Monday, April 30, 2012

Now and zen my mind starts playing tantrics on me!

A longing heart can still give thanks. Compassion is the mainfestation of the Kingdom of God in this world. ... Zen Christianity....

The fear of failure is not as strong as the fear of success -that we may have to live up to that moment of greatness again even if was fluke..

So many musicians play their heart out, filling the world with soul, only to be background noise to people's life stories.

The gnarled trees stand guard in the courtyard. I wonder if the coconut trees would consider them stiff-necked fools.

When I was little, my dog caught birds. Later when I was nicknamed "Bird", I had a friend called "Dog." Luckily he can't bite.

To embrace Agape means being compassionate even when we encounter the dark side.

Tonight a quintet of Cheshire cats bid us enter the rabbit-hole. Some peeked in, some revelled as they bared their souls.

I prayed to God for help last night. He asked me if I wanted to "Perform and Show" or "Learn and Grow". I said "Grow." he said so be it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blank Face

A blank face
is not necessarily
an expression of confusion
neither is a frown
an image of displeasure
A blank face
may be a canvas
or it may be a flower
beautiful and complete

Tick Tock

My wife laughs when I look at watches
I like watches
But is my watch 
to keep me on time 
Or an act of rebellion
because I live in Kairos?
(even though my wife thinks I live in lateness)

Now available: Rent a Cutie (For Cisco)

My friend told me 
She loved my babies
I told her
We rent them out

Your Eyes (For Mae and Anto)

Wondering in the desert
I thought I was lost
What kept me moving forward
was not the search for an oasis
But the picture in my mind
of your eyes
You were my destination
my city
my home

Your smile and your tears (For Mae)

Every artist needs a muse
Every prophet needs to hear God's voice
Every taxi driver needs a location
I need you
You need me too

An Interlude: Another Capital, Another Walk

In the still of the night, another walk
The Spirit is speaking so I let it talk
Another city
Another monument to humanity's 
struggle for freedom
A lifetime ago, but not that long
Another city
I walked by the constructed memories
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR
friends I spoke with in late night whispers
Another night
Another city
Another walk with whispers
To an arch, a gate and to memories
of those who stood 
stood tall - as tall as one bent by oppression could
stood strong - as strong as one beaten could
and gave their lives - knowing it was all they had
to a dream
to a vision
to a hope
to a prayer
I retrace the path
of thousands
of millions
and although I am alone
I feel their presence
I sit outside a prison - now empty
I feel their pain
I hear their cry
I sense their hope
I see their joy
And what of my home?
Will I take the same walk there?
Whose monuments will stand
in defense of freedom?
Who will be the visionaries - unafraid to dream
Who will be the martyrs - unafraid to live
Who will be
the opposed who rose
and yet still chose 
not to become the oppressors they reviled
but to liberate
to emancipate
to embody and empower
the Freedom we cry for?
I ponder
I pray
In the morning it rains

When the Messenger is the Music

Publishd in the Fiji Times, Off the Wall with Padre James, Wednesday, 25/4/12

Last Thursday I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Benny Prasad a man just as famous for his globe-trotting as he is for his unique guitar.

35 year-old Benny, originally from Bangalore, India, holds the Guinness Book of Records title for Fastest Time to visit 245 countries travelling to 194 Sovereign Countries, 50 Dependant Countries and Antarctica in 6 years, 6 months & 22 days from May 1, 2004 to Nov. 22, 2010. 

His global journey, spreading the gospel through his music has brought him to Oceania. In 2005 he crossed through Fiji a few times as he visited Australia, Vanuatu, Tonga, Niue, Western Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Guam, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Norfolk Island, East Timor, Maohi Nui, Pitcairn Island and New Zealand.

 Benny achieved fame when he created the first Bongo Guitar, with 52 strings, called the Bentar. He has performed on this unique guitar to many Presidents, Parliaments, Universities and even during prestigious events such as the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and 2007 Military World Games in India.

 Today he chooses to travel & share the journey of “Hope to the Hopeless” all over the world, from the least in slums, old age homes, to prisons, war zones, Military Bases, Parliaments – wherever he can.

Benny has lived a simple life and spent less than 140,000 USD in order to complete his travels to 245 Countries (even though he has repeated many countries). 

Even though in many Third World countries it's almost impossible to travel without paying bribes, he has been able to travel to every nation in the world including every African Country without ever paying a bribe, even once. Often he has been detained at borders & sometimes sent back, but he never paid extra. 

He says: "I would rather give up my concert than my character. If everyone takes a stand like this, then we will see corruption slowly vanish."

I met Benny when he attended our small International Students English Worship service to share his music and his story. I had quickly slapped together a poster for the occasion when he accepted our invitation and even though I had only printed and pasted two, the room was filled to capacity with foreign and Korean students.

Benny had just returned from playing in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea (his second visit), where he had performed two songs as part of the state’s centennial celebrations of the birth of Kim Il-Sung. Benny played two gospel songs on his famous Bentar, in a state that is officially atheist.

After playing his unique instrumental version of “Shout to the Lord,” the song he performed at the Athens Olympics, Benny gave his testimony.

