The aural island idyll of gentle breezes wafting through swaying palms and waves softly breaking onto pristine shores is taking a real battering in Fiji. You can’t go anywhere without being assailed by rock music played at the highest decibels and Grubsheet, for one, has had enough. We want paradise restored – to not only be able to smell the Frangipani but to hear the birds, the other sounds of nature and the occasional strumming of an island combo. And, most important of all, to have a civilised conversation with another human being without having to shout into their ear or look blankly as they shout back, not being able to comprehend a word they say. We keep running into people who say “Remember, I told you that story when I saw you at such-and-such a function”. It’s usually accompanied by a look of mild pity at what they clearly regard as our early onset dementia. Yes, you might well have told us that story. But all we saw was your mouth moving energetically while we feigned interest, unable to admit that we couldn’t hear a word you said because of the din consuming the entire proceedings. Doof, doof. Blast, blast. Blare, blare.
Now this is not an attack on anyone in particular and especially the country’s better musicians, who struggle enough to make a decent living without old fogies like Gubsheet making it any harder. Never mind their great musical skills. People like Ken Jansen Ho and Knox Kalounisiga happen to be smart, interesting people and we don’t fancy our usual friendly discourse being replaced next time we meet with a guitar planted on our head. The point is that there’s a time and a place for everything. If you want to hear loud music, you should be able to find it in our bars, clubs and concert venues. It shouldn’t be coming to you, especially at public events when the whole idea is for people to meet and have civilised conversations.
What is the point of getting every mover and shaker in Fiji into a room and then turning up the volume so all they can do is look at each other? And yet that’s precisely what happened at three of the biggest and most prestigious events of the last few months – the launch of the new Fiji Airways, the opening of Tappoo City and the extravagant function that heralded the arrival of Bred Bank. Once the music started, the conversation died. And when that happened, is it any wonder that alcohol consumption went up? Wrapping your lips around a glass is – after all -the customary fallback position if forming words is rendered completely useless.
How on earth public figures like the President and Prime Minister cope is beyond us. All that smiling and nodding and pretending to hear what’s being said. Grubsheet has seen the inside of the ears of some of Fiji’s most distinguished citizens on such occasions. We’re resolved, as a result, to at least try to control the tufts of hair that inhabit our own aural crevices. But it’s not only undignified for those involved. These are also missed opportunities for the exchange of ideas. The pounding beat means that only the smallest of small talk is possible. This, of course, may suit some people with much to be modest about in an intellectual sense. But Grubsheet is continually leaving functions in Fiji wishing there’d been more opportunities for conversation before the band struck up and rendered everyone speechless. Doof, doof. Blast, blast. Blare, blare.
Call me old fashioned. Call me Qase. But seriously. We live in one of the most peaceful backwaters on God’s planet. So why on earth do we insist on having the void filled so mercilessly? Get into a cab and the radio is up full blare. Walk into a café or restaurant and the music is up full blare. We were even on the Bula Bus at Denarau last weekend with a speaker right above our heads subjecting us to a full aural assault. Is this what visitors to Fiji come for? To be assailed by the same inane rock music that assails them at home from the time the clock radio bursts into life to drag them into their sorry lives? Haven’t they come here to get away from it all? Has anyone asked them if they’d prefer to have the sound turned down or better still, turned off? Has anyone thought that they might prefer an unamplified Fijian string band to the tortured cries of yet another banshee from the world of rock? Not on your nelly. They’ll get what they get whether they like it or not. Doof, doof. Blast, blast. Blare, blare.
Not so long ago, Grubsheet almost lost it altogether at the Sofitel Fiji – in our experience, a chronic offender when it comes to aural rape. We were at the beachfront restaurant engaged in conversation with one of Fiji’s most senior diplomats. Suddenly, the music came on at a volume clearly designed for the edification of the restaurant staff, not the guests. Why? Because we could no longer hear ourselves talk. Grubsheet went over and politely requested that the music be turned down. Down it went for a few minutes before rising again. This time the request wasn’t so polite and what should have been a pleasant evening was marred by unpleasantness. Yes, we’re cantankerous at the best of times but this kind of thing really sets us off. Of all the Denarau resorts, the Sofitel is easily the worst. At the AON Excellence in Tourism Awards last weekend, the thick doors into the ballroom couldn’t muffle the sound of the band playing in the adjacent lounge. And in that lounge, normal conversation was impossible, any conversation nigh on impossible. For Grubsheet, the Sofitel has become synonymous not for “smooth jazz” French sophistication in an island setting – as one might imagine – but our notion of aural hell. Doof, doof. Blast, blast. Blare,blare.
And why western music at all in these places – the memory of the tragic Whitney Houston violated by yet another tortured cover version of I Wanna Dance with Somebody? No I don’t. I wanna sit here having a quiet drink and a quiet chat with my companions. And if I wanna hear any music at all, I wanna hear Fijian music. In the old days in such places, there’d be half a dozen guys with ukuleles and guitars and an upturned tea chest for a double bass singing a clutch of local songs – Tagimoucia, Lomoloma, Oi lei Susi – and breaking at decent intervals for a couple of bilo or more before picking up the rhythm again. As they got more and more relaxed, so did the patrons. Now, we’re all reduced to sitting there looking at each other while some reject from Samoa’s Got Talent strangles the nearest cat.
How is this helping to promote Fijian music? Yes, it may be helping to promote the careers of some Fijian musicians. But what our international visitors are getting is invariably what they get at home, only not nearly as good. Let’s get these global wannabes replaced with ordinary local people who can play and sing at conversational level during the conversational hours. And let’s get the banshees banished from our hotel lounges and bars and pushed back into the late hours when conversation has either petered out or is no longer physically possible. Confine them to their gloomy, smoke filled venues where they can scream as loud as they like. And at least give the rest of us a fighting chance to get to know each other properly and better still, to rediscover the joys of the sounds of silence.