'I'm trying to reach our people, island people and people who love the islands. Not necessarily Polynesians, but people who know how beautiful it is to live here. You can see the resurgence on Hawaiian music with people coming out with their own style.'
Fiji's got it, and more, including
a Hoku and a new CD
Review below with Quicktime audioBy John Berger
clips and a special MPEG-3 download
Special to the Star-Bulletin
GEORGE Veikoso's first professional singing appearance earned him $5 from the audience and "the lickings of my life" from his mother. Mom didn't want her 8-and-a-half-year-old son singing "worldly" music.
"The only place I could sing was in church, so every chance I could I'd sneak out. I felt in my heart that I had something (to share), and all I needed was a stage. I got on every stage I could to make that dream come true."
The little boy with the big dreams has made them come true in a big way. Twenty-one years after his first paid performance, George Veikoso, better known as Fiji, ranks as one of the most popular entertainers in Hawaii. Today marks the release of his third album, "Grattitude."
"The 'grattitude' is hard-earned, we're grateful but at the same time we've worked hard to get here," Fiji explained.
"I put the name Fiji on me just to show that Fijians are definitely a very positive force in the Pacific," he said, explaining although he is known to most people as Fiji, he doesn't keep his given name a secret. G. Veikoso is credited for writing most of the songs on "Grattitude."
"This (album) was due for the holiday season. I wasn't happy with it until now.
"There's a lot of happiness, a lot of things that have happened in my life I've put in there -- heartbreaks to great times, to 'Riddim of Life' which talks about why don't we just stop fighting and groove to the rhythm of life."
Fiji credits three relatives with encouraging his interest in secular music and in shaping his approach to it. A great-uncle, Isireli Racule, who helped make "Drums of the Island" a hit for Elvis, was an early inspiration. Uncle Sakiusa Bulicokocoko (of Bulicoko Band fame), was another.
Another uncle, Paul Stevens, turned him on to people like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and groups like Third World, whose music "was a melting pot of groove and feel." Fiji mentions Earth Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan and Rufus, Janis Joplin, the Bee Gees, Parliament, the Average White Band and Tower of Power as other early inspirations.
Fiji's mother eventually bowed to the inevitable. By the time he was 14 he no longer had to sneak out to sing and was working with a Fijian band, Rootstrata.
"That's how I learned to be in a group. Being in a group teaches you that you are one of eight guys who make this sound (together).
"As you go solo you tend to forget that there's a group behind you that worked very hard to create what you need."
Fiji left his homeland at the age of 14, came to Hawaii, and spent less than a year in Los Angeles before returning here. Hawaii has been his home ever since.
"I couldn't hang (in L.A.). I found more love here. This is closer to where I came from, especially the mentality, the thoughtfulness and the sensitivity of the people."
His rise was slow, but steady and well planned. He sang with a group called Par Three at Someplace Else in Kailua, appeared in talent showcase nights at Fast Eddie's and eventually gained a bigger following as one of the later recruits in the Hawaiian Style Band.
His debut album, "Evolution," hit in 1994. "Born & Raised" followed three years later. Fiji's popularity and presence in the local music industry was made clear to all when he won the Hawaii Academy of Record Arts' Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Male Vocalist of the Year, and won the public balloting for Favorite Entertainer of the Year in 1998.
"In order to have respect and recognition, I wanted to first be a part of something that was Hawaiian and molded to Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian music. Hawaiian Style Band was a really great example of people who either had migrated to Hawaii or who appreciated the culture. It brought together a melting pot of music, and I felt that going with them was something I needed to do while I was working on 'Evolution.'
"On 'Born & Raised' I wanted to go back also to where I came from and get that whole thing sorted out. Now I'm coming out with something that I've always wanted to do, which is to have a majority of originals so they can hear me more as myself rather than the people who influenced me."
An upcoming compilation album will be followed by a project aimed at the national pop charts.
"It may have seemed I'm confusing myself by collaborating with so many people -- singing background here, writing this song there, singing with this person or that -- but I wanted to saturate myself in the market at that point. Now we're learning to draw back and just focus on our thing."
Fiji was born five months before the official end of English colonial rule and the restoration of Native Fijian sovereignty on Oct. 10, 1970, and speaks fluent Fijian and English. Although he has considered Hawaii his home for half his life, he follows events in his birthplace.
When the Fijian chiefs ceded the islands to England, traditional Fijian institutions were kept intact and laws were passed that prohibited sale of land to non-Fijians. Fiji supports the efforts of Col. Sitiveni Rabuka and others who are fighting to keep Fijian lands in Native Fijian hands.
"We are very grateful for our forefathers who preserved and protected our culture. We still have the council of chiefs, and the Native Land Trust still belongs to the people, but democracy is coming in with a whole new set of rules, and if we're outnumbered they can break that all up.
"If we don't have the power they can outvote us and take all our land, but if we stick together as our forefathers want us to, we definitely can preserve what is being lost in so many Polynesian islands today.
"I really empathize with the Hawaiian people and I feel for them. I'm trying to reach our people, island people and people who love the islands. Not necessarily Polynesians but people who know how beautiful it is to live here. You can see the resurgence on Hawaiian music with people coming out with their own style. Some (are) following trends but some more are really trying to create something."
He says originality is the key to national and international success.
"We can hear what they're doing on the mainland but at the same time be here and create our own (sound).
"That's what it's all about -- learning to help each other out and learn at the same time about this music that we're trying to bring up out of Hawaii."
Grattitude an impressive
mix from reggae to rap
"Grattitude" by Fiji By John Berger
FROM the first notes of the original Fijian chant that segues into "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" on through the closing notes of the final unlisted "hidden track," "Grattitude" is one of the rare local albums in which almost every song seems more remarkable than the next.
Fiji proves himself once again a distinctive vocalist and uniquely talented artist of world-class potential.
Quicktime Audio Clips:
Click play button for Quicktime Sound:
Dock of the Bay
She's Da Bomb
Click to download Quicktime
Almost every song is an original co-written by Fiji and Brett Fovargue. The duo tap into several genres. Rap and reggae rhythms predominate but there are pop, Hawaiian and Fijian nuances as well.
Dock of the Bay
Download a full-length, high-fidelity MPEG-3 audio file
courtesy of Fiji and Ricochet Records. (4 MEG file).
Used with permission. Unauthorized duplication or
distribution is a violation of federal law.
Fiji reworks Otis Redding's posthumous 1968 hit to include Fijian chant and a touch of slack key as well. He preserves the emotion of Redding's composition while offering a fresh and personal perspective.
"Smokin' Session" and "She's Da Bomb" both sound like certain hits. The former is more of a good time reggae-beat party song. The latter is more complicated in arrangement but every bit as catchy and commercial.
"Queen's Cry " is Fiji's imaginative nationalist tribute to Hawaiian patriot Queen Lili'uokalani. "Riddim of Life," a call for contemporary unity spiced with the New Guinea pidgin of guest rapper O'Shen is also notable.
Add softer songs written for his mother and daughter, a Samoan standard recorded with his uncle Sakiusa Bulicokocko, and a song written for a friend with AIDS, and Fiji has assembled an impressive body of work indeed.
Tim Nelson, Damon Williams, Mr. Re, Hobo Kids Roni & Ronnie, and Jeff Rasmussen, contribute their talents as well. Elaborate art work, song lyrics and translations, and full performance and publishing credits make "Grattitude" one of the most ambitious and impressive local albums of the year.
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