His birth was celebrated by his family with the highest of hopes for his future. Those hopes were dashed when he was diagnosed with severe asthma which required him to take cortisone steroids from which he developed rheumatoid arthritis, 60 % lung damage and an immune system which regularly failed him, threatening his life even to this day.

The pressure to succeed academically and be a role model for his younger siblings, and failure to achieve these high expectations resulted in Benny suffering from severe depression and negative behaviour. His rebellious lifestyle brought his family shame and disappointment.

Finding no fulfillment in life, Bennyreached out to what seemed the only way out for him and tried to attempt suicide at the age of 16. By this stage he was almost beyond caring about where he went or what he did, so it was not too difficult for his mother to "convince" him to attend a youth retreat as she had desired and there began his journey towards new life.

In reality, Benny had an encounter with God.

“I  heard god speak to me, saying. ‘Benny, even though you have been useless all your life, I need you now and I can make you a new creation.’ Finally a fresh start! A new birth!”

 That was all it took to bring about a complete transformation in this lost and hurting young man. For the first time, he heeded this positive call, leapt at it, and began life with what we would all long to have - a clean slate. God gave him new dreams, new goals, and a positive desire.

This time, Benny walked with dignity and resonated with the joy of the lord. The rest is now world history.

Benny reminded my fellow students about living according to God’s plans and God’s will; a message that resonated with my own experience and life journey.

When we tune into the Divine Voice, often muffled or drowned out by the noise of the world, we find a way to live that is in harmony with both God and Creation.

Listening to God’s voice has led Benny around the world, with opportunities he never dreamed possible.

It reminds me of the words from the song “Testify” by four-time Grammy winner, Jazz vocalist Diane Reeves, “Be still. Stand in love. Pay attention.”

Or as I like to put it: “Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity.”

Enjoy this clip:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sailing to the Island of Hope

Published in the Fiji Times, "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan," on Wednesday 18th April, 2012

Last week the administrator of Nasikawa Vision College, Korean Methodist Missionary, Rev. Nam-Gun Cho visited Seoul to attend a conference for Southern Seoul Methodist Churches. His visit also happened to coincide with voting day for the Korean National Assembly. 20 million people casting their votes in one day!

I managed to meet with Rev. Cho, during a meeting on the day after the Voting Day public holiday, to discuss with others a proposed Fiji-based project initiated by the Methodist Theological University. While it was certainly wonderful to meet my Korean friend from Fiji and catch up, my real joy lay in a plastic bag which he had brought for me – a special care package from my family.

The package contained a pair of Bata flip-flops which, because of my wide Fiji feet, are impossible to find and a few sulus. The sulu vakataga is not only comfortable to wear in the humid Seoul summer that is fast approaching. It is also part of my sharing of our Fijian culture with a largely homogenous people – many who do not know where Fiji even is. 

 As an unofficial ambassador of Fiji to the community here at the University, much like other Fijian students in Korea and other countries around the world, I do my part to promote our country and students are getting to know the “Fiji Pastor” or “Fiji Man” who wears a “skirt” and takes his shoes off before going up to the sanctuary of the Wesley Chapel to speak, sing or perform during the International Students worship.

Perhaps it is true that you can take the man off the island but never the island out of the man!

My package also contained two sulu vakatoga for home-wear or perhaps dormitory-wear would be more correct. One was a gift from a fellow minister from Rotuma, which serves constantly as a reminder of the diversity of people in Viti kei Rotuma (and Rabi and Kioa).

The other sulu is from the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo given to me to wear as the chaplain of the Fiji Island Voyaging Society – although being in Korea, I have been with them more in spirit than in the flesh.

In fact I was disappointed when I realised that I would not be able to join them in either their first epic journey in 2010, or their even longer adventure that they embarked on last year and are only just beginning to make their return.

Being away from home, I am not able to follow what little media coverage is given to this important and historic voyage. However by checking updates on and as well as Facebook posts by Uto Ni Yalo skipper, Johnathan Smith and other crew members, I am able to learn about their experiences and reflections on this journey.

The Pacific Voyagers fleet of traditional vaka may have individual aims and objects per vessel and team but together they share a vision called the Island of Hope. For them the “Island of Hope is a vision for the future where the Pacific is the first fossil fuel-free continent on Earth.

 The Pacific as a continent is an image adapted from the writings of Le Cl├ęzio, where each island is only the emerging peak of a vast, interconnected, undersea continent.” 

It is a vision is driven by island communities and based on unity, positive action, and stories of success.

The Island of Hope is also vision the churches in the Pacific had at the dawn of this millennium, as a response to the huge waves of cultural and economic globalisation. 

Much like the Pacific Voyagers, the Church envisioned an Island of Hope where “life is significant, valued and celebrated. There is a celebration of life over material wealth. 

The Island of Hope is in tune with nature and by sharing and caring, to which people want to journey in order to celebrate life in all its fullness (Isa. 25:6). 

The Island of Hope has the "mana" (power) to draw human beings together.”

The Island of Hope is sustainable, wholesome, peaceful and all-embracing. 

