Uraia listen to a lot of reggae like Lucky Dube and UB40, which I found captivating, and my mum used to teach us all these hymns for church.

“We used to do a few special numbers for church service growing up, which I am grateful for. I guess that’s where singing skills also developed.

“I remember when I was in secondary school, I used to listen to music and somehow it struck a chord somewhere inside me that made me feel emotions that I had never felt before. It was then I realised that music and lyrics can be very effective in making people feel whatever you create the music to be about, in the sense that you can somewhat take them on a journey of emotions,” said the father of two.

Bill spent his primary school days in Labasa, before moving to Holy Family Secondary School and then finishing off at Queen Victoria School in 2010.

Before going solo, he was a member of the Pacifika Voices choir, which was led by Igelese Ete and did part-time projects for boy band Gravity, which was led by Tura Lewai.

“My inspiration came from the first time I performed one of the songs I wrote live at USP. A song about my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) called Kawai Kamikamica,” he said.

“The reaction that I got from the crowd that night at the Oceania Centre at USP was the inspiration to take singing to the next level. Immediately after that, I made plans to record an album.”

As he was still a student, fundraising was done from soli to gunusede while Adi Voroka Vusonimasei, a Fijian now residing in the US, offered some financial assistance. According to Bill, he was writing a song about Adi Voroka’s daughter, Maria Timaima, in the first album.

On November 27, 2013, his first album was launched with the song Tagimoucia being the hit song.

“One day while at USP, we were in the middle of recording the album with Solomon Islands producer Young Davie when I had an idea of doing a dance song about where I come from, Taveuni,” he recalled.

“I was chatting with Lessa (Iliesa Lesianawai, a singer, songwriter and producer) about the idea and he decided to make a fast beat. As soon as I had the headphones on and held the MIC, I sang whatever came to mind about Taveuni. Lessa was very instrumental also in writing the song as he came up with the original keys for the music. After that project, we became real good friends and worked on other projects like the song Noqu Senikau.”

So how did the name Kula kei Uluivuya eventuate?

“Kula Kei Uluivuya came from my mum. The traditional bird of the people of Vuya was the kula bird and Uluivuya is the hill overlooking Nabouwalu, Bua. That is how the name eventuated and is abbreviated now as KKU.

KKU had gone silent for a while when Bill fell ill last year. He did not record anything until he got out of hospital and witnessed the birth of “noqu senikau (my rose)”.

Bill got into contact with DJ Peter Gunz after watching him perform at Onyx Platinum Night Club in Suva in December last year.

“Imagine my surprise when DJ Peter Gunz asked me about performing in Australia and well, that’s where it started, next thing you know we were talking about flying over and other details.

“Personally I thank God for this opportunity, for not forsaking me when I thought it was time to give up my music and focus on my day job and my family. And I am also grateful to DJ Peter Gunz for believing in me, and that was a blessing as well.

“I believe God has plans for me, and I would like to see how far God will take me on this journey.

“As for preparations, there are a few people I’d like to acknowledge for helping me out with the prep. First and foremost, Jovesa Lesi, for helping me put my set list together.

“Young Davie for preparing me for my tour as my producer. I would also like to mention Tropic Thunda, Paradise Roots, Team Stay Focused (TSF), and See-Saw Productions for the support. Not forgetting Sean Chow, the managing director of Onyx for the never-ending support in various aspects of my music.

“I am just finalising everything and tying down loose ends.”

KKU Australia tour dates are from July 21-22, and 28-29, touring Cairns, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and presented by DOX Entertainment.

What is the future for KKU?

“The future for KKU is another album and more music videos. An upcoming music video to look out for is a song called Raijieli, which was just shot recently at Warwick Fiji at Korolevu,” he said.

“The music video was directed by Paradize Rootz and produced by See-Saw Productions. This music video is actually the build-up to many exciting things that are yet to come this year. Shoutout to Unikk Productions for producing the song.”

He said KKU music would keep going “until there is no more music left in me, which I feel is only the beginning”.

Bill said KKU had expanded to music and song production, photography and videography as well.

KKU has already produced three music videos, two of which were nominated at this year’s FPRA music awards and is now working on wedding videos.

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