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No. 69 (1971)
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Viking VP256 33 ⅓ Stereo LP

This record features the Ratana Senior Concert Party. It is a mixed bag of items but for all that a very pleasant mixed bag indeed. The cover unabashedly admits to the record being a programme of Maori and English song favourites. The Pakeha melodies are further identified by name in the notes to each item, which effectively draws the teeth of anyone who wants to criticise the record for passing off Pakeha music as Maori.

Side one contains items of a more or less traditional nature beginning with an interesting chant, for the Maori listener, called Kingitanga which relates the history of the first Maori King and his successors. There is also a women's haka powhiri a lament for the departed, a stick game and a poi item. The latter, Paki-o-matariki, has a catchy tune but the singing is rather uninspiring, and without the appeal of being able to see the poi movements, the item tends to become monotonous with the repetition of numerous verses with the same tune. I enjoyed the stick game which tells the story of a road gang clearing snow and scrub.

Side two contains the ‘English song favourites’. These are a well-sung selection of Pakeha items with Maori words. In the bracketed selections the change-over between items is smoothly done. The singing is very good with the entire group meshing in smoothly rather than just a few voices dominating the scene.

As I mentioned above, no attempt has been made to present these Pakeha items as anything other than what they are. However, the very adequate cover notes make it clear that all these items were originally composed for auspicious occasions. I would therefore say in passing that it is a pity that a party of the stature and quality of Ratana have to draw so heavily on Pakeha tunes to present as the star pieces at notable marae functions. However, that cavil aside (which really has nothing to do with the record anyway), this disc is bound to be deservedly popular with the public as a well-sung collection of catchy tunes.

Salem XPS 5049 33 ⅓ Stereo LP

This record features the Kabu Kei Vuda Entertainers, a group originally organised in 1962 by the village of Viseisei, Vuda, on the western coast of Viti Levu, for local entertainment and to cater for visitors to the area. Shortly after its formation, the group was heard by an American visitor who invited them on a month's all-expenses paid tour of Hawaii. Since then the group has had three overseas tours to Hawaii and the United States mainland, performing in such places as the Waikiki Shell, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles and on the Ed Sullivan show. In Fiji the group is much in demand to entertain at hotels in the Nadi-Lautoka area as well as for special occasions and festivals. Despite its experience the group is still raw and unsophisticated yet full of the vigour and tuneful harmonies which characterise Fijian music at its best.

There are 14 items on the record. For the most part they are melodious and easy to listen to. It is unfortunate however that the record cover gives almost no clue to what type the items are and what they are all about. For example, I suspect that Bula Malaya is one of the old Fijian Battalion songs brought back after the unit served in that country during the Communist Emergency, but there is nothing to confirm or deny this. Songs such as Matamu ni va Vula are to the casual listener merely a lengthy collection of verses with the same tune. Presumably the words of each verse are different although this is difficult to tell if one is unfamiliar with the Fijian language.

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The item would have been much more interesting if the meaning and significance of it were explained. The two men's spear dances offer interesting comparisons with Maori haka and peruperu but what mean the changes in tempo, the varying rhythms of the spears, the shouted exclamations, the drumming, the point and counterpoint of the leader's calls and the group's replies? Alas, these are not explained.

The record purports to be stereo but the medium is not exploited and there appears to be no difference in the sound coming through each speaker. Some of the tunes appear to be recorded with the performers too far from the microphone. Despite these deficiencies, however, the record is moderately pleasant listening and provides good examples of Fijian village singing for the collector.

Hibiscus HLS—18, 12 in. 33 ⅓ LP

Having seen and heard this band a number of times in its native habitat, I found difficulty in putting nostalgia aside and concentrating on criticism. As the cover blurb says, this is a band to be seen, heard and recalled with nostalgia and pleasure. The band is certainly versatile. In addition to its conventional playing and marching activities, it provides a choral group from within the band to sing international and Fijian songs and a dance group for traditional Fijian items. It has also distinguished itself by several years ago accompanying a complete performance of Handel's Messiah, no mean musical feat.

In an age when many bands never seem happier than when they are playing transscriptions of piano concertos, symphonies or other music entirely unsuited to brass, the Fiji Police Band has wisely confined itself on this record to bright music which suits the dash and flair of brass instruments. The items in which the band combines singing and playing are particularly attractive. They include Kirisimasi, Happy Wanderer and Fijiana a bouncy round-up of well-loved tunes such as Kisi Mai Chuluchululu and Isa Lei. Unfortunately in some items the cornet playing is not good. It is very mushy in Southdown U.S.A. In O Mein Papa (and I suspect the fault is as much in the recording of the item as anything) the band's tone is lacking in substance and there is an almost complete absence of light and shade.

The cover notes contain scads about the band but regrettably nothing about the items. Kiwi (the parent label) should know better with their well-deserved reputation for excellent presentation of their Maori records. For example, Tso Boi sounds catchy and interesting (if a little long) but what is it all about? One suspects that it is not of Fijian origin at all but brought by the Bandmaster, Superintendent James Hempstead, from Africa where he was Director of Music for the Gold Coast, and later for the Nigerian Police Forces.

The band mercifully eschews concluding its record with Isa Lei — a practice which is almost de regeur with most groups recording Fijian music. Instead we have a brisk (almost too brisk, but the effect is pleasing) version of Aloha Oe with the chorus sung in Fijian and English.