The concept of the Island of Hope is not merely a dream. It is founded in reality and has been our normal life in our islands. 

The institutions and values embedded in the Island Of Hope may not create wealth on a massive scale but they will never be responsible for creating second class citizens, destroying the environment at will, causing poverty, the debasement of humanity and denial of human dignity, as economic globalization is doing.

The Island Of Hope will never entail economic tyranny. 

Spirituality, family life, traditional economy, cultural values, mutual care and respect are components of the concept of the Island Of Hope which prioritizes relationships, celebrates quality of life and values human beings and creation over the production of things. 

It represents life-centred values deeply rooted in Pacific communities, which provide an orientation for a just and sustainable economy and a life of dignity.

As I reflected on our ocean voyagers and the Island of Hope, I wondered if we of Fiji have reached this Island yet or whether we are still sailing towards it.

If we are still sailing is their room for everyone on this canoe, regardless of who built it?

As we negotiate reefs, rocks and face the waves caused by the winds of change, are we all willing to take turns in holding the heavy steering oar and ensuring that we stay on course and not just go in the direction we wish?

The Island of Hope is visible on the horizon. We all want to reach our destination. Are we all joining hands to hoist anchor and sails? Or are we paddling in different directions and going nowhere?

And when we reach it, will we embrace it and adapt ourselves to living in its environment or will we try to change it to suit ourselves?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The (R)evolution Of Spin

This Article was featured in Living in Fiji Magazine's March – May 2007 Issue.

 It went on to win Best Feature Article in the Fiji Awards for Media Excellence (FAME), the only time a non-newspaper article has won the award.

(All photos, including cover, by Shiri Ram - Art & Soul, the genius behind Living in Fiji)

James Bhagwan ponders the unlikely roots and strange fruits of the club music scene as he talks with three generations of Fiji DJs:

Before you get to the bar, before you see the crowd, before you even walk in the door to any nightclub or bar in Fiji, chances are you’ll hear the music. Out on the street, it beckons you like a mythical siren, and once you enter, it transports you to another world; a world of beats, rhythms and melodies.

Your foot starts tapping, your head starts nodding and the groove grabs you, and suddenly you find yourself on the dance-floor: bopping, rocking hip-hopping, bump-and-grinding, or just repeating your aerobics  moves, or flailing about as your embarrassment glands shrink from the pounding bass.

Club music doesn’t just set the ambience; it can almost dictate to you what your night’s going to be like. Soulful Blues and Jazz mean chilling out, Vude and Reggae, for locals and tourists alike, symbolize the tropical party and then there’s the Funk, Soul, Hip-Hop, House, Dance, Trance, to make you prance about and ‘bring it on’. In the background, sometimes in a booth at the edge of the dance-floor or behind the bar, stands (they say you don’t really feel the music if you’re sitting) the soul of the party, the DJ.

Dee-jaying, or to use the technical term, Disc Jockeying, is a fickle business: one minute you can pack the dance-floor with writhing sweaty bodies; the next, you can be playing to yourself and that one really drunk guy who dances the same way to every song you play – it just depends on what music your audience likes to dance to.

One man who’s heard and played just about it all is Sevanaia “DJ” Tora, the original Fijian Disc Jockey. DJ Tora, as he is known in the club scene, has been spinning discs since the mid-1970s and has worked as a music director and station manager for a number of local radio stations. His epic story is also the story of club music.  Ironically, it’s around a small (but deep) tanoa of kava, with smooth Jazz playing in the background, that I coax DJ Tora into disclosing how he became the patriarch of Fiji DJs. 

“It was the end of 1974; I was 18 and had just managed to finish Form 4. Knowing that that was the end of my schooling, I was eager to start to earn a living. One day, I saw an ad in the local paper for a Disc-Jockey for the Harbour View (now Ocean View) Hotel on Suva’s Waimanu Road. I sent in my application letter straight away, and a couple of days later the boss called and asked me if I knew anything about disc-jockeying, and I said yes. It wasn’t a complete lie, though the term was new for me as Fiji didn’t have any Disc Jockeys or discotheques yet. But I put two and two together and figured out that discs had something to do with records, and that if a jockey was a horse-rider then it probably had something to do with playing records. So I told the boss that’s what I thought, and I must have impressed him with my ‘knowledge’ because he offered me the job immediately.”

DJ Tora spent the whole of 1975 at the Harbour View, gaining his confidence as a ‘player of funky choons.’

“They used to have a pool in front of the bar, so you could drink, look at the pool and the harbour. We used to get a lot of people coming up because the whole DJ thing was new. Until then, after the band played or if there was no band, they would just play recorded tapes. Everyone who was anyone came up; we had business people, bankers, the works.”

Sevania "DJ" Tora: The Original Fijian Disk Jockey

The ‘whole DJ thing’ must have been overwhelming, because in 1976 he left to work for the Public Works Department, spending a year as a manual labourer in the small town of Navua, 30 minutes west of Suva. However, he must have been bitten by the bug that bites, when you’ve found your calling, because he was back on the turntables at Harbour View by 1977.

And that’s where he was discovered.

