Legend called to rest

Robert Verma in recent years. Picture: SUPPLIED

YESTERDAY, family, friends, the music fraternity and those who were lucky enough to have been mentored by one of Fiji’s greatest musicians laid him to rest.

Robert Verma, who later took on the name Ropate Daunaqaqa, knew no equal.

He had a wealth of musical knowledge which he was more than willing to share.

He had words of encouragement for those who had hit a stumbling block on the road to musical stardom and he always had an ear for those who had problems — musical or otherwise.

He was a doting father, an adoring grandfather and a loving husband.

The Pacific Harbour resident always tried to be the best person he could be to those who were around him — and for this he will always be remembered.

And while Robert will forever be linked to his flawless guitar skills, one of the songs he penned in the mid 1980s has become one of the most popular tunes in iTaukei music history.

Isa noqu dau domoni, Robert’s iTaukei adaptation of the 1968 hit single Honey I Miss You by Bobby Goldsboro has become a regular on almost every local band’s repertoire.

And while his family, friends and music mates reminisce about the person he was and the music he played, this writer had the opportunity to hear about Robert’s musical journey during a series of interviews over the past few years.

Juggling an apprenticeship as an electrician by day and playing guitar with various bands at night was how Robert kept things together in the 1960s.

Whenever he wasn’t playing music, the Ovalau native would gather outside venues along Victoria Parade, Toorak and Walu Bay just to hear musical greats such as Tom Mawi at the Golden Dragon nightclub, Rupeni Serevi at the Old Town Hall and Suva Pawn Shop owner Jai Prakash show their guitar prowess.

Sometimes he would wander to the Matanisiga Hall in Toorak to listen to Mateo Rabaka and his group — Sombrero.

It was an exciting time for musicians in Suva in the 1960s — and Robert soaked it all in before heading to New Zealand for a brief stint there.

Upon his return, he said, he was shocked at how far local bands and instrumentalists had developed in his absence. Robert applied himself to delving deeper into music under the tutelage of the very talented Waisea Vatuwaqa.

Hooking up with bassist Anthony Lockington, Inoke on drums and Peceli on rhythm guitar, Robert took on the lead guitar role and began gigging at a venue known as the Knight Club at the Civic Centre in Suva.

Robert’s renown at the Knight Club soon scored him a gig playing at the Tradewinds Hotel alongside his idol, Tom Mawi.

Because Mawi was on guitar, Robert had to play vibraphone along with Tony Kapio on bass, Samisoni Koroi on keyboards and Marika Rabaka behind the drums.

In 1974, Robert took up an offer from Hunts Travel and formed a band that entertained on a cruise ship that went to Alaska.

He took Samisoni Koroi, Mateo Rabaka and Joe Heritage with him.

Samisoni, Mateo and Joe got off at Chicago when the ship docked there and gigged on the entertainment circuit and made a name for Fiji among their US peers while Robert returned to Fiji.

In 1979, Robert was recruited into the Hyatt Regency (now the Warwick Fiji) band, Nostradamus, by vocalist and drummer, Bill Beddoes.

The band was a powerhouse with famed guitarists Vula and Opeti Uluvula, keyboardist Erone Paspatu, Dominic behind the drums and Seru Serevi on bass.

Nostradamus’ magic was its vocal ability, everyone sang and they also had Mere Marama and Melaia Dimuri on vocals.

Invited by a tour company, Nostradamus hit Australia — boosted with addition of saxophonist and guitar virtuoso Timoci Salaca.

Robert disbanded Nostradamus in the mid 1980s, shortly after renaming the group to Exotica with the addi

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