The show must go on

These were the words of Talei Draunibaka and Nemani Vanua when they were asked by The Fiji Times Backtracks team yesterday at the Penninsula International Hotel cafeteria, on how long they intended to keep the Tribute to the Classics yearly musical event going.

“For us both it was nothing to do with money. But it was our passion to revive and relive the works of old traditional Fijian composers and their music which drove us to run the show in the last two years,” Nemani said.

Talei said the musical works of past Fijian composers needed reviving so that they were not lost and forgotten.

“We need to pay tribute to these composers because it’s on their shoulders that we, the current Fijian musical fraternity sit on, their works need to be recognised and remembered,” she said.

Limited budget

Talei said they had a very limited budget to put on the much-anticipated musical event last year and this year and had to fund most of the expenses from their own resources.

“To tell you the truth we only had one cash sponsor for this year’s show while we had two last year,” she said.

Talei however said she was thankful to the people and companies which came up with other sponsorships and support such as Vodafone, Go Advertising, Paradise Beverages and many others and of course the media partners who took care of the much-needed publicity for the event.

“It got to a stage when certain unplanned costs started to surface when Nem said, ‘Well, this is it but the show must go on’, so we carried on anyway’.”

Passion for classics

Nemani said what motivated them was how the old composers wrote the lyrics of their songs.

“It was the way they write; it was so deep and moving with superlatives or adjective not often found in today’s modern Fijian music and also the fact that we were losing these classical masterpieces,” he said.

“It was also the way they used some of the old iTaukei words which was now rarely heard in everyday iTaukei conversation,” Talei added.

She said last year she interviewed famous Fijian composer/singer Ili Tamani and told her she really envied the use of the iTaukei word sevi in the late Master Eremasi Tamanisau’s composition of Noqu Senibua Qoroi.

“These are the types of words used by these classical composers which are hardly used now. It’s meaningful, deep and brings out in us a sense of nostalgia,” Talei said.

Nemani said whenever they heard or played old classical songs they thought these people really needed to be recognised.

Talei said while she grew up in the age of Mariah Carey-type music and never really gave much thought to Fijian classical music, she had grown up in an environment associated with traditional music because of her Ratu.

“When I sit with Nem, and he starts to sing some old Fijian classics, I would ask what the lyrics meant and after he’d explain I would say, ‘Wow! They wrote songs like that’; that was when the idea of ‘Tribute to the Classics’ began to form in my mind,” she said.

Talei said originally they had planned it to be an unplugged event where someone would explain about the composition and they would sing the song.

“But when things further developed we thought it would be best if we get them to tell their own stories; get one of the family members to tell their own story; it will be different and much better and it was then that Nem said, ‘You have to realise that this show is not about us; it’s about them,” Talei said.

2017 tribute

The 2017 Tribute to the Classics, held at the GPH last Saturday commanded a full house and five classical composers were honoured for their contribution to Fijian music.

The first was Ratu Sireli Racule who took his traditional singing and dancing group to Hawaii in the early 60s and featured prominently in the great Elvis Presley’s movie Drums of the Islands.

This gave birth to his composition of Bula Maleya kei Viti Talega sung in the same tune.

Retired schoolteacher Iliesa Baravilala, 70, apart from his numerous compositions, had nurtured the great Fijian singer Lagani Rabukawaqa, who became a singing sensation in the early 80s when he was barely out of high school.

Laisa Vulakoro, 57, dubbed by many Fijians as Fiji’s Vude Queen, who has released more than 15 albums in a musical career spanning more than 35 years, was also honoured in the event.

Talei said Laisa was always special to them not only for being a female star but also for the problems she encountered early in her musical career.

The event also paid tribute to the great singer and composer, the late Timoci Gucake, who had been just laid to rest the day before on Friday.

One of his sons, Apo Gucake, who attended the event, got up on stage and gave a fitting and emotional tribute to his late father.

And last but not least was one that was surprising to most that were there and most Fijians because this composer wrote the beautiful and well-known Fijian Oilei Susi, a song written for Susie Garnett of Taituraga Island by Adelaide McGaedy (nee Whippy), who composed the song when they visited Ms Garnett on the island before she died.

Nem and Talei thanks one and all

Finally the couple would also like to give special thanks to everyone behind the scenes who made the show possible.

These include the band boys, sound engineers, volunteers and all those who helped in any way make the show possible.

Talei said: “Well the show must go on and we’ll run it for as long as we can; and as for next year’s event we have something special but we’re keeping it a secret.”

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