“Ezra Williams, the then Number 1 drag act in the South Pacific, used to frequent Harbour View
and heard me DJ and liked my taste in music, and recommended me to Liam Hindle, who had opened Lucky Eddies. I eventually got a message to see Liam, so the following Monday I went to see him, and he told me to come back that night and have a jam and see where it went. The DJ at that time was ‘Uncle Joe’ (musician Joseph Singh, now living in Germany), who played with the band Ulysses on Wednesday nights and was the DJ on Monday nights. The other DJ was a guy named Manoa who worked Tuesdays to Saturdays. When I arrived at Lucky Eddies that night,
Joe was in the DJ booth and the band boys were also there. I introduced myself, and when Joe asked me if I wanted to spin some discs, I grabbed the chance and jumped into the booth and immediately started playing Earth Wind and Fire, Average White Band, Parliament, and all this other Funk music. I think the band was actually shocked at my ‘heavy’ taste in music, the ‘real funk’, they called it, and from there, it was on.”

Tora started playing Friday and Saturday nights at Lucky Eddies, deejaying before and after Ulysses,
as well as during their breaks. It wasn’t long before this energetic 21-year old started playing with the band. “I would DJ, and when the band started playing, I would jump on the stage and start singing.  I remember Liam (Hindle) and his wife would stand and clap, cheering ‘Star! Star!’ whenever I’d do this.”

This was quite remarkable for a young man who spent his weekdays on a farm with no records or
cassettes (well before the era of CD and MP3), but just an AM transistor radio.

“We used to move around a lot because my father worked in the weather department. At that time we had a farm in Namara, Tailevu, because that is where he was based. So from Monday to Thursday I would work on the farm, and on Friday morning we would load the crops for my
mother to sell. Then I would come to Suva and go to our family house in Raiwaqa, and get dressed and go to DJ at Lucky Eddies, and then go back to the farm on Sunday. Out in the farm I used to listen to the American Top 40, and being close to the ocean, we could catch shortwave broadcasts, and I used to listen to the American Samoan station WVUV. That’s where I could listen to the latest Soul, Funk and R&B music.”

According to Tora, the late-70’s and early eighties saw the inevitable, paradigm shift take place, as Disco gradually usurped the live music scene. “Ulysses and the Dragon Swingers were still very popular, as were other club based bands, as well as hotel bands; but slowly the audience shifted their preference to the DJ, who was still the ‘latest thing’ and able to give something that bands couldn’t, no matter how good or popular they were, and that was the non-stop dance party.

“Bands would stop after each song and even go on break, but the DJ just kept playing. Live
music was special music – people paid to watch and listen and then did just that, listen and watch. With the DJ, we mixed the music up and played and revved up the crowd, and gave them action that they could get into. The club used to be jam-packed, because it was a new thing to have a disco and someone talking live, over or between the music.”

And the developments in pop music were also a big part of it.

“Donna Summer was the queen of disco, although there was some controversy over her song ‘I feel love’.  Then there was Curtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang with their early style of Rap”.

It’s not a long stretch to state that it was the club DJ who introduced new styles such as Rap, Hip Hop, Urban R&B and Ragga to Fiji audiences, due to the conservativeness of local radio.
The DJ-explosion shook the night-scene, and soon most of the clubs boasted DJs, with the live
music relegated to once or twice a week, or removed from the musical bill of fare altogether.

Perhaps it was cheaper; perhaps it was the best way to keep the crowds coming, as more nightspots opened up (and closed as the fickle crowds moved away to their regular dancing spots or to the next hot scene).

DJ Tora remained with Lucky Eddies until 1992, when he went to work full-time (and daytime) in radio; still making the odd appearance in the mid and late 1990’s at Urban Jungle, (the new-look Rockefellers), housed in the same building that contained ‘Eddies’ and O’Reilly’s Bar, and at Lucky Eddies, which finally closed its doors after a final New Year’s Eve in 2001, as well as holding a regular spot at Friends nightclub in the early years of this century. He retains his links with live music, playing as a percussionist for the Freelancers and more recently, Jeriko. He also remained true to his calling as a DJ, and can be found upstairs at Traps Bar in Suva on Friday nights.

It was about the time that DJ Tora was in transition from club to broadcast radio, that another
chapter was beginning in club music.

In an “invites only,” underground sanctuary to House music, known only as “The Chapel,” in central Suva, Josh Booth recalls his introduction to the new direction of club music:

“In the early 1990’s, Steve Winters arrived in Fiji from the UK, to work at the University of the South Pacific. I was working behind the bar at Traps, and he came and deejayed one night, and that was my
introduction to a DJ mixing with turntables.”

It is Winters that Booth credits with introducing House Music into Fiji, through his theme nights at Traps and then at Urban Jungle, as well as his weekly half-hour radio show, Club Mix, which was broadcast on Friday nights on popular, youth station, FM104.

