From Fiji Times Online (9 June 2005)

Tomasi Filisiano Romanu sticks it out

by Lusiana Speight

THE first memories Tomasi Filisiano Romanu has about his passion for music is not a very pleasant one.

He recalls asking his father to teach him how to play the guitar when he was six-years-old.

At least the Rotuman artist can laugh when retells the story of his first musical experience.

"At that time we were living on Rotuma and I asked my father who was a bit drunk at that time to teach me how to play the guitar, so he told me to fetch him a ukulele and a stick," Tomasi said.

"I found the ukulele and looked for the biggest stick and was so excited when I returned to my father with the two items.

"He told me to play all the tunes that I could play. I played two songs perfectly and made a mistake on the third song.

"The next thing I knew the stick hit my back. I threw the ukulele away in anger and refused to pick up a musical instrument again in front of my father."

Perseverance pays for Tomasi Filisiano Romanu who finally has his own recording studio.

Although plagued with the bad experience early in life, Tomasi could not deny his love and talent for music.

He remembers risking getting more stick by sneaking into his father's room to try the keyboard or strum his guitar.

But, resolutely he refused to show his musical talent to his father because of his earliest musical experience and found other ways of developing his skills and passion for music.

"In primary school every day after school, I would come home quickly, leave my bags and go to my uncle's home where there would be a group of men who were musicians and who drank yaqona until four in the morning," Tomasi said.

"Here my task was to simply bring the water for the yaqona and in doing so my reward was to stay and watch the musicians at work.

"From here I began to mentally learn how to play the guitar and keyboard."

"Once a guitar player could not make it to the yaqona session and so I volunteered to fill in for him. The next night when I came down, they gave me a guitar and promoted me from the water getter to a guitarist with the group. I was only 14 years old at the time."

In addition to his guitar-playing skills, Tomasi was considered as one of the best keyboard players on the island at the time.

With a dream of producing his own recording, the talented musician moved to Suva to pursue his dream.

However, fate had other plans in mind and Tomasi's dream seemed impossible upon his arrival in the big city.

"I was initially born in Suva and moved to Rotuma before I was two years old and decided to come back to Suva in 1994 to pursue my dream of producing my own music," he said.

"Although I tried, I failed at first and returned to Rotuma at the end of '98, I returned to Suva in '99 and made a vow to myself that I wouldn't give up ... that I had to achieve this dream."

Upon his arrival in Suva the Itui'itu native joined up with his uncle's band and moved to Mana Island where he worked with the group for a few months.

"This is where I met my wife Tia and soon we moved to Suva and I worked as a security guard for sometime.

"After two years I realised that I still had not saved enough to make my recording dream a reality and branched out to work for a refrigeration company," he said.

"I still had not saved up enough and went back to music and went to work at Sheraton for some time.

"Although my mind was set on my goal, God had other plans and soon I came back to Suva and taught music at the Naveiwakau Christian Community Church."

Although not armed with any qualification in music, Tomasi was able to teach his students music using natural talent and the knowledge garnered through the years.

"The church provided everything for me and my wife but at the back of my mind I continued to think about my dream and goal but served the church at the same time," he said.

"This is where I met one of my greatest friends Ashik Ali who helped me make my dream a reality."

While playing at the church, Tomasi was approached by Ashik who told the man that he should set up his own recording studio.

"I told Ashik that was impossible because I needed other things for a recording studio, for instance a computer.

Within a week, Ashik bought a computer for Tomasi and things started humming from there.

One may wonder the relation between the two, I asked Tomasi about this during our interview.

"Well Ashik's aunt owned the canteen next to the church and he would constantly come around and listen while I played, I think God brought him into my life to help me achieve my dreams," Tomasi said.

With the computer there was one less reason to put off the inevitable and Tomasi got to work cut a collection of his father's songs to mark the first recording he would make.

The fruits of his work will be produced next week with Tomasi's own CD coming out soon after that.

Although enjoying his work, Tomasi has a lot of gratitude for all those who have helped him.

"Now I have all the equipment I need and even a recording studio to work in at Harbour Terminal.

"This has all been possible with the help of those around me and those who have cared for me and my wife Tia," he said.

I dedicate my work to them, especially Ashik, and the owner of Professional Security who have helped in the purchase of all these musical instruments.

"There is Indira Wati who has allowed me to work in my own studio the Black Page Studios down at Harbour Terminal."

Although not given any formal musical training, the Rotuman man often questioned his parents on how he got his musical talent.

His mother always told him how it came about. "She would say when she was pregnant with me, my father would come and play musical instruments to her until she fell off to sleep and this would always make her happy when she was down," Tomasi said.

"She said that when I was born I didn't sleep for the first 12 hours of my life and only did so when my father came to the hospital and played musical instruments to me. This was how I first indicated my love for music."

Now 28 years later, with a wonderful wife and two children, Tomasi is proud to be running his very own Black Page studio and ecstatic his dream is finally becoming a reality.

"I have grown up in a family not very well off and struggled financially throughout most of my life, but only through the grace of God that I have risen above all odds and managed to turn this dream into something real," he said.

"My aim from now is to make God's music the best in the world, starting right here in Fiji.

"I hope to make Fijian music popular and promote it overseas as well."

"In most radio stations all we hear is American and other international music, why can't we promote our local talent here in Fiji. I hope to do this once my work of recording CDs is well under way."

The man attributes his musical success to God, Ashik Ali, his wife Tia and his father Paul Romanu.