The Fiji Times »From Funky Bass Lines to Sign Writing – How a Rising Musician Left Night Gigs to Raise a Family
Jonetani Raivotu is well known in the bus industry as a sign maker. From the mid-1970s to the present day, his works of art have adorned the sides of the many buses that zigzag through the capital.
“If you come to Wailea, Vatuwaqa, or ask anyone in the bus business, they all know me as Jone Signwriter,” the 72-year-old laughed.
But go back 50 years and Raivotu was a force to be reckoned with as he hammered his bass guitar in the live music mecca of Fiji – the Golden Dragon nightclub in Suva.
He rubbed shoulders with the Fijian musical elite and painted the walls of Victoria Pde nightclub with his funky basslines, woven between the tight grooves of the country’s leading drummer at the time – the legendary Paul Stephen.
But how did Matuku’s man, Lau, manage to rise to the top of the Fijian music scene?
“I grew up in a very musical family.
“My father, Jonetani Kaukavesu, was a very famous songwriter in Matuku and my brother, Paula ‘Rio’ also made a name for himself as a drummer in the West Division.
“My family is also very well known in Christian music circles, they have a very popular ‘polotu’ album on CD.”
Raivotu also has a very famous nephew in Freddy Kado – a former member of Black Rose, Fiji’s most successful music export.
Members of the famous Fijian reggae group, Exodus, which include the Moore brothers – Henry and Freddy – and the Heatley brothers – Leo and Steven – are also counted as family through his wife.
Raivotu’s musical journey began in 1952 when he was brought to Viti Levu for education at the age of five. He attended Suva Methodist Primary School, then Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School and Suva Grammar School.
“We were one of the first tenants of Amy Apartments in Toorak.
“Suva, and especially Toorak, was a happening place back then, a lot of good musicians came out of Turaki.”
Raivotu’s first glimpse of the live music scene in Suva was as a member of a family band called Sandy Beach Serenaders.
“We played at Old Town Hall (now Vineyard Restaurant) and Nina Street Coffee Lounge (now Bargain Box), Hotel Suva and over time we got pretty famous in Suva.”
In 1969, the Golden Dragon was where beginning musicians earned their stripes. And once they made a name for themselves on stage, each was welcomed into the inner sanctum of Fiji’s elite music club.
As it turns out, club owner Ken Jansen was looking for a replacement for the famous Dragon Swingers, which included music giants like Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, Wise Vatuwaqa and Rupeni Davui.
“Ken heard about us and asked me if I could get a band together and play there, and of course I said yes.”
The Dragon Swingers’ new look included Raivotu on bass guitar, Paul Stephen on drums, Arone Paspatu on keyboard and Maxie Columbus on lead guitar with Ken Janson taking center stage as lead vocalist.
“We played a lot of pop, rock and roll and funk, a lot of Beatles and Rolling Stones numbers.
“We were just thrilled to be on stage at the Golden Dragon because it was the best place to play at the time.”
Raivotu has made a name for himself as a bass player to be reckoned with.
Their punchy and funky basslines along with Stephen’s drum grooves made the duo one of the tightest rhythm sections in the country at the time.
The group rocked the capital and Raivotu stayed with the group until he met the love of his life, Florence Moore, in 1972.
“After we met and decided to get married, I made one of the toughest decisions – I left the band and the music scene.
“Late nights were not a good way to raise a family. “And I started writing signs as a job and worked in hotels as a bartender in between.
“I loved playing music, it was a big part of my life, but when it came to raising my kids I knew I had to make sacrifices so I did what I had to. to do.”
These days, Raivotu still does a odd job of writing signs, but prefers spending time with his 20 grandchildren.
“As you get older, your whole outlook on life changes.
“I really miss the old Suva, the people were friendlier and everyone had time to stop and say ‘bula’, these days everyone is in a rush. Even the music scene has changed a lot.
More than half a century after deciding to hang up his bass guitar for good, Raivotu said he was ready to make a comeback.
“If Maxie and Paspatu come from the United States and say they want us to reunite, I’m ready to give one last chance.
“Maybe we can take the stage one last time at the Golden Dragon and bring back the music that rocked Suva in the late 60s and 70s.”