“The appeal of House is that it fuses all genres of music – Funk, Soul, Techno; it can’t be pigeonholed. You can loop the beats and the music, and mix in vocals and other sounds; you can rap over it, you can even mix in live musicians with it. When House came in, it was a new sound that you couldn’t hear anywhere else… except for Steve Winters’ radio show, but that was only 30 minutes a week, and it stopped when he returned to New Zealand. It was popular with those who lived  overseas, or Fiji Islanders who had travelled overseas.”

Soon, a fledgling collective of House enthusiasts emerged in the capital city. Also part of this ‘groove
collective’ was Sachin Solanki, who turned his basement into “The Chapel.” Solanki, who has always
been into Dance music since dance music groups like Ace of Base became commercial successes,
became a House convert during his university days in Melbourne in the mid 1990’s.

“One of my friends gave me a mix tape and said ‘Try this out’. It was Paul Van Dyk and it blew my mind.”

He explored the genre, listening to whatever CDs and tapes he could get his hands on, checking out clubs where House or Trance music was being played. As his conversion became complete, he found himself wanting more.

“I wasn’t content to merely listen, I wanted to play it, to control it.”

By 1999, Solanki had bought his first set of DJ gear, a pair of CD turntables and brought them back
to Suva when he graduated. “I had no idea how to use them at the time, but I knew I couldn’t learn
if I didn’t have my own gear.” DJ Krypt agreed to train Solanki, and before long, they began using the
Chapel for underground House parties (not to be confused with the Fiji house-party: the place everyone congregates after the clubs and bars close).

Solanki and DJ Krypt were soon joined by Booth, and Navik Ambaram, owner of the Boombox. During one of their sessions they decided to take it to the next level. All they needed was somewhere to congregate, and with Booth as a keen acolyte of House, Traps seemed the logical choice, and so Kryptonite was born.

Using Solanki’s equipment and CDs, the newly opened ‘Back Bar’ of Traps, became a House
party for all to enjoy. Ambaram promoted the event from the Boombox. Booth organized the venue, and worked on publicity with flyers and promoting the event to those he served at the bar, and Krypt spun the discs.

“We want to acknowledge the generosity of Mr. Gary Apted and Traps Bar, for their nonstop
support of Sidestep and the DJ / turntable-ist culture as a whole. Without him, we wouldn’t have an
outlet or venue.”

Booth muses about the first phase of their mission to make House popular locally, “About 1998, 1999, George Tavola returned to Fiji from Belgium, and under the stage name DJ Kerisa, he and DJ Krypt hooked up with some of us to host regular House dance parties in Traps. I took a back seat, promoting the event but not deejaying  yet, because while I was into the music, I wasn’t confident behind the turntables. George Tavola, on the other hand, was the person who made me want to DJ.

He always referred to himself as a ‘‘Turntable-ist’, and he had the skills to back it up. With his background in Hip Hop, he could cut it up, scratch, rap; the works. In fact last year, when Ed Coogan, a DJ from Melbourne, did a few gigs at Traps, he went ‘2 on 2’ with George – each playing two tracks, and then handing over to the other to play his two – he concluded at the end of the set that George should go to Melbourne because he could ‘kick anybody’s arse’.”

Josh Booth (front) and Sachin Solanki (back): The next generation of Fijian DJs.
Krypt’s eventual migration meant that, not only did the main DJ leave, but that he also took the name Kryptonite with him. So the event morphed into Deliverance, with DJ’s Artish and Ivan (from Nadi), along with Solanki, who was growing in confidence, and the odd mix from Booth and guest turntable-ist Tavola. But it wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to do more; make it bigger. Booth explains:

“I go to Australia and see the clubs there and the music is happening; it’s inspiring and I think… I can do this back home…”

The result was Sidestep. Booth describes its genesis:

 “Sidestep was something new and not in the typical Fiji understanding of the term, which is ‘to run away’. Sidestep was an attempt to side-step the usual music played in clubs. So we brought in DJs from overseas – our friends in Sydney made the introductions and the connections were made.”

The guest DJ list is impressive: DJ Felix, Tim Boffa and Marko from Sydney, Dindi Gill, who DJs in Melbourne and the UK, Ed Coogan of Melbourne, Ben Wijay, also of the UK via Melbourne, and Morgan Martin-Skerm, an Australian volunteer from Adelaide.

The Sidestep menu included Eclectic Electronica & Dance (a stew of House, Techno, Drum & Bass, Breaks, Electro, Soul, Funk and Hip Hop, taken with a side order of Latin and Afro rhythms).

The international versions of Sidestep proved to be a success, but when Booth and company tried to
emulate the event with local DJs, the results were mixed.

“It was kind of hit and miss,” says Booth. “Maybe the crowd was trying to tell us about our
deejaying,” he laughs. Solanki joins in, “Sometimes Josh would check on the crowd downstairs (Sidestep usually took place upstairs in the Traps Lounge) and it would be packed and happening and we’d be playing to our selves. Just the two of us!”

