BACKTRACKS: Music gave me a sense of purpose, says Cavei

Taito Cavei at his home in Tamavua-i-Wai along the Queens Rd outside Suva. Picture: ATU RASEA

Long before professional recording facilities were established in Fiji, musical groups used to record at the then Fiji Broadcasting Corporation studio located at the FINTEL building on the corner of Town Hall Rd and Victoria Pde in Suva.

Taito Cavei, the only surviving member of the famous Bua Ni Lomai Nabua serenaders remembers the time well.

He was there when the Voqa Ni Ua kei Davetatabu went in to record the songs that made them household names today.

“They thanked me for helping them because I signalled for when they had to start and stop during the session,” the 92-year-old said.

At the time, Bua Ni Lomai Nabua had called it a day, after a hugely successful run in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

And it was this experience that Cavei brought to the Voqa Ni Ua kei Davetatabu recording session.

When the session was over, Cavei continued singing with serenaders around Suva, Qauia and Toorak.

Speaking to this newspaper, his wife Selai said Cavei had forgotten the names of some bands he formed and even some songs he had composed.

She said a lot of it had to do with his age.

“But if you try to sing a song that he composed, you will be very surprised when he will sing along with you and remembers every single word,” she said.

Selai said sometimes when they’d go fishing, Cavei would tell her to take along a pen and an exercise book.

“Sometimes in the middle of catching fish he will suddenly tell me to write this verse and that verse and after a while a song is composed during the fishing trip.

“When we get back home, he will shower, change his clothes, mix two bags of grog and, at the same time, bring in his guitar and start humming the new song.

“Before I finish cleaning the fish we have just caught, the song would be ready and he would be singing it beside his basin of grog.”

Cavei said fishing expeditions were a good time to compose songs.

“I also like composing during a quiet night when I am alone in the house and there’s nobody there to distract me.

“But sometimes, when something happens at home or around the community or somewhere in the country, I compose a song at that particular event.”

Cavei said when he composed songs, he often used metaphors so that he wouldn’t have to use a person’s name — instead, he would use the name of a flower or name of a fish or bird instead.

One song he composed Sa Seavu Tiko Yani Vakamalua Na Kemu Kamica had everybody thinking the song was about a married couple who were on the brink of breaking up.

Cavei said the meaning of the song was totally different from what people thought because he composed it in a way to keep everybody guessing what the song was about.

“Some of my friends came back and told me people were talking about the beautiful lyrics of that song and claimed I composed it especially for them.

“I just laughed and told my friends it’s up to them whether to believe it or not.”

The song continues to be enjoyed today, and it is a popular number, often sung late in the night.

Cavei has composed close to 200 songs in an exercise book.

When a team from this newspaper visited his house in Tamavua-i-Wai, his guitar and ukulele were proudly hung up — a reminder to anyone who entered of how important music was to him and his household.

He said he liked to sing when people asked him and kindly obliged when the team from this newspaper asked him to do so.

His voice was as sharp and shrill as it was many years ago, coated with grains of experience from over the past eight decades.

Cavei said he had cut down on participating in grog sessions as his friends passed away over the past few years and only drinks if someone visits him.

He also said through everything he had been through over his 90-plus years, it was the grace of Almighty God which has kept him alive until today.

“One time I composed a song about our soldiers returning from the Malaya campaign.

“After we sang the song at the old Civic Centre (Suva), for nearly half an hour the soldiers lifted me in the air and thanked me for the song.

“Most of them cried and continued to thank me because they made it back home alive and, at the same time, they remembered their brothers who died in the war.”

He said while he was living in Tamavua Village he formed the band Kabu Ni Delai Tamavua and they used to play at the Garage Nightclub which used to be located opposite BSP Bank in Samabula.

Cavei said music was more than just a part of his long life, it was life itself to him because it had given him a purpose.

“Singing is like eating watermelon because you start from the top and you try to get through to the centre.

“When I compose a song, I try to make sure that the next one is better than the one I had written before it — that’s the reason why I have lived a long and happy life.”

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