The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 223-225
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Wasawasa. 2002. Composed and recorded by Sailasa Tora. Produced by New Sounds Oceania, <Oceania@usp.ac.fj> with assistance from the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture, University of the South Pacific, Suva. SAG01/995660. 1CD, 42 minutes, 12 tracks, 8-page booklet with art and descriptive notes. F$30 plus F$10 shipping.
I have a special place in my heart for Fijian music—the guitar-driven harmonies sung around the kava bowl in the village or their modern, keyboard-driven, urban club descendants; the percussion-inspired chants accompanying the meke dance; and the uplifting vocal blends of the schoolchildren at their morning assembly or the congregation at their religious services. To try to quench my thirst for this music since leaving Fiji, I've downloaded favorite new renditions from the Internet, begged friends to send CD releases, and even incorporated representative samples into the repertoire of my Honolulu-based Pan-Pacific group, the kava boys band. That being said, I admit that I agreed to write this review with a hope of sharing the feelings that Fijian music inspires in me through writing about a new compilation of what I knew as Fijian music. But, to my surprise, the mesmerizing and inspirational music of Wasawasa by Sailasa Tora is unlike anything, Fijian or otherwise, that I have ever heard before.
Though produced by New Sounds Oceania (the new recording studio of the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific in Suva), Wasawasa might be regarded by some as neither "new sounds "nor "sounds Oceania." Under the group name Kabe in the year 2000, Sailasa Tora released an album entitled Kacikaci Vakatama, which included songs found on Wasawasa such as "Kacikaci Vakatama," "Wasawasa," and "Na Vatu Kwe" (per arTok, the Pacific Arts Online website: <http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artok/music/s193457.htm> 20 Sep 2000). Subsequently, George "Fiji" Veikoso released a cover version of "Na Vatu Kwe" as the opening chant on his Transitions CD. But, while songs on Wasawasa may be recognizable from previous releases, the type of music itself strikes the ear as a unique new blend of sounds.
Regarding the origins of these [End Page 223] sounds, many might not at first think that they are particularly those of Oceania. After hearing Sailasa Tora perform live in Suva, one friend of mine remarked that it reminded her of hearing lullabies sung in Fijian. Per the description of my initial surprise above, I also had difficulty in attempts to categorize the music. Certainly the lyrics are in the Fijian language and often sound much like Fijian chants. The percussion also frequently follows a style distinctive to the Pacific. But I found myself initially classifying some songs more as ambient, ethno-tribal, or acoustic New Age music. I do not wish to discourage those who, like me, have acquired some distaste for particular artists in this vast genre. However, as New Age music has been popularly described as having soothing forms that caress the mind, comfort the heart, and awaken the spirit, this description does seem to fit both musical and lyrical expression on Wasawasa. From blasts of winds and chirps of birds in the opening title song through subsequent pours of rain sticks, beats of the lali drum, pulses of other percussion, and patterns of acoustic guitar and keyboard, the music surrounds and pulls emotions. Likewise, the sometimes haunting, sometimes lilting, and sometimes driving vocal qualities blend with the musical expression to nurture the mind, heart, and spirit. So, although I'm not certain of the content of all other artists recording in Fiji, those who seek categorization might be satisfied to believe that Sailasa Tora has established a new subgenre called Fijian New Age music.
One especially intriguing element of this surreal quality of the music is the incorporation of pan flutes and the blending of traditional chanting with four-part harmonies. The combination of pan flutes and three-beat percussion evoke an almost Native American feeling, but Tora has explained that these sounds are the...