Many people get a small taste of this at the end of their trip, when resort staff serenade the guests with a rendition of Isa Lei, the lullaby-like national farewell song. But don’t leave the music to the end of your stay, when you’re heading for the airport with a hibiscus flower tucked behind your ear.
Traditional Fijian music is a blend of Melanesian and Polynesian rhythms. The beat is provided by slit drums made from resonant wood, while the melody is played on guitar and ukulele (sadly, the once-common bamboo nose flute is now to be found mostly in museums).
Contemporary Fijian music takes the folk melodies from the past and expertly blends them with modern influence. Suva-based singer Laisa Vulakoro is known as the queen of vude, a genre mixing old Fijian songs with modern R&B and jazz influences. Reggae rhythms fit well with many Fijian styles – listen out for bands such as Voqa ni Delai Dokidoki and singers like Daniel Rae Costello. Rosiloa (formerly Black Rose) is one of Fiji’s most successful rock bands.
In the past, Fijian musicians have frequently had to play in resort bands or move to Australia to forge any sort of career, but in recent years there’s been a move to rediscover the popular Fijian music of the 1960s and ’70s and reignite the live-music scene. The Lautoka-based band Makare has been spearheading the revival: if you catch them playing oldie songs such as the impossibly catchy Mai Gaga Voli (written by 1980s star Lela Seruvakula), you’ll be humming the melody for the remainder of your trip. Other bands to watch out for are Rako Pasefika and One2Eight; both regularly perform live.
Live music venues
Fiji doesn’t have a tradition of dedicated live-music venues, but in Suva and Nadi – the best places to catch a band – there are several bars and restaurants that put on regular live shows. Advertising is often a little ad hoc; check fliers and posters about town for upcoming events.
Suva is the easiest place to see a band in Fiji. In downtown Suva, the two most popular bars with regular live gigs are O’Reilly’s and Traps Bar. Both are lively venues with a club atmosphere and sound systems playing tunes late into the weekend nights. If you want to eat or drink and have you music as a side order, Sunday afternoons at Bad Dog (facebook.com/pages/Bad-Dog-Cafe-Fiji) are dedicated to live jazz, while on Friday and Saturday nights there’s live music at Governors (governorsfiji.com), a restaurant in a beautifully restored colonial bungalow.
For semi-regular events, there are a couple of extra venues. The Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture & Pacific Studies (usp.ac.fj), on the campus of the University of the South Pacific, has occasional live events; it’s particularly good if you want to see traditional music and dance, not just from Fiji but frequently from other countries in the region as well. The Royal Suva Yacht Club also hosts live concerts in its charming waterside location.
In Nadi, the live-music venue of choice is New Nadi Farmer’s Club (facebook.com/nadifarmersclub). Bands play from Wednesday to Saturday, and the music in the beer garden is frequently preceded by fire-walking displays. Ed’s Bar has a more unassuming air, but it’s one of Nadi’s better bars and also has a good reputation for regular live gigs.
If you want to make music more of a centrepiece of your trip to Fiji, it’s worth noting down a handful of festivals your calendar.
Fiji’s biggest dedicated music festival is the Uprising Festival of Music, Dance and Lights (uprisingbeachresort.com/music-festival), held every November at Uprising Beach Resort in Pacific Harbour. The beachside venue is just a short hop from Suva. The festival rounds up some of the best live bands in Fiji and attracts increasing numbers of bands from Australia and beyond; it’s also a rare showcase for the best of contemporary Fijian dance.
The annual Fiji International Jazz Festival, held every April or May between Port Denarau and Suva, skipped a year in 2015 but is set to return in 2016 with its popular line-up of local and international jazz artists.
Fans of electronic dance music will flock to Your Paradise Music Festival (yourparadise.com) in November. This boutique festival, held on the island of Malololailai in the Mamanucas, is a little slice of Ibiza in the South Pacific with DJs converging from the USA, Europe and Australia to lay down the tunes on a white sandy beach.
Viti Levu also holds two large festivals every August; while they don’t have live music as their focus, they are worth a detour for a chance to see Fiji at play. Nadi’s Bula Festival (facebook.com/pages/Digicel-Bula-Festival-2015) and Suva’s Hibiscus Festival attract thousands of local revellers. There are amusement parks, beauty pageants, great food and lots of live music. Don’t expect Glastonbury or Burning Man, but the events have a fun vibe and give you a window on Fijian culture that’s a long way from the tourist-tailored ukulele lullabies of the resorts.