As a result, they tried to give out promotional CDs, in an attempt to build a pop culture for House music. “Everybody likes free stuff, but we don’t really know if they listen to it, or just collect it because it’s free,” reflects Booth. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

The last few Sidestep events have worked. Lately, the collective has become creative by introducing
live music as part of the set, in the form of DJ Tora on percussion, with guest musicians such as Fabian on didgeridoo, Mike Mazier on saxophone and David Stevens on timbales, adding their flavour to whatever the DJ is sending out. The consequence: more feet on the floor, more hands in the air, and smiles on the faces of these hardworking ambassadors of House. It also acts as a vision of where live and recorded music could meet in the future.

The conversation “sidesteps” to the compatibility of Vude and other Fijian music with House music.
Booth believes it’s not as strange as it sounds.

 “You’ve got the 4/4 beat, so its just a matter of accentuation of the beats, bringing up the bass
and looping, filling in other sounds like ambience or chants.”

 Solanki is right into this concept, having produced a couple of remixes of Black Rose songs, including Raude. “Navik, with his connection through the Boombox, sent the remixes to the producer of the
Black Rose albums, Alain from Mangrove Studios. He was impressed and I’ve been told that they include a couple of the remixes in the next album. I’m not in it for the money, but it would be nice to get a credit on the album – that would be enough.”

While Sidestep continues as an ad-hoc event dependent on visiting DJs, Solanki and Ambaram,
frustrated with what they saw as a lack of support from the mainstream media, decided to try
something new.

“In 2005, Navik and I created something called Secret Location, featuring Josh, DJs Ivor, Fonky, George Tavola and my brother KRS. Secret Location had no media support so we tried to do it underground. We gave out flyers, sent SMS messages, emails, and set up a website. We didn’t
give out the location until a week before, and then we let people know, by SMS, the location, the time and who was deejaying.”

The first Secret Location event, held in the Voodoo Lounge in Suva’s Cumming Street, was a success, with 120 people showing up, out of 150 contacted. The second event was held at the Lighthouse, now reincarnated as the Point After.

“It was a sunset party, and we had about 80 people there, which was great for the size of the location.”
Following another successful outing at the Voodoo Lounge, the next Secret Location turned out to be the nightclub on board the Floating Restaurant on Suva’s waterfront. “We packed 120 people into there and it was the first time proper laser lights had been used, which I’d brought in from Australia. We used the smoke machine and the lasers and gave the crowd a real rave experience.” The ‘crowd’, aged between 20 to 40 years, a combination of expatriates, overseas volunteers and locals into the music.

Booth and Solanki both agree that the scene has become smaller, because House is not played on the commercial radio or television stations, and as a result, no-one gets to hear the music. Apart from the Winters’ Club Mix and the Tora/Bhagwan produced, 104-Minute Music Marathon, (using a lot of music given by Winters) from the mid-90’s, House music has really only received airplay when it has been a commercial success overseas.

“At the moment  you’ve got Bob Sinclair on the radio and so people like it. I find that people only like to dance to music that they’ve heard before,” says Booth. “We try our best not to play the mainstream stuff, but we still find ourselves having to throw in a couple of mainstream songs to satisfy everybody. So we play them and get the crowd going, and then slip our music back in, and before they realize it, they’re dancing to the music and they end up liking it.”

There’s a general feeling that the scene is stagnant, that people are just not adventurous for new music or theme nights. Booth recalls one such theme night that was a non-event:

 “It was a 70’s night and the staff and everyone was dressed in their best Disco outfits looking like John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever. Our patrons however, never went for it, so we all looked silly.”

Tora whose “Retrospect” is a night of Soul, Funk and R&B hits, sees the work of the DJ the hardest
job in the club.

“We’ve got so many clubs and DJs have to keep the crowd in their club. So they have to just work with what the crowd is familiar with and not take too many risks by introducing new songs. The
worst thing for a DJ is an empty dance floor.”

Getting the music has also been difficult, although with the Internet now DJs are able to download music, which is good for access. But in terms of playing, nothing beats vinyl. Booth agrees, “I’m still an amateur DJ with much to learn, but the feeling of getting a mix in on vinyl and making the music flow… it’s too good.”

Along the way, there have also been some missed opportunities. One such non-event was in 1999, when The Ministry of Sound, the UK’s biggest House acts, contacted clubs and radio stations in Fiji to ascertain the viability of bringing The Ministry to celebrate the new millennium with the first rave of 2000. Booth was disappointed with the lack of musical vision by the ‘powers that be’.

“Unfortunately, there wasn’t any positive response from Fiji so they didn’t come. They were told that this type of music wasn’t popular with locals, when in fact, House music was all over the Top 40 internationally and locally, with a remix of Bob Marley’s Sun is Shining, Mucho Mambo Sway, and the dance version of ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ from the movie ‘Studio 54’. Nobody was looking at the big picture in terms of tourism, and how it would attract people from around our region, the US, and even Europe. We really missed the boat on that one.”

There are hopes for the future, according to Booth, “Ivan and Alex, two Italian DJ’s from the west, are organizing House parties and there was a successful New Year’s House party at Mango Bay Resort (near Namatakula), so we may yet see Fiji having the same appeal as Ibiza, Phuket and Goa, which is a tourist market that still hasn’t been tapped yet.”

And slowly but surely, tastes in music are changing, and while songs still aren’t popular until  they hit the chart, eclectic and world music has a growing audience in Fiji.

