By Rowena Singh
“There’s never a last song,” says InsideOut lead singer and guitarist, Apakuki Nalawa about the band’s ability to fill dancefloors. “We have to literally run off the stage. People just don’t want to stop partying, dancing and singing.”
InsideOut’s passion, iTaukei lyrics, melody and instrumentation has brought them fame across Fiji and the region.
The band began as a duo in 2013 when Nalawa and his good friend and neighbour, singer and bass player Timothy Solomon, joined forces. Guitarist Semesa Vilise, followed, and the final member of the group, drummer and vocalist, Ratu Viliame Dautei completed the band’s sound.
“We are definitely very proud of our culture, very proud of our upbringing and cultural background as iTaukei,” says Nalawa. “It’s not just Fijians but all of the Pacific need to be proud of. There needs to be more songs in our native tongue that showcase our diverse culture. Not just to revive but to keep the language alive and healthy amongst our peers and the younger generation coming up. We feel that a lot of our traditions and languages are being lost as well as our iTaukei protocols. It’s our way of giving back to the community, celebrating our mother tongue and our language through our music.
“People without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like trees without roots.”
InsideOut is also inspired by the region’s most popular music form.
“Our baseline genre is reggae – a fusion of pop reggae and island reggae – sort of like a BBQ reggae.”
Yadra Mai was the InsideOut’s breakout song, and was accompanied by a stunning video, which shows the musicians in traditional attire, performing a meke to the track.
“The song commemorates the struggles and hardships faced by the people of Vatukaloko over 225 years ago, where they were taken from their own land and placed in different parts of Fiji— mainly in Kadavu and Rotuma. Four generations later they have found their way back to the land of their forefathers and now reside in Drauniivi Village in the province of Ra (where Nalawa is from). The people of Vatukaloko have long held onto the history of the origins of the iTaukei and this song is only the beginning of their story being retold,” the song’s covernotes relate.
A more recent singe, Qiri Na Lali is a dance song which employs the beat of the lali, the traditional drum.
“Lali is one of the very first instruments we grew up with. It was played just before church services and gatherings- calling people together and we thought we’d put this in our song,” Nalawa relates.
The track is found on InsideOut’s latest album, IO, which was released in August 2023. A celebration of InsideOut’s ten years together, IO is shorthand for Inside Out, and also represents their ten years together.
“Now that we have settled into our newly set up studio and we have some good equipment to do our recordings with, we are working on more singles and collaborations.
“We will keep our collaborations as a surprise – there are a few international artists we will be collaborating with,” Nalawa hints.
Through Nalawa’s company Resonance Entertainment, InsideOut is contracted to play at the Intercontinental Hotel at Natadola and the Shangri-La Fijian resort. Nalawa also plays a monthly gig at Mana Coffee. The band is in huge demand for events and shows across the country and has toured internationally.
“We have toured Australia, NZ, Vanuatu and the United States,” says Nalawa. “There are some overseas trips coming up. We are planning to go to Canada, San Francisco and LA later this year. We might be going to Asia – China and Hong Kong. We are planning an Australian tour early next year. We hope to come to NZ as well.”
“The contemporary music scene in Fiji has really evolved,” says Nalawa. “It’s good to see a lot of new talent coming up. They have seen there are a lot of benefits and people are able to make a living from being full-time musicians if done right and if you approach it professionally and as a proper career. It can bring a lot of positive changes to your life and lifestyle. There are a lot of emerging artists coming up, good content and a lot of great music coming up. So it’s really exciting time for Fiji music.”