The Fiji Times »A choir formed during a hurricane

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Each choir has its own story to tell. And the one with an interesting history is Nausori’s Vunimono Choir.

The gospel singing group was formed during Hurricane Bebe in 1972.

In the midst of Bebe, one of the biggest storms of the time, residents of Vunimono village were urged to take shelter as the relentless wind and heavy rain wreaked havoc across the country.

The villagers fled and found refuge at Vunimono high school, a few kilometers from the village.

Fiji was still in the process of becoming an independent nation when Hurricane Bebe swept through October 22-25.

It was the worst tropical cyclone since 1952 to affect the islands.

After emerging from their shelter and seeing the damage caused by the Category 3 storm, the Vunimono choir gathered and sang gospel songs.

Their musical prayers to God called for his intervention and required strength, determination, protection and perseverance to accompany them throughout the day.

Surviving choir member Sera Rokomarama Qasenivalu shared her experiences of the day.

“Before the hurricane, we were all excited because we were recording our debut album directed by the late Onisimo Ravutia,” she said.

“After the tropical disaster, we then went home, still in shock at what had happened, but we never gave up hope, so we went inside the church and made our first recording and we used the tape recorder at that time.

“We hadn’t even cleaned up the village, we just went straight in and checked in. The choir started before 1972 under the direction of Baravi Senikauciri and DiTui.

“While we were recording this dog kept interrupting us, so we had to chase him away and start all over again.

“After we checked in, we returned to Vunimono High School because the whole village was still a mess.

“From then on, Onisimo and his wife Sera Tagicakibau took over the choir.

“They received a house from one of the late choir members, Sesenieli Rokocakau.

“When Mr. Ravutia took over, we started attending the Methodist Church annual conferences and many of the hymns he wrote we were the first to sing them.

“It was under Onisimo that we won the Messiah Trophy, the way we sang at that time was very unique. Everyone had the passion and love to sing and praise God.

“Onisimo spent almost 10 years with us before passing away and a gentleman from Suvalailai village in Rewa named Isei took over, then this generation the choir was led by Torika Volikoro.

“It was one of those days of praise and worship. “I was also part of the Tailevu choir which sang on the journey of Her Majesty The Queen, Queen Elizabeth to Fiji and her son Prince Charles.

“They came to the island of Bau, so we were called to form a group and entertain the queen and her son.”

She added that they had been invited to participate in occasions such as the opening of the new church in Naselai village.

Some songs that she remembered and still sings today are Sa wekada, Ai Vakaruru maina cagi, Sa nei Karisito Jisu, Mataivalu vaka yalo, Sa rogo mai na davui and Reki tiko na yaloqu.

She urged young conductors, songwriters and young people to bring this melody back.

“We need to revive our choir and bring back that glorious melody we were once known for. “


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