Fiji is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Though geographically Melanesian, the music of Fiji is more Polynesian in character. Nevertheless, Fijian folk styles are distinct in their fusion of Polynesian and Melanesian traditions. Folk music is dominated by vocal church music, as well as dances characterized by rich and dull harmony and complex percussion made from slit drums or natural materials, such as drums.

Folk music

Like their Polynesian neighbours, modern Fijians play guitar, ukulele and mandolin along with a variety of indigenous instruments, most commonly lali drums, which are now used to call the people of an area together. Lali drums were an important part of traditional Fijian culture, used as a form of communication to announce births, deaths and wars. A smaller form of the lali drum (lali ni meke) is used as a form in instrumentation. Meke is a kind of spiritual folk dance, in which dancers bodies are said to be possessed by spirits. Other percussion instruments include the derua, which are tubes made of bamboo which are stamped on mats or on the ground. Other dances included the women's dele or wate, which humiliated enemy prisoners sex, and the men's cibi, which uses spears and clubs [1].

Indo-Fijian music

Indian music draws heavily from rural North Indian and some of the Southern states in India. Most popular are Bhajans — a devotional music based accompanied by harmonium and dholak (drums). Many Indians now also export bhajan CDs for large Fiji Indian diaspora in Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand. Jazz too, has become increasingly popular as cultural horizons have broadened.


According to Qawaali/Ghazal singer Ustad Sheikh Mohyudean (August 1, 1920 – January 1, 2015) and Indian Classical musician Cassius Khan, the Qawaali has undergone a major transformation in Fiji. Because of the lack of classically trained tabla players who came to Fiji in the late 1900s, after their demise, some qawaali musicians started playing with dholak players who only knew how to accompany the Bhajan, and therefore incorporated a new style of music, somewhat akin to early jazz. When the trend caught on, some Bhajan singers also tried their voices in qawaali, and brought Bihari elements into the music known as "Phagua gayaki" an ancient bhajan singing style in Bihar, India. The classical qawaali style slowly took a back seat to this new style of singing, but has been snubbed by purists because of its non connection to qawaali. The word Qawaali means "utterance in the name of Allah." Qawaali in Fiji is rhythmically more challenging with a firm emphasis on percussion rather than the more traditional aspect which focuses on lyrics.

Ghazal and Thumri

Mushtari Begum (Dec 25th 1934–March 14, 2004) was the first Indian Ghazal/Thumri exponent from Lucknow, India who resided in Fiji. She was a disciple of her father Ustad Amjad Ali, a Thumri exponent. She later learned in India from greats such as Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Shamla Bhave of Bangalore, India. Her extraordinary vocal capabilities in her voice ranged close to 4 octaves and in her prime, quickly ruled the charts of Fiji's music industry. In her career she won 36 trophies and numerous recognitions and awards between 1947 and 1973. She was awarded the title "Malika-e-Ghazal" or Queen of Ghazal by the Indian High Consulate in 1973.

Internationally renowned star tabla player and ghazal wizard Cassius Khan,[1] born in Lautoka, Fiji has collaborated with some great world musicians and is the only known musician in the world who plays tabla and sings ghazals simultaneously. The senior disciple of the late Mushtari Begum, he is currently based in Vancouver, is recognized as one of the treasures of Canada as he has received the "Salute to Excellence" Award, and has many albums to his credit. Khan also made history as the first ever Indian Classical Ghazal/Tabla player who performed at the SXSW Festival in Austin Texas in 2008, and again at the Canada Music Week Festival in Toronto, Canada in 2009. One of his collaborations received a Juno Award in 2007. Khan also runs the Mushtari Begum Festival of Indian Classical Music and Dance in his hometown New Westminster, BC, Canada, which debuted in 2012.

Dholak music

Notable Dholak player Sashi Roy is one of the leading exponents of Dholak playing who was born in Nadi, Fiji. He has incorporated a new technique of playing the "dholak tarang" style- playing multiple dholaks tuned in different notes in unison and is one of the most recognized soloists in this art form. He is currently residing in Edmonton, Canada.In contemporary times, Shailendra Prakash Sharma is particularly acclaimed in this artform. He has performed with a range of artists (local and from Bollywood) during concerts, and also played in a number of locally produced albums especially in fiji bhajan and fiji kirtan.

Popular music

In the 1980s, Fijian performers like Laisa Vulakoro and Lagani Rabukawaqa became pan-Pacific stars. Vulakoro is especially well known for her part in creating "vude", a popular style that combines disco, country and island music (especially the meke rhythm), rock and roll and jazz (for which the islands are rightly famous).[2]

Other modern performers include the bands Nuku Katudrau, Karuna Gopalan, Rosiloa (Black Rose), Danny Costello,[3] Michelle Rounds, Seru Serevi The Freelancers.[4]

Reggae is also a popular music genre in Fiji, as is jazz.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Khan, Cassius. "Cassius Khan". Cassius Khan. Cassius Khan. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  2. ^ Fijian Music
  3. ^ Daniel Rae's Website
  4. ^ Culture of Music Archived 2005-06-22 at the Wayback Machine