Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Starved of the food of love

As published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 04, 2009Padre James Bhagwan

I read with interest the statement by local musician Knox that he releases his music exclusively on one particular radio station because the other broadcasters do not give airplay to local music on their English-language stations.

If that is correct, it is a damning indictment of the failure of local radio stations to promote the only local music that actually has a chance of commercial success internationally.

By this I do not mean that locally produced songs in the vernacular languages of Fijian, Hindi and Rotuman have no opportunity for international commercial success.

Indeed, they do, but only within the genre of world music -- a category that puts them with other traditional/fusion music recorded in languages that are not commonly spoken in the global village.

World music appeals to only those within the potential global audience who either speak the language or have an affinity with that particular culture or region from where the music comes from.

That, or to those who have an eclectic taste in music.

Not withstanding any foray into the Hindi-language music scene, it is songs in the English language which have a bigger chance of commercial success internationally for local musicians.

The two major commercial radio networks relegate homegrown music for the most to play on Fijian-language stations.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that while Paulini Curuenavuli and George 'Fiji' Veikoso fill the airwaves, they are not local musicians any more.

Their songs are recorded overseas in million-dollar studios with overseas back-up singers and session musicians.

Their albums are released on foreign labels. They are international artists.

That is not to say that English-language radio stations have not supported local artists.

I grew up listening to the latest local English songs on Radio Fiji Three. But much of the airplay was due to the individual producer/presenters (before the days of radio personalities) support of the local musicians, with the broadcasting and local music industry enjoying a symbiotic relationship.

Whether it was Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau's breakfast show or Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls' PM Show on Thursday nights, you could be sure of hearing the homegrown music of Jimmy Nathu, Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and the Dragon Swingers, Rootstrata or Danniel Rae Costello.

Producers made the effort to record live performances of local bands churning out quality renditions of popular covers and ground-breaking originals.

Even television followed suit, with FM Vision, Ready To Roll and Power Jammer generously giving precious time to local artists, with producers going out of their way to produce video clips, from the simple to the innovative.

So, it seems that there is a change in attitude toward local music in the English language. On one hand, the radio stations are using international standards and overseas charts to judge music worthy of airtime, while on the other hand the majority of televised local music consists of vocalists singing to backing tracks on reruns of M.I.C. or promos of M.I.C.

How much airplay did the aspiring musicians participating in the Young Mussos Acclaim get on television or radio for that matter?

Considering both major radio networks have one station dedicated to youth and one to classic hits, both in the English-language, the silence in terms of classic local songs and new upcoming artists, is deafening.

It would seem that the adoption of a Top 40 music strategy with a clock hour formula of programming, has vastly limited access for local musicians to local audiences.

While some local artists turn to the internet or cheaply produced singles or video for direct release, many are not able to do so. More importantly, what many radio and TV music directors and producers fail to understand is that local music can be considered as narratives of the popular culture.

Popular music genres in Fiji such as Reggae, Hip-Hop and R&B have emerged as a form of narrative from African-American and Jamaican cultures.

Local Reggae and Hip-Hop music follows in the tradition of the genre, focusing on issues such as poverty, political oppression, youth, unemployment, etc.

These musical genres continue the oral narrative because they are a form of story-telling.

For example, Unem Lament by local reggae group Rootstrata tells the story of a young man lamenting the ethnic tension of the 1987 military coup.

Lately, young local Hip Hop groups have emerged.

The similarities of Rap/Hip-Hop to traditional chanting and local songs offering a narrative of life in Fiji highlight the possibilities of music to reconnect the audience to communal experience.

The framing of songs in a certain context or background information about the song and the performer during their introduction by presenters also expand the narrative, making the listening experience more meaningful. It connects the presenter into that meaning in a process known as dynamic equivalence -- a model of translation in which listeners "feel as well as understand".

This, in turn, forges a better bond between the station and the listener.

So, whose responsibility is it to help the musical artists of today reach the widest possible audience? Certainly there is a responsibility that the radio and television broadcasters of Fiji must embrace.

Danny Costello hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said in an interview for Living in Fiji (now Living Pacific) magazine, that the Fiji Audio-Visual Commission needs to remember that the word audio also refers to the music industry.

But beyond that, it is us, the listeners, for whose ears and eyes radio and television station vie.

Our constant requests for local music on English-language stations can perhaps lead to great things for local musicians on the international scene, or at least give them a shot.

After all, all it takes these days is one hit.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, working as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and is an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.


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