Purpose: The purpose of this blog post is to educate others about the music in Fiji. Music is an important piece of Fijian culture and tradition and we experienced music in many ways studying abroad.
When I think about Fiji I think about several different things like Vorovoro, the people, the ocean, and the music. When I think about music in Fiji I think about music in different ways as well. The first time I remember the music in Fiji was riding in a taxi in Fiji. The music on the radio was music just like what we hear on the radio in the States, but every song has a little more Fiji to it, meaning it has the island style of music you expect to hear. The first hotel we were at, at our first group dinner there were three people playing the guitar and singing sitting on a woven mat. I didn’t realize the significance of that moment at that point in time, but I think back to that exact night a lot. The three Fijians singing around the tanoa was the hotel version of a grog mat session.
Once we got to Vorovoro we slowly were introduced to music on the island. Many of the Fijians that we were working alongside everyday had some type of musical ability. They could sing well and they could play instruments like no other. Most nights were spent hanging out on the grog mat; the Fijians would play music and sing songs. It was wonderful; it was just these happy simple moments full of joy, laughter, and singing. These nights were incredible, focusing on each other and really getting to have life talks with many different people. One time we took a trip to town (Labasa) and a few students printed off the lyrics and chords of songs to play for the Fijians. Most songs were Zac Brown, Michael Franti, John Denver, Bob Marley, and Taylor Swift. A few afternoons we held practice so we would all be familiar with the lyrics of the songs when we sang them on the grog mat to everyone.
Then the “band boys” came to Vorovoro. This was island music on an entirely new level. Sometimes the band boys were different guys, but there were always the consistent few that would come play. They would all sing songs and play the guitar or ukulele. The songs they sang were traditional Fijian songs. In Fiji traditional songs are how stories are told and how they are passed down generation to generation. Someone on the island told me that in America there are songs and stories everyone just kind of knows, like Yankee Doodle or Humpty Dumpty, it is the exact same in Fiji. The music is happy beautiful music that honestly never gets old. It was unreal some nights because we were sitting on an island in Fiji, under the clearest skies and most stars I have ever seen, the Pacific Ocean 20 steps away, sitting and laughing with friends under the Grand Bure, and listening to the band boys playing traditional Fijian music. Seriously unreal.
One of the top musical moments I have ever experienced in Fiji was in church one day. The church choir was amazing; the choir approached the middle of the room and sang in what I would call a huddle. It was incredible and still so fun. But the entire congregation also had such beautiful voices. At the very beginning of the service everyone started singing and it was perfection, there were no instruments, just voices all singing in harmony. There are no words to describe how beautiful it was. Several people from our group started crying almost immediately. It is one of those moments I will never forget.
One of the highlights of the trip where music was at the forefront as well was at the Lovo. Part of our study abroad to Fiji involved us helping fund and help build, or do the tasks they needed for us to, for the brand new Grand Bure on Vorovoro. The Lovo was to celebrate not just the new building but also the partnership between Vorovoro, the Mali community, Bridge the Gap, and Auburn University. Many important members of the Fijian community attended and we got to talk to many of the guests about what we have been learning and how Vorovoro has impacted us and how it would impact us back in the States. We spent many days preparing for this celebration, by practicing the Meke.
Meke practice was every afternoon for about a week and a half. The Meke is a traditional song and dance performed by men and women in Fiji. The Meke is normally only performed at three events: openings of villages or new additions in villages, birthdays, and weddings. We were able to learn one of the types of Meke dance (which was performed sitting down) and perform it at the Lovo, twice! At practices we would dance, while Team Fiji played instruments and sang the songs. I think they laughed at us trying to dance most of the time, but it was so much fun. At the Lovo we first performed the Meke to Tui Mali to approve of before we were to perform later that afternoon to government officials as well as guests from neighboring villages. He approved of our wonderful dancing and we got to go get ready for the day ahead. Then we attended the ceremony where we had leaves tied to our wrists and a charcoal mixture applied to our faces. We performed the Meke with everyone from Team Fiji singing the songs and playing the instruments. It was one of the best moments of my life. People were laughing, people were singing, people were cheering, and we all were smiling from ear to ear. There are no words to describe those few moments and the moments after. When the ceremony was over and the Grand Burre was officially opened we got to eat all the yummy food with Tui Mali, then head to the grog mat. The grog mat on this night was packed! The band boys started playing right after we ate until 12:00am. They are just so great. All the while we were able to talk to more visitors and meet many family members and friends of Team Fiji.
In a way the music was a bonding tool for us all. When there is nothing to say, music is there. When something is hard to say, music is there.
Leaving Vorovoro was the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. But in that sad moment there was music. The Fijians played happy music for us, which helped a lot when we all were hanging out the morning of our departure. It made us take our minds off of what that day was and made it feel like a normal day on Vorovoro. When someone leaves Vorovoro there is a song that the Fijians sing to him or her as they walk down lines and hug everyone. Isa Lei. The song is actually an awesome song, but it is a song that I do cry to every time I hear it. Here is a link to the song if you would like to listen.
The last week on Vorovoro a few people on our trip wrote a song for the Fijians to basically say thank you and just another way of expressing how much Vorovoro has meant to us. How much every single moment has meant to us. It is set to tune of “Chicken Fried.” The song is actually really good and perfectly sums up our life on Vorovoro.
Studying abroad in Fiji has been the most incredible life-changing trip. Fiji is just this place where you live a simple life, surrounded by friends and family, and listening to the coolest and purest music.
Lyrics to “Island Time” (to the tune of Chicken Fried)
1. I was brought by Api’s boat to join a tribe and that’s home you know.
Roti, Dalo Leaves and beef stir fry at the big lovo.
My Vale ain’t much to talk about but’s built with love and grown in the Mali ground.
Little bit of island time
Cold bilo on a Friday night
You know my sulu fits just right, the band boys turned up.
Like to see the sun rise
See the love in the Fijian’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know one plus one is one
2. It’s funny how it’s the little things that mean the most in life. Not where you life or the boat you drive. Or the price tag on your clothes. There’s no dollar sign on island time this I’ve come to know.
So if you agree have some grog with me and raise your bilos for a toast, to a little bit of island time.
3. Thank God for my life.
For all these grog mat nights.
May Vorovoro forever thrive, let us sing.
Salute the Fijians guys.
We wish you a long long life.
Remember all the good good times
Till we meet again
On a little bit of island time
For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.