FOR Bill Cokanauto, performing at the Rise Up Fiji appeal concert two weeks ago was an emotional experience in more ways than one.
Better known as Kula Kei Uluivuya or KKU, the Taveuni native who gave Fiji one of the country’s most memorable hits in recent times in Tagimoucia, was also thinking of his people as he stepped up to the microphone at Ratu Sukuna Park.
Tagimoucia was an anthem about everything Taveuni.
His village battle cry and rallying call, eitou dau ania, was immortalised in a song that boasted the beauty of the island and its people.
And as he performed alongside the more than 40 artistes who took part in the marathon 10-hour concert, his thoughts were with the thousands left homeless and those who were injured on Taveuni.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston’s eye passed just south of the island on February 20 and devastated villages and settlements.
The Category 5 storm wreaked havoc for up to four hours, destroying roads, homes, plantations and lives.
Cokanauto said Taveuni, the Garden Island of Fiji, may have lost its lustre but like everything else Fijian, it will emerge like a phoenix out of the ashes — reborn and renewed.
“I spoke to relatives who have just returned from Taveuni and they said the island has turned brown after Winston,” the 24-year-old shared.
“Now, if you’re from Taveuni, the one thing you love about your island is the trees and the lush greenery and we are so proud to come from a place that is called the garden island.
“So seeing pictures of my island looking like that just broke my heart and I’m sure every Ai Ca’au feels that way I do.”
Heartbroken but inspired by the resilience of the Taveuni people, Cokanauto put pen to paper and composed a song about the strength of Fijians and their ability to smile in the face of adversity.
The result was a tune called Me Da Vueti Viti.
A reggae-infused rhythm and blues track featured popular Papua New Guinea producer and musician Robert Tonny and his group, the Metere Crew.
The slick production was sung in three languages — iTaukei, English and Tok Pisin — the official language of PNG.
“I was heartbroken after seeing so much devastation not only in terms of what our relatives and friends lost but also the damage to our environment.
“If you listen closely to the lyrics, it calls attention to our natural environment and how Severe TC Winston has cast a huge shadow over Taveuni and our beloved country but it also speaks about how everything will become better again in time.
“I grew up taking this beauty for granted, like many other people in the maritime zone, and so I guess it inspired me to write the song.
“The underlying message is about empowerment. Last week, we gigged at the birthday party of a one-year-old and when we performed Me Da Vueti Viti, people cheered and I got so emotional from the response.
“I guess what I wanted this song to do is empower and uplift the spirits of all Fijians.
“That’s the primary message — that we can do it, we can rise up, we can lift our islands back to what it is known for — the unrivalled natural beauty of a land and its people.”
The collaboration with Robby T and the Metere Crew came about after Cokanauto befriended him on Facebook.
The popular PNG artiste and producer had been looking for a Fijian artiste to work with for some time and the decision to work together on a song about empowerment after Severe TC Winston marks the start of what looks to be a promising journey for both artistes.
“He had heard my music and added me on Facebook so we got to know each other.
“Earlier in the year he had sent me a demo of some music they had been working on.
“The music was in my head for a while and it came at a time when I was in the middle of my third album.
“So I had an idea for a song floating around for a bit and when Severe TC Winston hit, it was combination of emotions for me.
“Like everyone else, the devastation was too much to bear but at the same time, I decided to pour those emotions into a song.”
By the end of the week after Severe TC Winston had smashed its way through the country, Cokanauto had completed Me Da Vueti Viti.
He sent the lyrics to family, his publicist and producer for vetting and was given a resounding thumbs up by all concerned.
“When the Fiji Performing Rights Association contacted my team about KKU headlining the Rise Up Fiji appeal concert, the timing was perfect because I had just completed the song.”
The Taveuni lad said work was continuing on a music video clip for the song and he is hopeful of a release in a few months.
“I am sure that when the state of natural disaster period is over, we will be still left with a lot of feelings of helplessness and I’m hoping the song can give people a sense of hope and strength.
“If any money is made from the song, it will all go towards Severe TC Winston relief work.”
By Felix Chaudhary
The Fiji Times, Thursday, March 17, 2016