From Fijitimes Online 24 July 2011)
The soul of Rotuma
By Ioane Burese
THE Eastern Brothers are continuing a legacy of the finest combination of contemporary Fijian and Rotuman musicians. They embody the age-old traditional alliance—even if for political expediency—of Viti kei Rotuma.
In the past three decades, the development of this country's soundscape has been inextricably linked to the soul and sounds of Rotuma.
Consider the thud-thump bottom-end chant of the tautoga and the hypnotic incantations of the all-male almost-extinct paddle dance—the mak paki—the irresistible pull of the fara and the reckless abandon of the panana dance at Christmas and New New Year.
Consider, too, these musicians—guitarist/pianist Homer Fare, guitarists John Kamoe, John Kui, Mesu, Victor Carlos, Claude Larry, Sia Varea, pianist Erone Paspatu, basist Paul Vaurasi, Nostradamus drummer Itu and Roostrata frontman Fred Fesaitu and his brother Sani Pelanato.
And these days, around the yaqona basin in Raiwaqa, there's guitarist George Epeli, vocalist Tui Lui and upcoming bassman Filipe Kafoa who're creating their own version of Rotuman music.
There are just too many to name, too many to personally pay tribute to.
That fine tradition is being being kept alive by the Eastern Brothers, an eight-year old group that's been the resident band at The Ranch nightclub in Suva for the past five.
Initially formed as an all-Rotuman band in 2003, around the tanoa too, the Brothers have evolved both in terms of membership and sound—from the all-island feel to a more inclusive style that embraces everything popular.
And they're delivering, too, showcasing a tight rhythm section and glorious harmony spearheaded by the Brothers' only sister, Eta Gonerogo.
The group now is a mix of original members—bassist and band leader Tony Faktaufon, guitarist Billy Romana and vocalist Wise Pene - graduate guitarist Mervin Molia and vocalist James Hing - and journeymen musicians—former Exodus drummer Tall John and ex-Rootsrata keyboardist Freddie Nauluvula.
Faktaufon says their repertoire on any given night is a reaction to the crowd make-up.
"We judge by the crowd and play accordingly," he says.
"If it's predominantly Fijian, we can go heavy on vude and reggae. But we also play Tongan, Samoan and Rotuman tunes and, of course, the hit songs."
Eastern 'sister' Gonerogo started her career behind the microphone in 1998 with the Raikivi Boys and did the rounds of the hotels and resorts. She even formed her bands - Zambua and Jedi Queen - with the best of the West.
In the process she's taken in studio work, enjoyed professional triumphs, wrestled with personal tribulations - and raised a family.
But through it all there remains her undying passion for live music.
"Nothing beats it—I love it," she says.
"It's not much of an income—but it's life."
That's about real as it gets for the Brothers.
Faktaufon says they recorded a CD a few years back. It contained one original tune and several covers, and while he dreams of going back into the studio one day, it's certainly not today.
"Right now it's the job here at The Ranch," he adds.