Promoting Vanuatu in New Zealand Through Music
No words can better put it than “simply perfection”! The Vanuatu Roadshow in New Zealand, fantastically put together by the Vanuatu Tourism representative in Aotearoa , Ms. Jacquie Carson, took place last week from 13-15 April 2010. My band participated and promoted the destination via music. Theoretically, I was wearing two caps, almost like killing two birds with one stone. One cap had my Vanuatu Tourism ID, which is where I work as the website officer. And the other… well… a more creative and arty side of Alcina, singing on stage alongside keyboard (Jimme), guitar (Saka) and lead vocal (Philip). Here is the band’s story.
Our flight from Port Vila to Auckland,on Sunday 11th April, took 3 hours. Before take off, I had promised to catch up with some good sleep, which I very well deserved after long and busy hours of finalizing bands visa’s, tickets, insurance, passports, payments…and the list goes on. However, during the whole flight, a movie called Avatar grabbed my attention and I was sucked into it right away. My face couldn’t move away from the screen in front of me, from start to finish. I planned to buy a copy of the movie when I returned home.
On landing, the weather was beautiful. I love the kind that feels refreshing and cool on the skin, and when you look up to a clear blue sky, the sun shimmers all around you. This was that type of weather that welcomed us to Aotearoa. Alongside the welcome was a warm ‘Halo ol famili’ by the Vanuatu Consulate, Mr. McKenzie Kalotiti (from Pango Village) ,who lives in Auckland. We got in our airport pick up and drove off to the nearby Airport Pacific Holiday Inn Motel. The lady driver introduced us to her daughter and I instantly realized that they were talking in a Polynesian dialect, which I guessed right…Samoa. Yes, the driver was originally from Samoa but has been living in New Zealand for 29 odd years. She expressed the importance of language and encouraged the band to always speak our mother tongue, to preserve our identity.
We arrived at the motel and checked in right away, storing keyboard, guitar, and stands in the concierge. Our rooms were very clean and nicely prepared for arrival. The boys had a better view though, but I didn’t mind, as it felt good to be back in the ‘Land of the long white cloud’ since my last roadshow several years ago. Airport Pacific Inn does not have a restaurant , so the boys and I agreed to take up our driver’s advice and head out next door to Gateway Bar and Grill. Great choice! The serves were more than generous and tastefully satisfying, ending our Sunday well, like the song ‘Easy like Sunday morning’. Well in this scenario, we arrived in the afternoon. So the song title would have changed slightly. Our first day in NZ felt good.
We were relaxed, and ready to take on the entertainment at the roadshows. During dinner, we planned and talked about songs to play at the three events… easy. These were going to be the same theme songs about Vanuatu, which the band plays to welcome tourists and guests in all the big gigs back home in Port Vila. Lined up were 1)Vanuatu medley – Vanuatu morning star, Beautiful Vanuatu, Vanuatu blong mi, Port Vila, and Grasrut laef, 2) Vanuatu islands, 3) Early morning, 4) Island dress- and we would repeat the song list.
On Tuesday 13th April, our driver was prompt and took us to the domestic airport, en route windy Wellington. We met with the Vanuatu Tourism New Zealand rep. She is really family to me and two other band members, as I call her Aunt Jacquie. Yes, a Kiwi girl married to the Vanuatu lad, who has been the Consulate for Vanuatu in New Zealand for years. After briefing the guys on this, in a matter of minutes, all three boys got to know Jacquie- not just as the Vanuatu tourism rep in NZ but as family, since we were all related.
Our flight to Wellington was smooth and fast. Too fast for Jimme, who almost jumped out of his seat on touch down, half way in his sleep. He couldn’t believe that we had already arrived in Wellington. Wow, how surprised he was! When we all got off the plane, we quickly made our way to baggage claims and later out through the exit gate and onto a shuttle for Holiday Inn. The drive, like the flight, was quick and easy. We arrived at the beautifully appointed hotel, checked in and used our key card to operate the elevator – another one of those first time experience with modern technology.
Our rooms were divine, royal, a touch of luxury. I felt like a queen entering her private room suite. Oh yes, it was a stunner, with all your hotel modern conveniences: tea /coffee making facilities, a fully stored mini bar, microwave, cooking facilities, and the bathroom- fit for pharaohs and Cleopatras. Soon after enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, it was time to set up and sound check on stage. I got on the elevator and headed for Level 2 to the conference centre. I arrived and saw the boys already setting up with Eric, the hotel’s entertainment sound engineer. After half an hour, we were content with the sound levels and quality, then made haste for our rooms for a brief half hour R & R. We returned to the stage looking polished wearing our black polo uniform, complimented with floral leis that carried the colours of Vanuatu’s national flag. Oh, we looked good on stage!
That evening, the wholesalers started flowing in. And whilst time was ticking, the drinks and nibbles were downed pretty quickly also. It was good to see the wholesalers chilling out on the floor after long and hard hours in the office. I realized that on the first evening, and all other evenings to follow, as the wholesalers arrived, they looked fatigued and tired. But after a few glasses of their drink of choice -from wine, champagne, beer, to non alcoholic beverages- plus great music to set the agents on the right mood for business, delegates transformed from weary and worn out to bubbly, alive and ready to soak in all the information they needed to know about Vanuatu.
After Tuesday’s event in Wellington, “Cleopatra” and her band checked out of the hotel and took the next flight down to Christchurch on Wednesday 14th April. In my mind, I envisioned Christchurch to be the chilliest, so I made sure that I covered myself up nice and snug, wearing an orange beanie to match accessories: an orange top, black long pants under my African cream skirt and a stripy brown jumper. To my surprise, just a few minutes before landing, the pilot announced a temperature of approx 21 degrees, which scored the city as the warmest out of the three! I was surprised. And before you knew it, off went the jumper and the trousers before over heating. Oh yes, it was warm.
