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Rootstrata Fiji

Rootstrata revival
Ernest Heatley
Sunday, August 03, 2014
Fiji Times Article

FIJI's own reggae king Freddy Fesaitu is an excited man.

What's got his adrenalin pumping is a notion of reviving his once famous band Rootstrata which enjoys a measure of cult status in Fiji and certain Pacific island countries.

"This is something I have been thinking about for some time now and I think this is the right time to get us back together again," said the prolific songwriter from Tuakoi in Rotuma.

"We're going to have to build that spirit and that vibe and see if we can accept each other and come together and say yes we can do it."

Roostrata was one of the most original and socially conscious ensembles to have emerged from Fiji in recent decades.

There was an aura surrounding the band at one stage and it built up quite a following locally, with many fans consistently calling for the band to be revived.

One dedicated fan has even set up a Facebook page called "Petition for a Rootstrata Reunion."

Back in the late 1980s, Rootstrata was ahead of its time with hard hitting songs that encapsulated the feelings of unemployed and dejected youths looking for a way out of their predicament in the notorious suburbs of Raiwai and Raiwaqa.

From these simmering settings, a new musical genre in Fiji — and in fact, a new movement — in reggae music helped by the efforts of other bands such as Exodus which had formed a little earlier.

Reggae encompassed a vibe and a message that sat well with a generation looking for an avenue to unleash their frustrations to the wider community.

Led by Fesaitu, who many in local circles laud as a genius, Rootstrata went on to create an impact locally and in regional countries with a leaning toward one drop styled reggae.

As a youngster growing up in Raiwaqa, Fesaitu rose from the Catholic Church's Christian Youth Movement to become a legendary producer of reggae hits that went on to become Pacific anthems like Warrior of Love, Brother Kanaki and We're on Fiji Time.

Earlier in his career Fesaitu was mentored by Suva-based musician and producer, Kenneth Williams.

During their formative years, Rootstrata also collaborated with some of the best musicians that Fiji has ever produced, in Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, extraordinary keyboardist Tui Ravai of Freelancers fame, along with guitar virtuosos Vili Tuilaucala and Wise Vatuwaqa, all of whom have since passed on.

Not too many people would know that it was actually Ravai who played the intro and solo in ever popular Warrior of Love.

Rootstrata went on to cement its reputation as one — if not — the first reggae bands in Fiji and one of the most popular roots reggae set-ups in the South Pacific.

Fesaitu maintains that Rootstrata became the first local band to produce an English video clip and probably the first to compile an English CD.

The band embarked on a number of tours around the Pacific region and to some Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Thailand.

A consummate songwriter, Fesaitu, on impulse, even created a quick tribute to Cyclone Raja victims in 1987 and two decades later he has also penned a HIV/AIDS educational track.

During the political events of May 1987 he became an indigenous rights activist and joined the radical i-Taukei movement, a move accepted by many of their loyal fans.

The controversial Bula Dina Vakalou was subsequently banned and then released and played on airwaves, featuring consistently before Fiji was decared a Republic in 1987.

Inevitably the band split because of management and disciplinary problems and Fesaitu went solo for a number of years.

The band split despite the popularity of the music they played which was cemented by Fesaitu's Message in the music lyrics.

Now that Fesaitu wants to revive Rootstrata, he has been assured of support by a number of former members.

He is already envisioning recordings, live gigs and concerts as part of the "Roots Revival."

"I don't want the boys to struggle again. We are going to do it right this time and with the right financial support I am quite positive that we can recapture our old creativity and vibes," he said.

"In those days, money as a means of survival, was secondary. We only wanted to play and create our own original music. Times have changed but I'm hoping to get the spirit of creativity back."

In saying that, Fesaitu maintains that this time around he has the right people to help take the band forward financially.

Original members of Rootstrata included brothers Ben, Pita and Max Rabaka, journalist Ioane Burese, Pedro Morris, Kitione Matayawa, Claude Larry, Fesaitu, his sibling Pelenato Fesaitu , Hawaii based George "Fiji" Veikoso or Porgy, Steve McCumber, Francis Lanyon, Asaeli Tamanitoakula, Dennis Montu, Freddy Nauluvula, George A'Costa and twin powers, Wes and Podgy Nadore.

Of this lot, McCumber, a seasoned and talented vocalist in his own right, keyboardist Nauluvula, backing vocalists Lanyon and Montu and rhythm guitarist A'Costa have confirmed their place in the new-look Rootstrata which will include Fesaitu's daughter, Sarome, on lead vocals.

Sarome once featured in the popular MIC show on Fiji Television, a number of years ago.

Fesaitu, who owns the rights to Rootstrata, has the band name registered under the Primitive Arts label in Australia.

In the meantime, the talented songwriter has been slowly working on an album featuring Sarome since August last year and so far he has completed four tracks including the song penned on HIV and AIDS.

"This is essentially a reggae album, and right now we are just putting the final touches to the vocals," said the businessman.

The reggae journeyman is unsure when the 10-track compilation will be released but believes there is still a big market for reggae in the country.

"If you listen to most of the songs being performed by i-Taukei artists, it is all reggae. They've shifted from the vude beat and on to reggae," he said.

"But most of it is still the same and following the same style. They are all sounding the same," the musician added.

Nonetheless, the veteran muso feels there is much talent in the country and that musicians should retain a simple style and not get all complicated in terms of chord structures if they really want to make an impact.

Fesaitu still beams with pride whenever a Rootstrata song or other products of his songwriting skills are carried over the airwaves.

It only confirms what he always guessed — that Roostrata music and lyrics are still relevant and still being dished out to those hungry for the real deal.

The former "Roots" frontman said while a number of their band members had moved on and embarked on different occupations and lifestyles, he believes the passion for Rootstrata is eventually what will draw them back together

For now Fesaitu is relishing the opportunity of once again collaborating with old friends as they work towards rediscovering Rootstrata's once astonishing creativity and originality.