Mawi tribute show to relive history

MANY musicians who have become household names in the country owe, to some extent, their first big break to Ken Janson.

Those still around such as legendary guitarist Maxie Columbus, keyboardist Ronnie “Paspatu” Samuel, bassist Joe Heritage and many who have passed on including drummer Paul Steven and vocalist, producer and guitarist Waisea Vatuwaqa all claimed their stake in Fiji’s music history books at the Golden Dragon — a nightclub owned and operated by Janson’s family.

The club is situated on Victoria Pde, a place regarded as Suva’s entertainment strip in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

And while it still enjoys that status today — courtesy of the Golden Dragon, Holiday Inn, Bad Dog Café and Traps — it is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

The Old Town Hall (now an Asian eatery called the Vineyard) was home to regular dances and live music events back then, the Man Friday Club (where the Grand Pacific Hotel is now situated) and the Suva Travelodge (now Holiday Inn) had an impressive residency of local live music acts.

But it was at the Golden Dragon where legends were created. For the music fraternity at the time, once you graced the stage at the arena dubbed “the mecca of live music”, you had literally earned your stripes as a musician of serious note.

On Saturday October 29, the Fiji Jazz & Blues Festival will host its debut event titled At Tom’s Place.

The tribute to local jazz guitarist and music icon Tomasi Mawi will also bring back the music and the musicians who created the country’s live music scene more than half a century ago.

For Janson, the hosting of the festival at the Holiday Inn, followed by the after party at the Golden Dragon is something he never thought he would witness.

“It’s like the music has come full circle,” the musician-turned-businessman said.

“And the funny thing is, the music that was popular in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that was looked upon as uncool to the kids in the ’90s and 2000s has reclaimed its coolness again.

“The music of groups like Santana, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and so many others from decades ago is now being recognised for its value and the skills of the musicians who created this music is being taken seriously by the now generation.

“Back in those days, while it is true that people came out to dance and have a few drinks, what made it different to today was the fact that many came to listen to the bands who entertained at the Golden Dragon and the Old Town Hall and all those places.

“Tom (Mawi) was so amazing, that tourists from visiting cruise ships would pack the Golden Dragon just to hear him play. He was an amazing talent back then and remains unmatched and peerless today. There is no one in the industry that’s anywhere near his level of genius and I seriously doubt we will ever see another guitarist with his level of depth and experience.”

Janson cited Waisea Vatuwaqa as the closest in terms of guitar skills to Mawi.

“Wise was a chameleon.

“He is the only guitarist I have ever seen who can play in a muted jazz setting and in the next instant come out guns blazing in a free-for-all hard rock number.

“He could adapt to any situation and play with such depth in any genre whether it was jazz, rock or reggae.

“While Mawi is renowned as a master in jazz, Maxie Columbus as a rock-god and Mike Reymond as king of the blues, Wise was the only one who could play in all genres very comfortably.

“He had the respect of every musician in this country and it is sad that he isn’t around to pay homage to Mawi at the tribute show.

“He had so much respect for Mawi and I know he will be with us in spirit come October 29.”

While Waisea Vatuwaqa will not be there in person, trading guitar licks or singing in his rich and powerful style, his son Jerry Vatuwaqa will be flying his flag.

As owner and managing director of Stage Tech — an audio-visual production company, Jerry is the man behind the Fiji Jazz & Blues Festival.

For him, putting together an event to honour Mawi is something that he has wanted to do for a very long time.

“I know my dad would have been proud to have shared the stage to honour Mawi and this tribute show has been in the planning for many years,” Vatuwaqa shared.

“Almost everyone in the industry — those who are still around and those who have gone — have been touched in some way by Mawi.

“Either through encouragement or just through conversation with him or simply by witnessing his amazing ability during a music performance, Mawi is one of those exceptional musicians who does not say much about himself.

“He speaks to each person through the way he expresses himself in the music he plays whether it’s on the guitar, bass, keyboard or drums.

“And just as much as Mawi has contributed to local music, Ken Janson has also played a big part in developing the scene because a lot of musicians who could not afford instruments got their first feel of a guitar, bass, keyboard or drum at the Golden Dragon and in later years at Dragon Music.”

Janson is revered in local music circles as the godfather of local music not only because he provided the space for artistes to make a name for themselves at the Golden Dragon, but also because of the high-quality instruments that his company sold in the country.

“Fijian musicians at that time had access to guitars, basses, drum sets and amplifiers that world-famous musicians like Carlos Santana and jazz greats Barney Kessel and George Benson were using.

“And I believe because they had quality gear, they really pushed themselves as musicians and vocalists.

“And that level of musicianship has been sorely lacking for some time.

“Next week Saturday, I hope people come out in numbers to witness the musical greatness of someone that I personally have admired since I first heard him play in the ’60s, Fiji’s greatest exponent of jazz, my friend and music buddy, Tom Mawi.”

At Tom’s Place kicks off at the Holiday Inn in Suva on Saturday October 29 at 3pm.

The Holiday Inn show will feature Tom Mawi accompanied by bassist Filimone “Baba” Waqa, drummer Ratu Marika “Tuma” Nasoqeqe and keyboardist Samisoni Mawi.

Also featured are father and daughter duo Sam and Cathy Waqa, guitarists Maxie Columbus, Robert Verma and Nesbitt Hazelman, vocalists Margot Jenkins, Georgina Ledua, Laisa Vulakoro, Salome Baravilala, Steve Macomber and Ken Janson, drummer David Steven and Dr Richard Beyer.

The show crosses the road to the Golden Dragon at 10pm where One2eight will host a multitude of musicians into the wee hours.

Tickets for the show are $30 and available at Dragon Music, 379 Victoria Pde and Alliance Francaise, 20 Desvoeux Rd in Suva.

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