Rydges Hotel in Christchurch, like Wellington, was chic and immaculate. There was a white Sport Car of the Month displayed next to hotel reception where we checked in. And just out of the blue, Philip called out to us and said, “Guys hand in my keys will ya, I need to drive off to friends”. The hotel reception staff giggled ,behind the counter, to this classic entertainer from Vanuatu.
I got to my room and ironed my white Vanuatu t shirt ,which boasts a colourful coral reef painted on the backside, and with Vanuatu islands printed below the collage. I then quickly head down to the conference centre on Level 1 and helped the boys set up. Sound check took 15 minutes. Immediately after, we returned to our rooms, refreshed, and came back onstage. I thought since I was wearing my white t-shirt and not the black and bold, I chose to compliment it with cream, Karki pants, with a white and purple orchid accessory and frangipani earrings. We started playing the songs to smiling agents, wholesalers and suppliers. A few rounds more and then it was time for presentations and meetings. I moved around the venue and snapped a few shots of the business.
Towards the meetings end, Jackie told us to get ready for dinner with all the suppliers and we head out to a nearby restaurant. Around 8.30pm, Christchurch was no longer the warmest city but freezing cold ,which made me laugh as this was the temperature I expected on arrival. I guess it was ok to be tortured now, since we would be checking out the next morning. My chicken noodles curry was less spicy than anticipated, so I added a few more dabs of pepper to suit my taste. After dinner, we headed out to bars that had live bands play music. As soon as we walked into the first venue, the group demanded that Philip and I get up and jam with one of the bands. And before you knew it, there were two Ni-Vanuatu singers belting out to “Rock Me Baby” in a band of trio. The crowd went wild and thought we sung in the US. But we told them that we were from Vanuatu… and this made a good impression for the destination. Next up, we sprung across to a Karaoke Bar and drew in crowds from neighboring bars. I don’t think the managers were happy when they saw this!
On the following day, Thursday 15th April, it was time to depart Christchurch for Auckland. The flight was slightly longer than the first two, and so was the drive from airport to Rendezvous Hotel, located in the apple’s centre. As soon as we stepped inside the Rendezvous, we discovered a huge and spacious foyer, full of light streaming down from the top. The entire building was built and tiled in marbles and you could almost see your own reflection as you strut along from one corner to the other. And the rooms…ah! I felt like Cleopatra again in her secret palace, with a touch of the east bouncing off the bamboo interior decors. I reminded myself that we still had to set up and sound check, so I snapped out of my day dreaming and half a-doze in a warm, bubbly, and foam covered bathtub. I looked across to the clock and SHUX! Oh boy, I realized that I was slightly late. So, I quickly got out of the marble tub, dried up, put on the Vanuatu islands black and bold, black skirt, make up, and raced to the stage. When I arrived, the boys confirmed that the sounds were all set to go so phew what a relief!
That Thursday evening, I called it the grand finale because we could easily have had up to 200 travel agents and wholesalers attendants. It was clear to see that the delegates were enjoying the event coupled with live entertainment, drinks, seafood canape’s as well as other nibbly delicacies. Since we had a bigger crowd of agents and wholesalers, the band decided to fit in two new jazzes to the song list. This got some of the agents tapping and bobbing away, as did the Vanuatu songs. We were proud to promote the destination through music.
By Thursday evening, I was beginning to feel quite exhausted after entertaining. So, whilst plans to head out into the nightlife was tossed around within our small circle, I opted for a quieter after show which was a quick catch up with hubby and my girls over the phone.
Come Friday 16th April morning, and I was rushing around like a mad chook. I may have ruffled a few feathers with the boys for being a tad late. But when a girl needs to go shopping, especially since it was the last day in New Zealand, oh, she must! So, there I was with a colleague, shopping til’ I dropped- well my cash first, then I followed. So by 11.15am, we were out of the Rendezvous, and shuttled out to the Defrett Restaurant, for an acoustic luncheon. This brought a good change to simplicity, with sweet sounds from just voices and a bare guitar. We felt that since it was our last show, we belted our all out, so the whole city could hear us (in our minds), including a group of around 40 plus suppliers, travel agents, and wholesalers. We sung all the main Vanuatu islands songs and nipped in ‘Moon Dance’.
So all in all, the evenings commenced around 5.15pm and started with half an hour to 45 minutes max. of good live band entertainment, complimented with drinks, canapes, and finger food, then followed on by destination presentation by Jacquie Carson, meetings, and business calls.
Jacquie hinted to me at Defrett that, “I think this year, you guys made a difference. The band being here to play, for the first time, before conferencing sets the right mood and keeps everyone happy and interested to know more about the destination. This also fires up the suppliers to sell sell sell.” A supplier also added, “It’s great to have the band come out and play during the roadshow because the music brings light to the entertainment side of a modern destination Vanuatu. And I can also tell my clients that all the major resorts, hotels, restaurants, and pubs in Vila have similar type of music. They thoroughly enjoyed listening to you guys play.”
Overwhelmed with compliments, in the back of my mind, the words of a legendary singer/song writer Jackson Brown replays “When you hear that beautiful music, we remember why we came”. I think that was the band’s contribution.
Thanks Keith for the quote.
For More Information
1.) Rendezvous Hotel
Mayoral Drive and Vincent Street
Auckland 1010 New Zealand
Telephone: (+649) 366 3000
Free Phone: o8oo 887 8o8 (Within New Zealand Only)
2.) Holiday Inn Wellington
75 Featherston Street
Lambton, New Zealand
Phone: (04) 499 8686