Costello: Samoa Is Now My Base

Daniel Rae Costello is back to his roots. After 36 years as a Fiji musician, and as many albums, playing around the region with big bands, Mr. Costello is once
14 Dec 2014 15:49
Costello: Samoa Is Now My Base

Daniel Rae Costello is back to his roots. After 36 years as a Fiji musician, and as many albums, playing around the region with big bands, Mr. Costello is once again a one man band, performing solo in front of a live audience.

But not just musical roots. The big news is that he has moved, permanently, to Samoa, the homeland of his grandmother, Amy Peterson.

“We’re here now, for good. We sold our house in Fiji, packed up, and shipped out,” he confirms to the Sunday Samoan on Friday night, relaxing with a Vailima draught at Manumea Resort.

“Samoa is now my base.”

Having one of Fiji’s biggest entertainers taking up residence in Samoa seems slightly unreal but Mr. Costello shrugs happily.

“This is me – I’m home.”

The Vailima hotel will be his new gig digs from Friday next week, and he has the work permit to prove it. This is no overnight decision.

He first knew he wanted to move “back” to Samoa from, he says, 1991 during his first visit to Samoa among his many tours of the Pacific. In fact, Samoa was his first overseas tour.

“It was awesome, it was really good.”

Return visits in 1993 and 1997 only confirmed his desire to reconnect with his bloodlines.

“Because I’ve got no Fiji blood, my mother was Rotuman,” he says, explaining the other side of his family. While Rotuma is officially part of Fiji, most people know that its people are more Polynesian than Melanesian, with many citing influences from Samoa and Tonga, but also as far afield as Tahiti.

A final confirmation was returning to Samoa last Christmas with his wife, his school age sweetheart Corinna.

Three months later, in March, they were back.

Any regrets at leaving Fiji are regrets for what had already been lost.

“Fiji has lost its island feel and island way – Samoa still has that in a big way, the kids love it.”

Of course they miss their Fiji friends and family, he says, but “it’s a new adventure for all of us.”

He is of course immensely grateful to his birthland, a country where he started a career that saw him become famous regionally.

But he says that parts of Fiji, especially the capital, Suva, have become very westernised.

“People don’t wear sulus any more, if you go to town, it’s all trousers, suits and ties, or jeans, if you wear a sulu, people will mock you and say look at that idiot.”

Here, he says, “Samoa is still very island, everyone is wearing a lavalava, and flowers in their ears.”

While most Samoans have only ever been to Nadi and Suva, Mr. Costello says the “real” Fiji is outside of the main centres, in smaller towns like Lautoka, where he was raised. In fact, it was also his retreat when, after 10 years of performing seven days a week in Fiji, ‘stopping’ only to tour overseas, he realised he was “burnt out”. He took a few years off to work on his family ranch, Koro Naba Rua, up in the mountains, where temperatures get as low as seven or eight degrees.

His father, Dan Costello, was a legend of Fiji tourism, founding the well known Beachcomber Resort. That’s where Daniel Rae Costello got his start, signing at the resort.

From there he developed a Caribbean influenced sound that captured ears and hearts all across the region, everywhere from Pape’ete to Port Moresby, from Hawaii to Hawaiki.

And this was before the internet, mobile phones, Bluetooth and MP3s. Early fans would beg, borrow or steal cassette tapes, or face one cassette player to another, press record, and try to stay quiet in the background.

“I don’t know how it happened, or why it happened,” he admits, musing at his own success, when there were so many other bands and musicians in the fertile Fiji music scene.

A new generation of fans has emerged, “brainwashed”, he says, by having to listen to their parent’s music from an early age. After Christmas in Samoa, Mr. Costello did gigs in Wellington, New Zealand in February and he was amazed to see a sellout crowd of mostly younger followers, who knew every word to every song he sang over three hours.

From those early days at his father’s resort, Mr. Costello is now in a different resort, in a different country, drinking a different kind of beer, remaking life plans.

And those plans do not include a lot of sitting around.

His solo-performance this coming Friday is not just a matter of climbing onstage, picking up a guitar and clicking play on a bunch of pre-records.

No, this musician is staying up late for the next seven nights, building the backing songs, from the drum beats up, from scratch.

And he hopes to build on that start to work with other musicians in Samoa, including offering workshops to pass on what he’s learnt from producing three dozen albums.

He can turn his hand to almost anything audio, jingles, film scores, documentary tracks.

Longer term, he also wants to work with Samoan tourism leaders to create a new event based around the Teuila Festival called Rhythm Pacific, inviting island musicians from around the region.

He hopes to get a smaller version kicked off this September for the SIDS conference, bringing in a brass section featuring Tongan players from well regarded New Zealand reggae band, Three Houses Down, who have a side business called TCB, Taking Care of Business.

“I would love to be able to give back,” he says.

“Samoa has a lot to offer.”

But a project that is closest to his heart is the idea of reviving classic old Samoan songs.

“I’ll have to learn Samoan,” he acknowledges with a laugh.

He expects that it will take him the next two years to learn how to sing in Samoan properly.

And even though rapid fire Fijian sounds very different to Polynesian ears, he says the vowels are pronounced the same, and many key words are shared – fale in Samoan is vale in Fijian, for example.

“I’ve got to get in touch with some real experienced artists from days, to teach me all those songs, and the right pronunciation, and the right phrasing – especially the phrasing, the phrasing is a big thing.”

All that’s in the future.

For now, he is focused on next Friday night.

Perhaps a bit too humbly for someone whose songs captured a region, he says he will not be playing just own music but covers as well from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

“Still doing it, still loving it,” he confirms.

Daniel Rae Costello turns to the next table where his youngest daughter, Danielle, is confirming a dinner order. He starts enthusing about what a great musician he is, a girl who first picked up a guitar “-it was bigger than she was-“ at the age of two.

But it was her ability with another instrument that caught his attention – on the drums. Before she even had drums.

“She would make drumming noises with her mouth – I’ve always said that you have to be born a drummer, I’m no good at it – I can think it but I can’t play it how I think it – but she would come up with all these complicated bits with her mouth …”

Smiling at the praise, Danielle is the youngest of four daughters, with one living and working in Dubai for Emirates Airlines, another on a mission in Nepal, and the third, Alexia, singing in Hawaii.

There is no dark moon out Friday night but, asked to pose for photos with his daughter, Daniel Rae Costello takes a relaxed stance by the pool. There will no doubt be a whole lot of Samoa-style Samba in the not too distant future.


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