Making music that lasts forever

From left: Joji Toge, Jone Rusa and another band member at Namada Village in Nadroga. Picture: ATU RASEA

Jone Rusa still remembers the nights when his father, Ulaiasi Vasuitaukei, would get home from work with a couple of bags of yaqona and ask for a mix.

Rusa said he and his brother, Joji Toge, would leave whatever they were doing and get the utensils ready.

They knew the night would be a combination of music and history lessons.

“That was how my brother and I learnt how to play the guitar and sing,” Rusa said.

“It was so beautiful to share a basin of grog with our father and sing all the old timers and Cripple Serenaders songs.”

Vasuitaukei had rubbed shoulders with some of the iTaukei music industry greats, including Semisi Nacewa of the PJ Twomey Serenaders fame.

The PJ Twomey Serenaders had composed, recorded and released some of Fiji’s most beautiful and timeless classics like Na Gauna – a song made famous by Sakiusa Bulicokocoko in the ’80s and more recently by West-based group Makare.

“My father told me that the PJ Towmey Serenaders was formed when he met Semisi Nacewa and some very talented singers and musicians from Tagaqe Village,” Rusa shared.

“When they were discharged from the hospital, they went to Tagaqe and formed another group called the Vakananumi Trio.

“They recorded two albums at the Fiji Broadcasting Commission with a very famous lead guitarist called Apakuki Mate in 1975.

“The Vakananumi Trio became very famous and toured across Fiji.”

The trio, with years of experience under their belt, participated in the annual iTaukei music mega-event known as the Corowalidi Festival.

In the mid ’70s, a group known as Caucau ni Waimanu from Sawani Village, Naitasiri, was at the top of the music charts with their hit tune, Koula Vei Au Na Domomu Kecega Niu Rogoca.

The Vakananumi Trio, who also had a radio-friendly hit called Sa Dina Nodaru Gauna Sa Mai Tamusuka, drew a standing ovation.

When their father passed away, Rusa and Toge formed their own sigidrigi group with boys from the village.

As they developed their sound and widened their repertoire, they were invited to perform at various functions and events around Nadroga and Navosa.

Rusa said instead of performing the latest iTaukei hits, they preferred to sing old songs.

He said at the moment, they were in the process of forming a band with villagers from Votua, Votualailai and Namada.

Rusa said their band consisted of 10 members and up until the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, they used to perform around the Nadroga and Serua districts.

He said they were planning to form a sigidrigi band made up of members from their tikina of Davutukia.

“It is going very well at the moment, we have been receiving a lot of support from the tikina.

“We have been invited to perform all around Nadroga but with the lockdown that is affecting the nation, the invitations had to be cancelled.”

The 55-year-old Nadroga native said they preferred to sing old tunes because of the depth in the lyrics, melodies and music.

“The way our grandfathers and fathers composed their songs was very unique.

“They knew how to put words together that blended well with the music and chords and you can still feel the joy or the pain of the song today.

“When they composed a song about a drowning incident at sea or a married couple who went through difficulties that tore them apart, the song could move people to cry.

“Today, there are too many love songs which have no meaning and after one week, the songs are forgotten because there is nothing special about them.

“I would like to advise the new generation of Fijians in the music industry who are planning to form a group, please stick to the old pattern of creating new songs like what was done in the ’70s and ’80s because that is what Fijian songs are known for.

“Those songs and the way they were put together are still hits today, so make music that lasts forever.”

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