Respect within Fiji’s music industry

From left: Joe Heritage, Ray Foster, Wise Vatuwaqa, Ken Janson and Paul Steven. Picture: SUPPLIED/ BHARAT JAMNADAS

RESPECT is a rhythm and blues song originally recorded and released by US singer Otis Redding in 1965, but it was Aretha Franklin’s 1967 version that took the world by storm.

Respect is what Aretha got because she gave it.

Despite her mega success as a recording artist and performer, she never forgot her gospel beginnings and where her talent came from, and this is the hallmark of every great artist.

There is an age-old adage that respect is earned, not given.

And in Fiji in the 1950s right through to the 1980s, there was a lot of respect in the music industry and the colourful characters that were involved in it.

Of course, like every other sector, music also had its fair share of challenges with internal bickering and the dog-eat-dog lifestyle which resulted in bruised egos for those who stepped out of line.

But respect from young musicians for their seasoned and well-established peers resulted in an explosion of talent in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In fact, many would argue that those years were the height of Fiji’s music industry.

The elder statesmen — guitar greats Tom Mawi and Waisea (Wise) Vatuwaqa, keyboard wizards Samisoni Koroi, Tui Ravai and Erone Paspatu — were held in high esteem by the then upcoming musicians.

The godfather of Fiji’s music industry, Ken Janson, said he missed the respectful camaraderie of Fiji music’s yesteryear.

“There were a number of hangouts back in those days where musicians would finish from their gigs and gather together and share a few laughs and learn from each other,” he shared.

“One of the first hangouts was at a place in Nasese and then a bit later musicians would gather at Mawi’s place on Rewa St. “But one of the most popular hangouts was a house in Gorrie St, Suva.

“That used to be keyboard whiz Samisoni Koroi’s place.

“It was right next to where Fiji TV used to be and because it was so close to town, every one gathered there after their gigs.

“There grog would flow through the night and into the early hours of the next morning. “And this was where legends were born. You would see about 30 people listening to the old guys share their knowledge of chords.

“Before there were any music schools, these places were the first music clinics and because there was no YouTube, the youngsters had to commit everything they learnt to memory and practise, practise, practise.”

Janson said one of the products of that learning environment was Ray Foster.

Although he became renowned in local music circles as a keyboard player, his first instrument was the guitar.

“Ray started off, like most great keyboard players, as a rhythm guitarist but from day one he set himself apart from everyone else.

“He had a great knowledge of chords and under the guidance of Samisoni Koroi — who also had a wealth of chord knowledge – Ray just became so good at the guitar and then the keyboard.

“And because he played with all the good guys — Mawi, Wise and Vili Tuilaucala — his knowledge and skill developed very quickly.”

Janson said what made Foster stand out from the other keyboardists was his application of chords.

“We had a lot of keys players who were good soloists but Ray’s chord work was very jazzy.

“And I think the respect that he had, as an artist, for the older musicians and for music, helped to define him as a musician.

“If there is anything that the youngsters today could learn from the guys like Mawi, Vili (Tuilaucala) and Ray, its respect.

“Respect yourself, respect your instrument, respect your peers, respect your elders and everything else will fall into place.”

Ray Foster passed away in Australia in August last year.

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