“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.