Classical operatic singing is becoming a regular feature of Fiji events, thanks to the talented vocal group, Pasifika Prima Voce. Founded by Sunia Soko Loga, a classical vocalist who has returned to Fiji after years studying music at Kosin University in Busan, Korea, the group leaves audiences rapt with their powerful, harmonious voices and stagecraft.
Loga shot to prominence after winning a singing competition, ‘Immortal Songs’, on New Year’s Day last year. Prior to that, he was the only Fijian to reach the semi-finals of another prestigious competition, ‘The Phantom Singers’, which drew a competitive pool of entrants from countries like Italy, Germany, America and Korea. In a country where music competitions are a staple, and indeed the genesis for many of K-pop’s most successful groups, such contests are a big deal.
Loga has humble origins in Ogea, Lau. His journey began in 2010 when his talent was noticed by a missionary from South Korea. According to Loga, “She recommended me to a music professor at Kosin University. After the professor saw a few of my videos, he agreed [that I could study there], but under the condition that I learn the Korean language like a native.”
This was easier said than done.
“My first hurdle was passing the language test, so I struggled for almost two years. I had to understand and write Korean like a native because I would be attending lectures and writing research papers, and it was really difficult. I tried five times and I failed all of them. I felt like I came to Korea for nothing. For two years, I gave my all and it’s not working for me. I’m ashamed and I’m going home,” he said.
“So I called my dad because he is always the last person I talk to before making a decision. I told him that I’m coming home and his reply was ‘What for?’ I told him it’s difficult studying in Korea and the exam is five hours, and it has wrecked my brain for the last two years. But he kept saying for me to try one more time,” Loga said.
That phone call was a gift to the singer, who passed his sixth attempt at the test.
“Anyone who would’ve seen me on that day would probably freak out because I was crying like I won a lottery or something,” he said.
Recalling this struggle is emotional for the singer. Loga was determined to prove his worth.
Asked if he could play the piano on the first day of classes, he told his tutor, “I can’t but I can show you something?”
When he placed his fingers on the piano keys, his tutor looked at his hands and said, “What is that? Those look like chicken legs. We have to start from scratch.”
Loga said his professors and tutors knew he had a passion for his art, so they helped him get to where he needed to be musically. It was after finishing his studies that he decided to put what he had learned into practice. “I wanted to challenge myself,” he said, after Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS), which produced and aired Phantom Singers, contacted him to participate.
KBS discouraged him from singing in his mother tongue, saying the song he had selected, the Fijian classic ‘Isa Isa’, “was not fit for a competition. They said that they wanted me to win and come out strong. You can win, but not with that song,” Loga said.
Loga had spent years singing in Italian, German, French, Korean and English. “In all my 10 years of studies, how I wished I could just sing in my own mother tongue on an international stage. So I told the producers, ‘It’s either I sing this or don’t sing at all.’”
This renewed sense of courage and sense of being true to oneself has led him to come back to Fiji and share his knowledge.
In fact, Loga only meant to stay for two weeks after an eleven-year absence, when he returned.
“I saw my 77-year-old dad, and it cemented my decision to stay back, not only for my dad but for all the young boys and girls in Fiji whom I’m happy to impart my knowledge to,” Loga reiterated.
His group, Pasifika Prima Voce, has performed at fashion shows, charitable, diplomatic and corporate events, and even kava barrel nights. Loga has judged a few local music and talent competitions, including the recent Domo Vou Talei competition.
“I’m also currently preparing for a few productions coming on later this year,” he confided.
Loga teaches vocal lessons at the University of South Pacific’s Oceania Centre (home of the renowned Pasifika Voices group), and takes private lessons.
“Just after a few months of mentoring here in Fiji, I have seen the need for education in music,” he said.
The vocalist credits pioneers in the Fiji music industry: Vude Queen Laisa Vulakoro, Seru Serevi, Saimoni Vuatalevu and Georgina Ledua, to name a few, who have paved the way for artists. While the music industry has grown exponentially from bands, vocalists, chorale, church music and musicianship as a whole, Loga says there’s always room for more growth: “It is my hope and prayer that musicians in Fiji will continue to learn as they grow.”
And while he is now offering classes, his conditions for taking on students is clear.
“I will only take classes for those who are serious about learning music. You will perform for me and I will determine whether you truly have the passion for this or you just want to fill in your pastime,” he said.
Given his own fight for success and recognition, and the deep commitment he has to his art, this condition is no surprise.
This article appeared in the first issue of Fiji Traveller. Stockists can be found here.