Lighted deer, Led Zep's unreleased Christmas album and 'Inoke'

Dec. 25, 2011

JIM DRAKE'S HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT BLOG

Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to bounce around a few topics in this column. Besides, it's the holidays, so I might as well add to the festivity frenzy. There's no point in trying to contain Christmas spirit, is there? So here's what I've been doing to get into the Christmas spirit. And you know what? I think it's working. And I hope some rubs off on you.

First, if you've visited Mosier recently, you may have noticed a bunch of Christmas decorations next to 10 Speed East. The city council sets up a light display there every year, but this year, when all the lighted metal-wire deer and greeting signs were set up, nothing worked.

Not one bulb.

So, kinda like the Grinch, I gathered up these unwieldy items and headed up the hill to my shop with a promise to bring them back to life.

After what seemed like an eternity of mind-numbing work, I replaced close to 200 bulbs. Of course, the "old" bulbs (which were probably made in the exact same factory as the "new" bulbs) had to be swapped out of each little holder, because the new one wouldn't fit in the old one.

As soon as I got these fixed, I was informed that the Lighted Penguin display in front of City Hall was burned out.

I sighed, I installed new batteries in my portable bulb-tester and headed down the hill.

My holiday wouldn't be complete without some music, and this year I was lucky to attend the United Way Holiday Benefit Concert, with Aaron Meyer and his band, on Dec. 12.

And, I've got to say, this single show was perhaps the best musical event I've seen in Hood River County. The only problem? We'll have to wait an entire year for another one.

During the entire show, I was transfixed. Time? I lost track of it. I had to laugh. At one point, Meyer's violin and band tore into Led Zep's "Kashmir," AND IT STILL FELT LIKE A CHRISTMAS SONG.

The last few years, there's a name that keeps popping up in my music column right around Christmas time, and this year I was reminded of him when I saw the advertisement in the paper. But all the information said was "Musical Entertainer Inoke."

Now, I know from past years that "Inoke," aka Inoke Baravilala, is a guitarist. But really, what else did I know about him?

Answer, not much. But when I dug a little deeper, I just got a feeling that there was a lot more to his story.

It turns out Inoke has been playing guitar, all over the world, for over 40 years, and I think his interview is one of the most interesting ones so far. So, if you're a musician looking for some inspiration, or just someone looking for some more holiday spirit, Inoke will be in town on Christmas Eve.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Interview with Inoke Baravilala

Let's start with your name. Please tell us how it's pronounced and what meaning does it have?

My name is Inoke Baravilala. I go by "Inoke" alone most of the time for obvious reasons. Inoke is pronounced E-noh-keh.

As in Spanish we pronounce the i as e and e as eh. Inoke is Fijian for an Old Testament prophet's name Enoch.

My last name "Baravilala" means "empty-shore." I'm named after one of my ancestors - I can't remember how I'm exactly related, but it's about four or five generations prior. That's, most often than not, the way first names are given in my culture.

Second names can also be from other relatives or to mark a certain occasion or event. Kinda like the "Running Dog" system of our Native American culture.

For the last few years, I believe, you have visited the Gorge at least once a year, maybe more (in the summer?). How did you come to arrive in Oregon and do you have friends here that you visit?

A very good friend of mine, Bryan Lloyd, was working as a pianist/vocalist at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. He was there all the time for over 5 years. Starting in 2006, he would call me to fill in for him when he needed a break - sometimes once or twice a month.

In April of 2007 Bryan had hit a sour note with the CGH management and was going to leave before things got worse. He called me about taking over for him - to which I reluctantly said yes.

I was apprehensive because I had just recently put my music career on hold to go through 30 months of schooling pursuing a new direction in the computer field. Unfortunately, the economy was not helpful in that endeavor, so back into music I went.

I first came to Oregon in 1977 as I was touring the West coast with a trio called, "Shaft, Wallaby and Dragon"(crazy, I know). These were friends (an Aussie and an Asian) I originally met in Beirut, Lebanon.

