Monday, February 17, 2014

‘True Harmony’ message encircles the globe

Steep Smithy Music News Release (revised)
‘True Harmony’ message encircles the globe  from Heysham (with no socks)
Vanessa Quai, from the sunny South Sea Islands of Vanuatu, is known to her legions of fans as the Pacific Music Queen thanks to a string of hit records and sell- out concerts.  So it is perhaps a little surprising that she has decided to launch her latest record in the North West of England in the height of winter.

But there is a good reason for the 25-year old’s excursion into the cold.   Her new song True Harmony is based on a prayer written by Matt Wilson, a former Morecambe journalist, and put to music by Mike Croft, a retired Heysham teacher.  The two are lifelong friends, although their relationship is largely long distance.  Matt lives in Fiji, another Pacific country 12,000 miles from his Heysham birthplace where Mike still has his home on the shores of the Irish Sea.

Matt, who worked on the long defunct Morecambe Guardian, has been a Fiji resident since he was 22.  He wrote the original verses of True Harmony in 1996 as a call for reconciliation and unity at a troubled time for the islanders of Fiji.  They were struggling to overcome the bitterness, social damage and divisions caused by a military coup. 

Matt asked Mike, who had successfully branched out into songwriting, to transform True Harmony into a song. Mike got the inspiration for the lyrics and musical score on a cruise through Fiji’s beautiful outer islands. The finished work was recorded initially by Danny Rae Costello, a prominent Pacific recording artist. It became a chart topper in several countries. 

During a reunion in 2012 Matt and Mike decided that the theme of True Harmony still had relevance for the people of coup-scarred Fiji and for the world beyond.  That autumn Mike started to recreate the song.

He worked with award winning UK producer James McMillan and a team of top musicians, including pianist Mark Edwards, who appears with British singer and songwriter Kate Melua, Mark Jaimes, guitarist, formerly of Simply Red and Troy Miller, drummer with the late Amy Winehouse. Priscilla Jones, one of the UK’s best-known gospel performers and her singers, provided backing vocals.

From this collaboration came two high quality demos – one a soul, gospel rendition with vocals by Tommy Blaize, a leading session singer; the other a Christian contemporary rock version influenced by Cold Play.

On the other side of the world, Matt had identified Vanessa, whose birth mother is Fijian, as a singer and performer with huge potential. He had worked with her on a child cancer charity awareness campaign in Fiji. 
“To me Vanessa was the voice of a generation, with many fans, a stable of hits from seven albums, and a growing career,” said Matt. “She is a gifted singer and songwriter and a compelling stage performer – the complete package. Vanessa sings and moves like no other Pacific artist. Hip hop, rap, reggae, r & b, soul, rock and gospel…all these genres are in her repertoire.”

She also infuses her music with what she describes as “a contemporary Pacific flavour.”

Her contribution to the performing arts in Vanuatu was officially recognised when the country’s president presented her with the National Medal of Merit and the National Jubilee Medal. 

Vanessa was instantly attracted to True Harmony, not least because it fitted with her Christian faith.  She laid down the vocal in her studio in Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, often called the happiest place on earth. (“I’m a native of Vanuatu so I have happiness in my veins,” says Vanessa.)

Mike arranged for James McMillan to produce the finished version using the same backing musicians from the demo discs.

“I loved the lyrics, the melody and tune, everything about it,” said Vanessa. “ I relate so much to the song. It’s just so powerful. It touched me very much. I believe it is in the heart of every person to live in true harmony.”

Vanessa was invited to perform True Harmony at Blackburn Cathedral on February 9th with a children’s choir. The invitation followed a visit to Vanuatu by a delegation from the Blackburn Church of England Diocese that is assisting a local diocese in the tiny nation with its Christian education programme. The delegation asked Vanessa to perform at the cathedral after meeting her in Vanuatu

Her True Harmony recording was released for world distribution in Fiji on January 20th through VitiFM, a Fijian radio station owned by Communications Fiji Ltd (CFM) operator of the biggest commercial radio network in the Pacific. It was released simultaneously on Yumi FM, one of CFM’s stations in Papua New Guinea. Matt is chair of CFM.

BBC Radio 2 is already giving True Harmony airtime. It has played on Clare Balding’s popular Good Morning Sunday programme with an audience of some five million. Vanessa was not sure she was hearing correctly when Matt told her that she followed immediately after Stevie Wonder. “Oh wow,” she said, “me, singing on the same show as Stevie Wonder!”

Her story features in the current edition of Lancashire Magazine. Other publicity will come from school visits and performances, special appearances and media interviews. Vanessa will perform a live acoustic set on Radio Lancashire on February 7th . 

In the Pacific region the diva is known not just for her music and dynamic stage act. When she was 21 she took what she calls her “purity pledge”. 
She spoke publicly about this for the first time in 2012. She has vowed to remain a virgin until she is married. 

Purity, she says, is something society needs. “I certainly need it. If we want to see God in our lives, it all starts with purity.”

Vanessa turns away from the sexually explicit lyrics that mark much of today’s pop music.  “I’m not into that,” she says. “I want people to relate to my songs as inspirational. I want to offer hope through what I sing.”

“Mike and Matt have made True Harmony a work of inspiration and hope.”

Says Mike: “Even though Matt has lived most of his adult life in Fiji he still feels connected to Lancashire. In a sense he is a Lancastrian just like me.  So it is fitting that Vanessa should start her tour here in the North West. She is looking forward to singing and meeting as many people as possible.

“Vanessa is a truly gifted vocalist and her rendition of True Harmony is stunning. You might say that Matt and I are a bit obsessed about spreading the song’s message to a much wider audience.  Vanessa shares that hope and vision. I am sure those who see and hear her will be uplifted”.

Matt, who became a born-again Christian some 20-years ago, says that although the words of True Harmony are framed within a Christian context what they express has a universal significance for all faiths and beliefs. “So in that sense True Harmony can be embraced by anyone who yearns for unity based on forgiveness”, he said.

Matt adds: “Vanessa sings True Harmony with power and conviction based on her own spiritual beliefs. I am sure people in UK and beyond will not only love the song but the singer as well.”

As for Vanessa, she is excited about her UK visit. She thanks Matt and Mike for their confidence in her and believes True Harmony will be well received.  “It would be awesome for True Harmony to be heard throughout the world.”

Just one thing worried her about the English winter. Socks.  

“My Mum and I were worried because we had no socks,” said Vanessa with a giggle.  “We don’t wear them in Vanuatu. But the problem has been solved by Chris, Mick Croft’s wife. We’ve got warm socks now.”

True Harmony downloads: iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, www.steepsmithy.com

Note to news desks: If you would like more information, contact Mike Croft on 01524 852037.