Band’s journey from the village to the studio

Surviving members of the Nauluvatu Vocal Group Jeke Mucunaqio left, Oteti Rokotunidau and Ratu Tikilaci Vuibau at Mokani Village. Picture: VILIAME ODROVAKAVULA

In the ’80s, a sigidrigi group out of Mokani Village, Tailevu, earned the rather humorous nickname “Mi Rawa” (visit the restroom first before they begin).

Lead vocalist and composer Ratu Isireli Mokunitulevu said the band’s high-energy performance, combined with melodic harmonies often captivated revellers so much that they forgot to visit the washroom.

“The real name of our band was the Nauluvatu Vocal Group, and many people used to say we were one of the best in the 80s,” he said. Ratu Isireli, a native of Tarukua Village, Cicia, Lau, said he had maternal links and used to travel to Mokani Village to visit his relatives in the early ’80s.

“Every Friday I used to travel to my plantation at Maumi Village and when my work there was done, I would sleep in Mokani. “During those visits, my cousins and I would bring our guitars and serenade in the village. “It was hard to return home on Sunday after lunch because we used to have so much fun.”

Ratu Isireli said the villagers began referring to them as the “Mi Rawa Serenaders”. “This meant that you have to visit the rest room before we start serenading.

“The joke was, if you didn’t do that, our music would captivate you and you would forget.” Ratu Isireli said they were the brunt of many jokes but when the group struck up, the villagers would be on the floor for every song. He said the villagers loved their renditions of the old iTaukei songs, so it was normal for people to sing along during their performances.

Apart from their singing prowess, the group was also quite adapt at composing. He said in 1985, there were discussions to celebrate 150 years of the arrival of Christianity to Fiji. One evening while they were serenading in the village, the Tui Mabua at that time asked them to compose a song about the event.

In light of the importance of the song, Ratu Isireli said they decided to change the name of their group from “Mi Rawa” to “Nauluvatu Vocal Group”.

He said the group was named after his yavusa in Lau and his brothers mataqali from Mokani.

Ratu Isireli got busy with the composition and after penning 10 songs, he contacted Peteresia Laliqavoka who was the recording engineer at the Fiji Broadcasting Commission’s Radio Fiji One at the time.

Laliqavoka got the group into the studio, they recorded the songs and the Nauluvatu Vocal Group was immortalised on tape. “All the villagers were happy when our fi rst recording was played on Radio Fiji One. “It was a big deal at the time.”

Ratu Isireli said from then on, they were invited to perform around Mokani and the group was ready to go, thanks to the generosity of two of his brothers who provided them with instruments. He said most of their songs were based on real-life events and that was one of the main reasons for their popularity.

Ratu Isireli said because of their recording, the Nauluvatu Vocal Group was often compared with one of the most popular iTaukei bands of the ’80s called the “Voqa ni Ua kei Davetatabu”.

The group used to rate well on Radio Fiji’s “Digidigi Domoni” program every Saturday evening.

“Our song “Au kacivi iko luvequ” pushed the “Voqa ni Ua kei Davetatabu” off the charts and became one of the most popular songs in the ’80s.

“The song was about us leaving the islands and looking for better life on Viti Levu.”

Ratu Isireli said he composed a lot of songs that went on to become very popular, including songs about the love of mothers and a song about Ratu Ravuama Primary School.

He said during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, villagers from around the area would flock to Mokani to celebrate because of their music.

Ratu Isireli said they would erect a bolabola (shed) for the dancing and people would pay admission to enter the popular venues known back then as “rubbish halls”. Sadly, the 1987 coup brought an end to the group. People no longer held events, movement was restricted and most of the places were locked down.

Ratu Isireli said he pursued a teaching career and his first posting was Rabi High School. And even before he departed for Rabi, the group recorded another album with the leftover material from their last recording.

He said his second posting was Lomaivuna High School. “One day while in Lomaivuna, the group came and asked me if we could continue with our performances.

“I told them that I’d think about it, but at the time I was concentrating on my studies. And one thing about music, it always goes with kava and this was a big temptation for me.

“When I drink kava while singing, I enjoy it so much, that I drink as if there is no tomorrow.” He than told his brothers from Mokani that he couldn’t join them because of his studies at the University of the South Pacific.

Ratu Isireli said his brothers respected the decision and returned to the village.

He said he had no regrets and always reminisced every time he heard their songs being played over the radio.

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