I've been blessed to have had awesome experiences with the cultures I've lived among. London (1966-1970), Beirut (1970-1973), Spain (1973-1975) and now Oregon. I loved Oregon so much I decided to settle down in Eugene in 1980 with my wife Theresa and my sons Jesse and Samuel. I have wonderful people here in Hood River, like John and June Olson, that I always look forward to visiting with when I get in town.

Your homepage of your website is interesting reading. Growing up in London in the '60s - what was that like? (You by chance didn't get to cross paths with those guys from Liverpool, did you?)

London remains one of the most fun places I've ever been. My being 17 might have had something to do with that... or simply the fact that it was the '60s. New experiences discovering new boundaries, for the first time without the parental and cultural guidelines of my upbringing. My closest claim to rubbing shoulders with fame was playing in an event at the Sheffield University headlined by The Who.

A lot of your original material has a gospel/faith message - and you've combined that with music that is upbeat, and danceable. What gave you the idea to combine these elements?

Great question! My faith, I can honestly say, is my truest identity and my source of strength. The easiest form of writing I believe, involves listening to one's true heart; inevitably my compositions tend to find their way along the convictions of my heart.

Having worked the club scene all those years where "dance" was king, we as musicians were often subservient to the demands of the dance floor. If I was going to get play time for my own songs, I needed to make, at least some of them - danceable.

You also play and sing blues well. What draws you to this genre?

Thank you. Growing up in the islands, we were never sophisticated enough to classify music in their different genres. If it sounded good and felt right, we were all over it. In addition, blues never really made it to the Islands - I don't know if it ever did. Unfortunately (or not), reggae seem to have trumped most other outside influences, since the '70s. All we had growing up was whatever the radio played, which was usually rock 'n' roll, traditional R&B and country - and that's basically what I've been playing or leaning towards before I got to the States.

I was never truly exposed to the Blues until 15-20 years ago. I'm flattered when people consider me a blues player, but I personally don't consider myself that. It just feels really good and it puts a smile on people's faces when I play it.

The sound clips on your website are well produced. Do you prefer playing in a band or touring solo?

Playing in a band definitely has its advantages - having company for the long road trips; getting help with setting up and breaking down; not having to sing all of 4 or 5 hours of the gig; being able to sing harmony in songs fronted by other members of the band (that's big when you're from the islands where singing is all about harmony), and of course growing and learning from one another.

The biggest part of a solo act that I love stems from being a perfectionist. If I'm not completely content with how a song or a piece of music is coming out, I can take every step I need, to get it right - even if it means staying with it hours on end.

No matter how good the musicians I've played with were, I could never get everyone on the same page in committing to that end. And now with the help of computers and midi technology, getting a song to where you want it to be, is limited only by the time and energy you're willing to give it.

The CDs that I have now that you heard on my website were 90 percent produced at home with a laptop, sound modules and a software called Cakewalk. The only outside help I got, besides the studio engineer and a few basic studio effects, were background singers in both CDs (besides myself), a bass player in Little Bitty Town, a conga player in Tell The People, and lead guitarist in the "Fiji Forever" CD. Everything else were midi generated arrangements programmed on a laptop using a midi guitar and sound modules that at times I must admit, were as frustrating as they were fulfilling.

Please talk about why you perform and record music in the native language of Fiji.

It's been 44 years since I left Fiji. I've been back to visit of course, but you don't go through that much time of separation without losing something, so I try to keep connected one way or another, including keeping my Fijian citizenship - opting to remain with a permanent residency status for the U.S.

Another way is to speak in my native language as much as I possibly can which is hard to do, since neither my wife nor my sons speak Fijian. The other is to sing or record traditional songs that I grew up with; for of all the beautiful countries, people and their cultures that I've had the pleasure to experience, my first 16 years growing up in the islands remain the most special. Having something to remind me of those years is always good.

I'm looking forward to the Columbia Gorge Hotel gig and being back in Hood River. I've always enjoyed the area.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you Jim and yours, Inoke

Inoke Baravilala will be at the Columbia Gorge Hotel on Christmas Eve from 5-8 p.m. in the Valentino Lounge and he will be the featured entertainer during the Christmas Day dinner from 3-9 p.m. (Reservations and details at www.columbiagorgehotel.com.) Inoke's website is at: www.inoke.info.

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