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  • Writer's pictureB.M. Allsopp

Fiji's music: the beat goes on

From time to time, I've posted video clips of Fijian music performances often by choirs. Does this music have anything in common with indigenous folk music? My whirlwind tour of Fiji's music scene includes a lot of YouTube links, so to save bytes, I haven't included the video frames.

Fiji Musical instruments - flutes and pipes
Musical instruments (Fiji Museum)

Pre-colonial traditions

In his wonderful Fiji and the Fijians, based on his observations from 1840 to 1853, Rev. Thomas Williams noted the people's love of music. He listed the musical instruments Fijians played: the conch-shell, the nose-flute, Pan pipes. bamboo Jew's harp, large and small drums, made of hollowed logs or bamboo. Hand clapping always accompanied singing and dancing. To an extent, the melodic instruments pictured here have since given way to the guitar and ukulele, but the drums like the lali are still prominent in village life, essential for public announcements as well as music.

Lali, or slit-gongs
Lali, or slit-gongs


Everyone loves the meke, which is a bit like opera. Men and women each have their own meke. but occasionally perform together. Available recordings of authentic meke are often very long. so I've chosen one by Fijian high school boys visiting a New Zealand school. It's short but includes all the elements observed by Williams 180 years ago: an orchestra and choir who sit behind the dancers, a director at the front wielding a stick or weapon, who may also play a popular buffoon, and accelerating speed. These boys are not yet polished, but they and their audience are having a ball! This clip reminded me of scenes in Death By Tradition, where primary school children are earnestly practising their meke. To save bytes, use this link.

After Rev. Williams' time, Fijians embraced both Christianity and the hearty Wesleyan hymns the Methodist missionaries taught them. In village churches, congregations usually sing without accompaniment, but in the last few decades, the newer charismatic churches use clapping and instruments in a more traditional way, like the meke.

Music now

Today, most Fijians like singing along to the guitar and ukulele when they gather around the yaqona (kava) bowl, just like here. Okay, these guys are members of a top choir, but just a few are relaxing here, singing a popular song. To save bytes, use this link.

All tourist resorts have resident acoustic string bands, whose members may double as waiters or scuba instructors. They play a mix of songs they and their foreign audience both like. At one small island resort, the Toberua Serenaders stand outside each guest verandah and sing a few songs in the hour before dinner. It's such a lovely experience, but Williams reminded me that serenading by groups of both men and women is a custom from pre-colonial times. Listen to the Toberua Serenaders here.

Modern Fiji music is influenced by country-and-western, reggae and rock 'n roll. Laisa Vulakoro, who's been performing for thirty years, is famous for pioneering a relaxed fusion of these styles called vude, pronounced voon-day, using modern electronic instruments. Here's a recent performance by Laisa, the 'queen of vude'. To save bytes, use this link.

Rugby and song

Whenever Fiji's national team is on tour, rugby fans will cheer when the Flying Fijians burst into song. Whether they're arriving, departing, winning or losing, a song will lift everyone's spirits. I chose this clip because the sound quality was better than many I reviewed. It's after the first game that Fiji ever won against France, in 2018. Even if you have zero interest in rugby, you'll love this!

You can find more about Fiji on my website, in the Fiji Gallery and Fiji Resources page. As ever, I'd welcome your comments and questions about this post.

with my best wishes for 2022,

Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)


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