Bringing reggae from Vanuatu to the world

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A group of seasonal workers from Vanuatu wants to bring their island reggae to New Zealand.

Band members Jimmy Barrett, Loyson Dovo, Jimmy Downie and road manager Basil Noukout are in Central Otago working as seasonal workers to raise funds to bring the remaining members of their band to New Zealand.

The band, called Naio, was a popular feature of the local music and festival scene in Vanuatu, they said.

Mr Barrett is the leader of the band and plays bass guitar.

The band had been together since 1997 and as well as performing around the Pacific, had released 10 albums, he said.

Most of its songs were composed in English, he said.

“Our first album was released in 2000, called Unity,” Mr Barrett said.

“All of our songs are original. Most of us compose. We put up a topic, like climate change, so everyone comes along with an idea,” he said.

“We usually compose songs about the development of the country, and what’s affecting the world today – it’s like an awareness group.”

All band members hailed from the southern Vanuatu island of Tanna.

One of the songs on their latest album, Turn It On was about the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, which devastated much of the infrastructure on Tanna.

Other topics covered by the band included the corruption scandals in Vanuatu, which led to 14 politicians, including two former prime ministers, being jailed in 2015, Mr Barrett said.

The men’s goal was to have all seven members of the band in New Zealand so that they could perform together.

“We really want to bring all of the boys here. We know that New Zealand likes reggae, so we want to find a door out from here to music, so we can extend our market to New Zealand, as well,” Mr Barrett said.

Last season some of the band members had an opportunity to perform at Fitzpatrick’s Irish Pub in Wanaka, but their hope was to do much bigger performances in New Zealand.

Keyboard player Jimmy Downie said the band had played alongside many big names in reggae music, including The Black Seeds, of New Zealand, Pablo Moses of Jamaica, One People, of South Africa, and Ky-Mani Marley, son of Bob Marley.

“The international stage is not new to us,” he said.