May 09, 2021 Last Updated 7:04 AM, May 7, 2021

“Roots and culture is so vital and important for myself personally,” says Kayboy, a popular young Solomon Islands musician. “I pay homage to my culture and traditions. Blending traditional chants and dialects with music is the result of how deeply involved I am to my roots and culture.”

Kayboy, whose real name is Ropate Ene, is a prominent artist in the Solomon Islands. His song Vehamo topped the Pacific Top 20 (https://www.top20pacifique.com) in January 2021.

The Pacific Top 20 promotes music from the Pacific and gives artists “from the smallest, most isolated islands the opportunity to have their music heard beyond their own shores”. The Top 20 artists are voted by viewers on the initiative’s website.

While he is popular with fans and radio audiences, Kayboy says COVID-19 has had a major impact on his ability to make a living.

“COVID-19 really affected us,” Kayboy told Islands Business. “There was no chance for us to perform live since many, but not all, venues for gigs and shows were forced to shut down amidst our public state of emergency. Our earning chances were hit hard by the effect of the pandemic.”

“COVID-19 has been a threat to the music production in Solomon Islands. People don't move around much, and for us musicians where our money depended on gigs and shows, I would certainly describe it as huge blow to our earning abilities.”

Although Kayboy is now known as a solo artist, he began his musical journey in 2017 with a group he formed with relatives, the Zabana Ambassadas.

The Zabana Ambassadas released one album ‘Striving Youths’. The band also has an unfinished project titled “Champions”, but this is on hold due to financial difficulties.

Many of them have other commitments, so Kayboy started performing as a solo artist fusing island music and dancehall. 

The inspiration for the chart-topping Vehamo came from Zabana, the language of his home province of Santa Isabel. Kayboy also has Fijian heritage.

“Kayboy has competed with other well-known artists in the country as well as in the region. Here at ZFM radio station…his songs are really popular in terms of fans requesting it,” said Solomon Islands ZFM announcer, Nelson. “Vehamo …claim[ed] the number 1 spot [locally] just weeks after its release in mid-2020.”

“With his songs starting to make way into the regional music chart if he continues to keep up the momentum of music making and singing, he will soon make his own legacy in the Pacific,” Nelson believes.

Kayboy’s well-produced videos and lyrics dealing with real-life situations and issues have firmed up his appeal with young people. Having released five solo singles, he is currently working on an album titled Broken.

“It may be hard at times,” says Kayboy. “There's no strong market for the music industry in the Solomons. I would say I struggle to survive with my music career.”

Still Kayboy say his most memorable music moments to date include a tour of Solomon Islands’ Western Province and Kirakira, and the feeling he has seeing Vehamo in the Top 20.

He says that it would be ‘mind blowing’ to collaborate with other Pacific artists and says he would go for it if the opportunity presented itself.

“As far as I know and heard of my music has been played around Vanuatu, PNG, Fiji,” says Kayboy.

Nelson says Solomon Islands music is doing well in the Pacific. “Pacific Islands are usually hyped when bands from Solomon Islands are touring and they always want these bands to come to their hometowns and countries. A lot of Solomon Islands artists also did amazing features with other Pacific Islands artists.”

Like many Pacific artists, Kayboy promotes his music on online platforms including Facebook. He says that Pacific mJams—a new music app that profiles Pacific Islands music—has also driven interest in his work. Pacific mJams launched in the Solomon Islands in December 2018 . The  Asian version of the app has been hugely popular.

The arts have clearly shaped Fiji’s trajectory these last 50 years but have the arts and our creative industries been afforded agency to flourish and continue their critical role in nation-building and nurturing? Have we as a nation done enough to protect and support it as an essential element of our society? The arts, regardless of its form, gives soul to our existence, encoding our identity and way of life, recording the present while nourishing our collective memory.

Historians estimate that the Fiji Islands were not peopled until some 3500 years ago. The ancestors of the Fijians were referred to as Lapita people, because of their distinctive pottery. Subsequent tracing and archaeological forays in Fiji have, without fail, revealed some of the most intricate and decorated pottery shards and jewellery.

In 1953, Paul Wingert wrote in Art of the South Pacific Islands: “Oceania art reveals a close relationship between form and content, so close in fact that some knowledge of its cultural background is necessary before it can be understood. It was indeed one of the basic facets of their culture and was closely interrelated with their social customs, religious beliefs and economic practices”.

Creativity in our nation-building decades

There is purpose in our creations. Artisans borrow from a collective memory which they themselves then enrich with their own transfer of knowledge and skills. Our chants and dance, our taboos and even in traditional sports: learning and knowledge transfer was key to our survival. Implicit in creations are beneficiaries, for whom the use of a bowl or a mat with distinct design, speaks of a moment in a personal journey or of an extension of important relationships.

Our creations are of great value, our wealth, iyau, albeit opposed to the largely held views of the arts as aesthetics or simply decorative. The arts regardless of form, is fundamentally a story, it gives voice to life experiences and are indicators of intent, in politics or in the personal. The creative industry gave and continues to give voice to the imagination. It interprets life, living, people and situations. Our creative industry records our present, with all its angst and joy: without it, we lose our stories and much more.

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IB April 2021 frontcover

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