Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The soul of Fiji

By Ioane Burese

GEORGE 'Fiji' Veikoso continues to shoulder the mantle of custodian of the soul of the Pacific.
To be sure, it's not a role he set out to take upon himself. But as history shows, greatness has often been thrust upon the unwilling.
Hell, everybody knows Pacific people are simple, humble island folk who're not given to such delusions of grandeur or swayed by misguided notions of self-importance.
But self-belief can be awe-inspiring, even infectious, in a world awash with mediocrity and people constantly on the prowl for a new high.
It's this self-belief that continues to goad this 'Bula' boy forward, even if it means going backward, as he openly admits.
His weapon of choice in this crusade continues to be a vocal prowess that allows him to glide effortlessly between a throaty, guttural tenor to an ear-piercing falsetto in zero seconds flat.
And he delivers, every blessed time, with seemingly boundless, soulful energy.
The Hawaii-based award-winning vocalist slipped into town quietly this week for a business pow-wow and to kick back a bit.
In the process, of course, he couldn't resist the urge to share the stage with his homeboys in a series of one-off gigs in pubs around the capital that, according to all accounts, brought the house down.
Veikoso politely declined to discuss the nature of the business venture that brought him home because the talks are at a sensitive stage.
But he readily agreed to discuss the heart and soul of his career his music where it's headed and where it could head.
This writer caught up with him in his Tanoa Plaza room where he relaxed with close friends, kin and doting nephews eager to spend the day discovering the wonders of the escalator.
Veikoso strongly believes the melting-pot style of Pacific music, a product of the changing times and evolving cultures of its people, is not corny stuff but a genuine product that can go worldwide.
"It's been a long time coming, but it's here," he says. "Our music is one way of reconciling our history, it's one way of our salvation as one people the vanua.
"We are one people a Pacific people and I believe in helping the Pacific people honour their music."
Veikoso has toured the Pacific on more than one occasion and across the US mainland taking in places like Texas, Las Vegas and California.
In 1998, he earned the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Male Vocalist of the year and Entertainer of the year, solidifying his place among Polynesian fans and introducing his sound to a wide audience of listeners.
Embracing the Polynesian style, he has introduced music lovers around the world to his own cutting edge island music, which in the early years in Fiji, included the influence of reggae outfit Rootstrata.
"My sound is kinda an extraction of Fijian, heavily influenced by jazz, gospel and reggae through Rootstrata, along with the blues and indigenous music," he says.
Veikoso also readily acknowledges the contribution of Fiji's elder statesmen of music.
"I'm an extension of Uncle Tom (Mawi), Uncle Tui (Ravai) and Rootstrata," he says.
A fresh phase of his work in Hawaii is his personal involvement with a stable of new talent who're making people sit up and listen.
"These are Samoans Laga Savea and J Boogs and Tongans Kiwini Vaitai and Siaosi Taulau," he says.
"I co-produce and develop their records and have been instrumental in their careers."
Their sound is described in industry jargon as Jahwaiian.
"It's a mainstream approach that fuses reggae, R&B, gospel and indigenous. cultural language," Veikoso says.
He adds the products are so popular, they dominate the radio power play list.
"It's ridiculous really, the popularity of the songs.
"They're either songs I wrote or contributed some part of.
"The songs are put through the normal process and they make it through all of them."
Production-wise, Veikoso is currently involved with six different CDs, all of them ready to go.
"It's a constant market and we've been blessed to be able to push them through," he adds.
The road to respectability, though, has not been all easy.
While some of his work flopped at the sales counter, they were radio successes.
He even spent three years bumming around Honolulu with absolutely no clue as to what he was going to do.
One company he left was worth $3million "but I was left with nothing".
But soon things began to turn around. From borrowing $23,000 to make one particular album, he moved from being "$480,000 in the negative to $300,000 in the positive".
Veikoso says his six albums Evolution, Born and Raised, Gratitude, Transition, Indigenous Life and Experience all tell different stories centred around his experiences and fused with different influences that have been part of his life.
"But there's a fine line in all this if you don't watch it, you could end up sounding like a copycat," he says.
"In the end, though, the island sound sits on its own."

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