The music lives on for Vosawale

Senitiki Vosawale, the only surviving member of the Tegu ni Nakanacagi group, in Nakini Village, Naitasiri. Picture: VILIAME ODROVAKAVULA

When Senitiki Vosawale returned home after a three-month work stint in New Zealand in 1968, he brought a new guitar, a first-time experience and so began the revelation.

The lanky Nakini villager of Naitasiri said he bought the guitar for its beauty and to show his fellow villagers that he owned a guitar from the land of the long white cloud.

It was the newest guitar in the village and to own one was unique at the time because guitars were not easy to acquire in those days.

Farming tools such as a cane knives and digging forks would serve as more valuable. Vosawale said when his cousin saw his shining new guitar, he was over the moon and, in his excitement, suggested they form a sigidrigi band in the village.

His cousin knew his way around chords. He said their sigidrigi band was named after a hill beside their village, Teguni Nakanacagi. “The reason was when you relax on that hilltop, the cool breeze from the east would make anyone relaxed and sleepy.

“We had our farm up there and when the wind comes, sometimes you thought that you were inside an airconditioned room,” said Vosawale.

The now 73-year-old said they started off their practice session inside a house made of bamboo using a benzene light. At that time, the only transportation up in the highlands was by boat because there was no road.

The more they practised, the more fascinated Vosawale grew about his new musical instrument and eventually learnt to play chords, quickly moving to becoming the lead guitarist for the band.

He said practice makes perfect and that was exactly what he did and it wasn’t long before word got around to nearby villages and people came to hear their original songs.

He said two brothers from Naganovatu Village, Ilisaniasi Daligadua and Sailasa Vatudau, joined the group.

“Ilisaniasi began as our lead singer, Sailasa took second on vocals and my cousin, Iliaseri Kalouniqali. The three made a sweet melody together.

“Our songs received an overwhelming response and word quickly spread to Natoaika and Deladamanu, our neighbouring villages.

“Many truly admired our songs because most of the songs were about our daily lives, songs about our soldiers, Waqa na cina mai Bolatagane and many more.”

The band composed many local hits such as Vei au vei au sung by Georgina Ledua and Yaloqu ko mai Voroka vakadua, said Vosawale.

He said it wasn’t long before the band was invited to functions in surrounding villages, whether weddings or gatherings. Audiences could be heard singing along with the sigidrigi band.

Their songs echoed across the Naitasiri Province and more villagers were drawn to the messages that lay in the music. Their songs are still being sung today by villagers working on their farms or fishing out at sea.

Vosawale said media man Wame Waqanisanini came to the village to listen to their songs.

He said Waqanisanini changed a few styles of their singing and told them to come to the Fiji Broadcasting Commission the following week.

Vosawale said being in studio was a first experience for them.

He was placed in one room while the rest of the members in another.

“I was wondering how will we communicate because we were in different rooms. Technology was way ahead of us and while we were singing, we didn’t know that Waqanisanini was recording at the same time.”

They recorded 12 songs that day. The villagers praised the singers on their return to the village.

“We had a feast and drank kava after our first recording and it definitely inspired us to compose more songs for our second recording.

“This time, Solomoni, Ilisaniasi and the rest of them composed songs for their second recording. The recording was done by Apenisa Rabai at the studio.

“It was also to be played on radio. We were all excited. We all sat anxiously in anticipation, listening to one of the most important news on the radio, everyone was waiting for the song to play. It was like this almost every night.

“One day, while listening to the Radio Fiji One station, I heard one of our songs from the second recording.

“Same lyrics, same tune but it was sung by the Seni Vetaukula Group from Koro in the Lomaiviti Group.

“I took the small transistor radio to Solomoni and told him that our song was being sung on the radio by a different group,” said Vosawale.

Solomoni looked at me, looked at the radio and listened to the song without a word. Vosawale said they later realised that Rabai had given all their songs from their second recording to the Seni Vetaukula Group from Koro.

He said they couldn’t do much because the milk had been spilt but it was a shame on Rabai to do that to them.

The prepping, testing and composing the music for words written by them took considerable time and effort.

Vosawale said the band was hit hard by what had happened. Even though they all tried to brush it aside, they didn’t want to record any more songs because their tears and sweat just went down the drain.

He said when Georgina Ledua married one of their sons, they willingly gave her the rest of their songs to sing because of her beautiful voice. One song was Veiyabaki daru sa sivia, which was a hit song for many years.

Vosawale said he was watching TV recently and the great singer and composer, Seru Serevi, was explaining copyright and how the use of another artist’s creative work was illegal. If only his naita could help them with some royalty for their songs, he said.

Vosawale encouraged youths in his village to sing lively songs during function so visitors would enjoy their stay. He said recording in the 60s was very different to the present day.

Vosawale preferred old recordings because they sounded raw and lively – that was the beauty of it – plus everybody took part in singing. Nowadays, a person could duplicate his or her voiceover to make it sound like a band.

He said he wasn’t a big fan of programmed music and he would always remain true to himself by a real musician, not a computer one. “Many years have passed and I look back and focus on the good that I’ve been blessed with, my family and the band.

Despite the negativity we faced, I’m happy enough to be still breathing and finally relaying my true story to The Fiji Times.

“Music will live on in me and I’m always eager to help the younger generation, that’s what I do now.”

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