BACK TRACKS | Ben Masirewa – In love with the guitar

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Ben Masirewa doing his thing at a gig in Suva. Picture SUPPLIED

OVER the years, Fiji has witnessed many talented guitarists grace the stage, each bringing his or her own unique touch.
However, a special few have managed to elevate the art of guitar playing, undeniably changing the music soundscape in Fiji.
In recent years, Peni Rokotuibau Masirewa has emerged as one of the country’s top guitarists. Originally from Vunivivi in Nausori with maternal links to Bau, the 29-year-old is no stranger to Fiji’s music scene.
Surrounded by music since he was little, his defining moment came about at age four when he crossed paths with the guitar. A love affair started then.
“From as young as I can remember, like may be four or five years old, I’ve been like messing around with guitars,” Masirewa said.
Between 10 and 11 years old, he began to naturally develop musical skills by tampering with instruments and listening to the different sounds they produced.
“In terms of practising it regularly, I’d say at the age of 14 was when I started to sit down and play for seven to eight hours a day.
“By the time I was 16, I had, like, learned a bunch of full chord songs and pop songs.
“I would wake up in the morning at 4am, played guitar until 6 or 7, got ready for school and get there around 8am. In the evening, after finishing my homework, I used to play video games for a little bit and then bring out my guitar — that was the routine back then.”

Ben Masirewa said music helped him get through the loss of his mother. Picture SUPPLIED

Whether in a band setting or as a solo guitarist, Masirewa has worked with numerous musicians. These include playing alongside singer/songwriter Inoke ‘Knox’ Kalounisiga and the premier statesman of Fiji jazz, Tom Mawi.
The band Masirewa plays in, 4 Quarters, is a three-piece ensemble consisting of bassist Nashon Fong, drummer Naiqama Lalabalavu and himself. The band plays on Fridays at the Grills Restaurant and Bar in Suva, while Masirewa plays regularly at the Mana Café on Saturdays.
He views their relationship as a unique blend of friendship and creative collaboration.
“We try to meet up at least once or twice a week after work and chill, but that doesn’t always happen like that because life gets in the way.
“There’s a lot of cool aspects of being in a band, you always have each other’s backs. We have spent every Christmas together for the last decade, almost. It’s like a friend group where you guys have the best time and get paid doing it.”
Asked to name his most memorable moment playing guitar on stage, Masirewa said it was during the Yacht Club Festival last year.
While coming to terms with the loss of his mother two weeks before the concert, Masirewa connected with the festival audience through his pain and loss.
“I played a tune called Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix, a song I’d often listen to when times were hard.
“I think people knew that I’d lost my mother, and I was reminded then about music’s wordless, transcendental beauty.
“Around 2.16pm I took my first solo, and I could feel the crowd responding to my own sorrow with every mournful note.
“I could feel them soak in the angry blistering phrases erupting from my hands — and then turn the energy back onto me, with shouts of joy, yells of appreciation and uplifting love.
“I shed tears in that moment knowing that in my sadness I was not alone, and in the wordless language of music — I was still loved.
“This particular moment on stage won’t ever fade from my memory.”
Masirewa says consistency is the key to achieving one’s dreams in life.
“I think that big tip from me is to just be consistent and that’s the one real thing that’s pushed me this far in my musical journey.
“I just came back from a tour in Australia and that happened because during COVID, I was posting Instagram reels daily of me playing my guitar.
“And there were people from ABC Australia that liked some of my posts and interviewed me last year.
“From there, it just went on to people in Melbourne who wanted me to come play at their bar or restaurant.”
The young artist advises authenticity and to avoid trends in creative expression.
He said young musicians should embrace their unique style and not be afraid to challenge traditional stereotypes.
“I think right now, the musicians community here in Fiji, a lot of people believe that they have an idea of what they believe what ‘Fijian music’ is.
“And I know that there are a lot of young musicians out there who are afraid to challenge that stereotype because they’re afraid to be alienated by the public or crowds or the people around them.
“I’d like to say to young artists to make your own music and be authentic. Don’t try to be anybody else but you.
“You’re going to get to where you need to be. Dedicate yourself completely. Your dreams are limitless.”