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Elections Issues 11: Can music mania translate into votes? 10 May 2014


Elections Issues 11                           Can music mania translate into votes?
(This also appeared in The Fiji Times, 10 May 2014)


If public participation is anything to go by,  the second most popular public event after sports, has to be music competitions.

The Fiji public are passionate, indeed maniacal, about singing competitions of all kinds- MIC (Make It Count) being one of them.

Yet, despite the popular interest, there is a total lack of tax-payers’ funds devoted to this incredibly popular interest.

The singing or dance competitions are forced to resort to corporate sponsors, such as mobile companies, with all kinds of impacts, some quite undesirable for society.

The undesirable impacts of mobile texting

Most singing competitions ask the viewers or supporters of particular singers, to send in a text in support of that singer.

Disguised as “democratic voting”, this is a crude money making scheme by the mobile companies, whose revenues and profits are probably are far in excess of the prize money made available.

There is no control on how many texts may be sent by any one member of the public.

Often, the number of text messages have an impact on the result, in eliminating some candidates who may be good or may foster some candidate who may be quite average musically.

Of course, some good competitors may be retained as special choices by judges, but not all good candidates can be so protected.

As a music or singing competition, this is hardly fair or democratic.

The ones most likely to send in the text messages, and many as they can afford, are the well-off, regardless of the talent or performance of the singer.

The supporters of poor singers are likely to be themselves quite poor.

Often children use up their pocket money or lunch money or text-book money on the texting.

No doubt, the mobile companies are also happy that children are getting used to texting, which is then a continued money maker for them.

All this would be totally unnecessary if there were tax-payers’ funds made available on an adequate scale so that no corporate sponsor is required at all.

All you would then need would be the contestants and good fair judges and good judging system. That is all.

How much of tax-payers’ money would you need?

A mere one million dollars would go a long way.

Where would this tax money come from?

This pitiful amount can be easily re-allocated by the Minister of Finance from all the other wasteful areas I have listed in my previous elections bulletins.

But Fiji’s music industry needs more than just one million, as you can see from the projects I outline below.


Visiting quality musicians- but largely for the rich

Suva has just seen a great blues and jazz festival.

I am sorry, I must correct myself: Suva’s rich elite have just seen a brilliant blues and jazz festival.

There were great performers such as Billy TK Junior and the Groove Shakers, Strait Shooters, Blues Mountain, and the great one-man show John Tuala (JT) from Samoa/NZ.

Of course, there were also our own stars, Tom Mawi, Akuila Qumi, Deja Vu etc.

But to see these overseas performers, the public had to pay a $30 fee (Holiday  Inn, Yacht Club, or O’Reilly’s) and $50 for the final performance on Sunday night.

Not surprisingly, at all these events, more than three-quarters of the audience were whites, with a sprinkling of locals.

None of these events looked anywhere near being sold out, indicating that lower prices would easily have improved the attendance.

To make it worse, some embassies took away some of their stars (whose trip they may have funded) to special events at their compounds, for their invited guests only, of course, again from the Suva elites.

There was no public performance at which Fiji’s poorer music fans and budding musicians could attend and be inspired by these overseas musicians, the like of whom are rarely to be seen in Fiji.

But if an adequate revenue was the fundamental objective, how much money would these festival organizers have raised in one night?  Perhaps five thousand dollars at a maximum.

Why could not the relevant government ministry devoted to the fostering of music in Fiji have simply given a ten thousand dollar grant to the festival organizers, to stage at least one public performance at Albert Park in Suva, and one at Churchill Park in the west, open to the public for free?

What is $10,000 in the budget of this Bainimarama Government or indeed any government we have ever had, compared to the tens of millions wasted annually?

Why would Fiji’s music industry even beg any foreign embassy or donor for assistance on something that the tax-payers really care about, and which we should pay for ourselves?

Music projects with the FPRA

It is extraordinary that despite all the talk by Fijians about fostering the indigenous language and culture, there is no systematic attempt to foster Fijian music.

There are no music books of Fijian songs, old classics or new.

There are no translations of Fijians songs.

There are no anthologies of CDs that trace the development and evolution of Fijian music since the beginnings of recordings as you have in the west for rock,  blues, jazz, or classical music.

There are no annual competitions to write songs for our many brilliant performers who have to sing songs by other composers:  performers are rarely brilliant composers themselves.

There are no music books produced by the Ministry of Education with mixtures of popular songs (and translations)  in Fijian, Hindi, Rotuman, Chinese, or Korean.

Such songs could easily be part of the Education curriculum’s praiseworthy attempt to teach conversational Fijian and Hindi to all students in Fiji.

There are no special competitions which could foster the skills of our budding musicians with music instruments popular in Fiji, such as guitars, ukeleles, drums, lali.  Or the less popular instruments such as saxophones, harmonicas, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, flutes, etc

One never hears of even a government department whose sole responsibility is the fostering of indigenous and local music and does so actively.

Despite much publicity over the years, composers and performers still do not get their proper share of the royalties they are legally entitled to, with piracy abounding, sometimes from very unlikely sources.

These are several projects which the Fiji Performing Right Association (FPRA) are currently in the process of trying to initiate, with some assistance from me.

Perhaps another project would be to put together in a book the many historical and excellent informative articles being written by Fiji Times columnist Felix Chaudhry on “old musicians”  (not to be talked of in the same breath as “old politicians”).

Taking the lead with these projects are FPRA’s President Eremasi Tamanisau (a famous surname for Fijian classics), and musicians Saimoni Vuatalevu, Seru Serevi, and Laisa Vulakoro.

They also need assistance and participation from all of Fiji’s composers who should get in touch with the FPRA Secretariat (and Josaia Cama) if they wish to be involved or to benefit from these projects.

 Voters in the forthcoming elections can also ask political parties what they will promise.

Political party manifestos?

How much of tax-payers’ money would such music projects need?

I would suggest that a mere ten million dollars would go a long way, and I won’t even bother to outline where such funds can be so easily found by the Minister of Finance, for a purpose so close to voters’ hearts.

Political parties should note that the largest block of voters are the young people between 18 and 34, who as a generation are far more keen on music, than on reading.

Political parties who give election commitments in their manifestoes that they will provide some minimum level of funding for music projects of the kind that I have outlined in this bulletin, might just gather a significant number of floating voters who have no particular election issue.

Remember that while voters might tell survey interviewers that the most important issues for them in the elections are jobs and cost of living, their actual voting  decision may be more influenced by how good-looking the candidate is, or candidates who promise in a very concrete way to foster local music and musicians.

Political parties might even want to recruit prominent, highly visible and popular local musicians as candidates, who I suspect may receive more votes than the professional politicians, talking complex policy issues.

Political parties and candidates might think about getting prominent musicians to perform in their elections campaigns to attract voters to their meetings, although whether they get the votes may be another issue altogether.

It would be interesting indeed to see if political party pandering to Fiji’s music mania can translate into seats in parliament.


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