At the end of the night, the man who started it all believes that no matter where the club music
scene is headed, the golden rule for DJs will remain the same.

“Liam Hindle told me something 30 years ago that still holds true for today, no matter what
club you’re in or what genre you’re spinning. He said ‘Tora, deejaying is like fishing. Watch what bait you’re using, get them hooked and stay with it. You can make your favourites, their favourites.’”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A land of "Freedom, Hope and Glory" - Unedited version

This is the full text of the article titled, "Our Land of Freedom" which was published in the Fiji Times column: Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan on Wednesday 11th April, 2012

“A new nation was being born. It symbolized the fact that a new order was coming into being and an old order was passing away. So I was deeply concerned about it. I wanted to be involved in it, be a part of it, and notice the birth of this new nation with my own eyes.

I could hear people shouting all over that vast audience, ‘Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!’ 

Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment. 

These are the words of civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr on his visit to Ghana for the celebration of its independence from Great Britain in 1957.

 On the final day of the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, before the final match, the nation and almost every Fijian living abroad, such as myself, saw the emotion in our national team as the national anthem was sung. As is tradition for my circle of friends, we always stand for the anthem, hands on our hearts. Usually it’s our patriotic gesture. Sometimes, it’s just in the spirit of the tournament. I think that it is an emotional moment for us too.   

Those few weeks  ago, in my dormitory room, as my roommate watched me in amazement, I stood in front of my little screen with my white t-shirt and sang along with the team, tears rolling down my face.

When my roommate asked me what I was doing, I realised what it might have looked like, especially as I had been wearing headphones the whole time.

However it wasn’t just the emotion of the team and the song that brought me to tears. I had remembered that our national anthem isn’t just a song. It is a prayer; a petition to God for blessings for our nation. We ask God to make us one people, we pledge to defend the cause of freedom ever. We ask God to make our nation a land of freedom, hope and glory and to help us endure whatever may befall us, whatever we may go through.

I remember some five years ago, at a World Council of Churches meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, a choir from Soweto came and sang to our group. They concluded their performance by singing the South African national anthem, beginning in the Xhosa and Zulu languages with the famous “Nkosi Sekelel' iAfrika.” was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Methodist school teacher, originally as a church hymn but later became an act of political defiance against the apartheid Government.

Many in my group had prayed, lobbied, or protested for the end of apartheid in South Africa and knew this song as a protest song, listened to with a fist in the air out of solidarity. To hear this hymn in South Africa, sung by South Africans as their national anthem was a deeply moving experience, with most of the group in tears.

Rev. Dr. King, in his biography, described the moment after the first prime minster of Ghana made his speech:
“...we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying: ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ They were crying it in a sense that they had never heard it before. And I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: ‘Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I'm free at last.’ They were experiencing that in their very souls. And everywhere we turned, we could hear it ringing out from the housetops. We could hear it from every corner, every nook and crook of the community. ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ This was the breaking loose from Egypt.

As I reflected on the words of our anthem, three questions drifted into my consciousness. Whose freedom? Whose hope? Whose glory?

Some would argue that we could just say, “Fiji”.

However, we cannot honestly answer these questions so simply as long as the words “people” and “power” only come together in sentences about electricity.

In a sermon not long after his trip to Ghana, Rev. Dr. King said, “It seems this morning that I can hear God speaking. I can hear him speaking throughout the universe, saying, ‘Be still and know that I am God. And if you don't stop, if you don't straighten up, if you don't stop exploiting people, I'm going to rise up and break the backbone of your power. And your power will be no more!’"

Empowerment must come for all parts of the community, in every community.

According to King, “When I hear, "People aren't ready," that's like telling a person who is trying to swim, "Don't jump in that water until you learn how to swim." When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. People have to have an opportunity to develop themselves and govern themselves.”

We cannot answer “Fiji” as long as those of us who have neglect those who have lost everything or as long as our words do not match our actions.

Dr. King once said, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Each of us needs to do what is right not only for the good of our friends, families, and neighbours, but for our own souls. 

We need to believe in and live out the prayer we sing as our national anthem.

Otherwise it is just a song.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”.


Friday, April 6, 2012

How Low Can You Go?

This is the text of a sermon preached in the IGST (International Graduate School of Theology) English Worship at the Methodist Theological University on Maundy Thursday, 5th April, 2012. A related video is at the bottom. 

(Scripture Reading – The Gospel According to St. John 13: 1-7)

We are in the middle of perhaps the most important week in the Christian calendar.

This long week began with a triumphant entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and will end on Easter or Resurrection Sunday with an empty tomb and appearances to Mary Magdalene and others.

In between these two Sundays, however, we find rejection, humiliation and death. In the midst of these moments of suffering, humankind’s worst characteristics are shown. We are reminded just how low we humans are capable of sinking – how low we can go as a result of greed for wealth, lust for power and fear that causes us to doubt and to treat the other, the stranger, the foreigner so badly.

Yes we see all these things during Holy Week; we see them done to Jesus. But Holy Week and Easter is not only about what happened to Jesus. More importantly it is about what Jesus did.

