Although Fiji is considered part of Melanesia (the group of islands generally closest to Australia and Papua New Guinea), their music tends to include Polynesian (group of islands farther east) styles as well.
Fijian folk music follows the trends of Polynesia. Folk music today includes modern instruments such as guitars, ukeleles, and mandolin (which I’m trying to teach myself to play), but also still incorporates traditional instruments as well. Lali drums serve several functions, making it an important part of Fijian society. It was used to call people together, to announce births, deaths, and war. Lali drums can come in a few different sizes depending on the purpose and timber needed. Another percussion instrument that may also be found in Fijian folk music is the derua: bamboo tubes of various sizes that are stamped on ground or mats. (I wonder if this is where The Blue Man Group got some of their ideas.)
Indo-Fijian music has a broader array of styles; Indian music has a long tradition, and the Indians who were brought to Fiji brought these along with them. One of the most popular forms is called Bhajans, devotional pieces accompanied by a harmonium (a smaller reed organ called a pump organ) and dholak (drums). (Every time I see the word “dholak,” I think it says “dalek.” My fellow Whovians understand.) Solo dholak players like Sashi Roy and Shailendra Prakash Sharma have developed different techniques of playing and have went on to be successful musicians.
Qawaali is also a devotional musical form from the northern areas of India and Pakistan that goes back at least 700 years. In Fiji, there was a lack of tabla players, and they ended up getting together with dholak players and bhajan singers and brought qawaali up as popular musical form in Fiji. It’s become a new style of qawaali which has purists snubbing it, but that’s not stopping its popularity in Fiji.
Another style that has gained popularity is the ghazal, also having its roots in India and the Arab countries. It’s characterized by rhyming couplets and a refrain, expressing the dichotomy of the pain and beauty of love. Mushtari Begum, an Indian residing in Fiji, was awarded the title of “Queen of Ghazal” by the Indian High Consulate in 1973. Cassius Khan, a student of Begum currently living in Canada, is another among the world’s greatest ghazal musicians.
Meke is a word that encompasses all styles of traditional dance. Traditionally, these dances were only danced by people of the same gender: men-only dances and women-only dances. However, some of the dances from neighboring countries in the South Pacific use both men and women, and these also made their way into Fijian culture. Music is highly incorporated into the meke. The dance uses wide energetic movements with both the legs and arms, including jumping and clapping. It definitely takes a certain amount of athleticism and balance to be able to do it correctly. If you are a fan of the show Survivor, meke was performed during the season it was filmed in Fiji.
Some of the popular artists these days are Karuna Gopalan. His music is highly influenced by reggae with some shading of funk and rock. Sung in English, the topics of the songs are the typical subjects you find in Caribbean and African reggae: social struggles, making your life better, living life, love (both lost and found). I’m a huge fan of reggae, so I really liked his music.
Another musician I found is Michelle Rounds. I listened to the album Michelle Rounds & Her Amazing Friends. The music panned from hip-hop to soft rock to reggae. Most of her music is sung in English, but a few of her friends sing/rap in other languages that I haven’t quite been able to figure out what it is. Some of the songs are hit and miss. I like some, but others are ok. She specializes in jazz and blues. (She's NOT the same Michelle Rounds who married Rosie O'Donnell, as I figured out.)
Emosi Lomata’s music has elements of reggae and soft rock. The quality of the songs that I was listening to was sometimes too soft to hear. Maybe that’s a Spotify problem. But these songs weren’t doing anything for me. There wasn’t enough to draw me in. I’m kind of indifferent.
I also listened to Seru Serevi’s album Gunu Peni. Based on the song titles, I believe he may be singing in Fijian. His style seems more like folk rock, reminding me a little of a Fijian John Denver. His song “Vunimaqo” is a remake of Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano.” I laughed out loud when I figured this out.
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