As we encounter all this greed, betrayal and violence – we a given a glimpse of love. As we encounter injustice – we receive forgiveness. Surrounded by conflict – we experience reconciliation.

As we witness how low greed, lust and fear can take us – we are shown that love takes us lower in a way that also lifts us up. We are shown humility.

The second person of the Godhead, the Logos, the Son, the Christ, the highest, shows us how low we can go out of love.

The humility of Jesus during Holy Week is reflected in His washing of His disciples’ feet. He performs the lowliest of tasks that only the lowest servant in the household would do.

These feet would have been dirty – maybe the dirtiest feet. The gospels show the disciples wearing sandals, but also not there are references to them not wearing anything on their feet.

I would like you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine. Imagine feet covered in the thick dust of the dry Palestinian ground, or perhaps caked in mud – dry and sticky or liquid and squishy. Perhaps feet which have stepped in the smelly droppings of an animal.

Can you do that? Imagine those dirty, stinky, feet. Can you see that?

Now imagine yourself washing those feet.

Could you do it?

Could you wash them?

We all wash our own feet but how about another’s?

How about mine? Could you wash my feet? I know they are probably twice the size of some of your feet! They would probably make good skis. Would you wash something like this?

Remember, this is the job of the lowliest of servants. None of the disciples’ feet were clean. Nobody wanted to wash the other’s feet. No one wanted to make themselves lower than the other. They had already argued about who was the greatest. So they don’t wash their own feet and they don’t wash any of the others’!

Then Jesus, their Master, their guru, their Lord; Jesus teaches them a lesson about humility – what it means to be humble. Humility is about love.

What a painful and deeply moving lesson!

Jesus says in John 13:13-15:
You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash another’s feet, I have set an example that you should do as I have done  for you.”

This is the challenge of humility!

We are okay to bow down, to kneel at the feet of Jesus. “Oh how I’d love to wash the feet of Jesus!” We are okay to bow down, to kneel at the feet of our grandparents and our parents and wash their feet.
We are even okay to bow down, to kneel at the feet of our kyosonim (professors) and wash their feet – especially if we might get better grades for it!

We could maybe even bow down and kneel before our friends and wash their feet. In the culture here in Korea we bow before all these people.

But what about doing this to those younger than us? Those lower than us? Post graduate to Undergraduate? Teacher to Student? Local to the stranger, the foreigner? Us to the other? Man to the woman?

It seems the higher we go in our Christian faith journey, we are called to bend lower and lower. Just like the game of limbo, we win when we a able to bend don lower than anyone else.

We are here at MTU because we a leaders in our church or future leaders of the church. But Jesus teaches us the kind of leader he wants us to be: a humble servant-leader. That is what we are called to be. Humble. Servants.

In my context in Fiji, Holy Week is observed by almost every church. There are special weekday services and special worship on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In my home church on Maundy Thursday, today, we celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper and often we have the washing of the feet as part of the washing.

I still remember the first time we did the Washing of the Feet. No one wanted to have their feet washed by myself or the senior pastor (Circuit minister). They kept washing our feet. It became embarrassing for us.

The following year, I chose some members of the congregation in advance and washed their feet. They then washed the feet of others and so on.

The third year, almost everyone came up to have their feet washed, which was great. However no one relieved me so I spent about half an hour washing feet. I learnt a painful lesson about humility that evening. My back taught me the true meaning of bending low.

The year no one wanted the pastors to wash their feet, I realised that we need to empower our communities to let us serve them. We need to help them receive our love so they can share their love with others.

One year my son, he must have been about five years old, decided that he wanted to have his feet washed. By the time he came up to be washed everyone had pretty much sat down. So he sat and waited. He got a few bad looks from the congregation, probably thinking, “Who does this little boy think he is? The only kid coming up for foot washing!” 

It got a bit uncomfortable as no one came to wash his feet. I was tempted to wash them myself just to finish up – but wanted to see what would happen. Plus I wash his feet all the time and I knew he would not appreciate it as much as if someone else did it.

Then one of our senior members, I think our Chief Steward, stood up, came over and lovingly washed my little boy’s feet. When it was over my son gave him a big hug. Now whenever my son meets him he gives him a big hug and immediately puts a big smile on this man’s face.

Who’s feet would you wash today. Who’s feet would I, a male Pacific Islander wash? How about a woman from Asia. (To Angela) Sister, may I wash your feet?

(Angela’s feet are washed - see video below.)

In Bethlehem today you will find the Church of the Nativity, built over what is regarded as the birthplace of Jesus. The entrance into this church is a very low door that children could enter easily but that you or I would have trouble entering. We would have to bend quite low.

It serves as a reminder to us that we have to bend low to enter the kingdom. We have to bend as as a child. We have to bend as low as a servant.

I came across the following poem,
“Humility is a low door
  To go through it
  One must bend
  Down enough to smell the ground

  Dirt wears
  The scent of past lives
  And reminds us that death
  Captures all in the end

  This is what makes
  Humility necessary”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus asks you: “How low will you go”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

“Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity”