Isa Lei

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Performance by the Fijian Police Band

"Isa Lei" is a traditional Fijian farewell song.


The origin of this song is disputed. One versions holds that Turaga Bale na Tu'i Nayau, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba composed it[1] in 1916 for Adi Litia Tavanavanua (1900–1983), when she visited Tubou, Lakeba, in 1916.[2] The Fiji Museum holds Uluilakeba's manuscript, but according to its description he composed the song in 1918 while he was in training as a civil servant in Suva.[3] Tevita Uluilakeba was the father of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, founding father of the modern nation of Fiji.

Alternatively, "Isa Lei" is the Fijian version of a Tongan love song ("Ise Isa viola lose hina") used to court the then Princess Salote (later Sālote Tupou III).[4][5] It was written in 1915 and was heard by a visiting Fijian sergeant. From there, the Fijians adopted it to a farewell song, but they kept the Tongan melody.[6][7]

Lieutenant A. W. Caten, a bandmaster from the Fijian Defence Forces, created a foxtrot arrangement in 1932;[8][9] he is often credited in modern recordings of the song, including in versions by The Seekers, and Ry Cooder and V. M. Bhatt on their album A Meeting by the River. It was regularly performed by Fijian singer Sakiusa Bulicokocoko.


\header { tagline = ##f }
\layout { indent = 0 \context { \Score \remove "Bar_number_engraver" } }

global = { \key c \major \time 4/4 \partial 4 }

verseA = \lyricmode {
  I -- sa, I -- sa, vu -- la -- gi la -- sa di -- na. __
  No -- mu la -- ko, au na ra -- ra -- wa ki -- na, __ }
verseB = \lyricmode {
  ca -- va be -- ka, ko a ma -- i ca --ka -- va, __
  ni ko la -- ko, au na se -- ga ni la -- sa. __ }
verseC = \lyricmode {
  I -- sa le -- i, __ na no -- qu ra -- rawa, __
  ni ko sa -- na, vo -- do e na ma -- ta -- ka, __
  bau na -- nu -- ma, __ na noda -- tou lasa, __
  ma -- i Su -- va na -- nu -- ma ti -- ko ga. __ }

sopranoVoice = \relative c' { \global \autoBeamOff
  \repeat volta 2 {
    e8. f16   g8 g4 g8 a g c8. d16   e8 e4.~ e4
    f8. f16   e8 e4 c8 b c d8. b16   c8 c4.~ c4 }
  \repeat volta 2 {
    d8. c16   b8 a4. a4 c8. a16   a8 g4.~ g4
    a8. g16   g8 g4 e8 f g a8. g16 g8 g4.~ g4
    c8. b16   b8 a4.~ a4 c8. a16   a8 g4.~ g4
    c8. d16   e8 e4 c8 b c d8. b16   c2~ c4 }

right = \relative c' { \global
  \repeat volta 2 {
    <c e>8. <d f>16 | <e g>8 <e g>4 <e g>8 <f a> <e g> <g c>8. <g d'>16 | <g c e>8 <g c e>4.~ <g c e>4
    <a c f>8. <as c f>16 | <g c e>8 <g c e>4 <e g c>8 <f g b> [<f g c> <f g d'>8. <f g b>16] | <e g c>4 <e g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4 }
  \repeat volta 2 {
    <b' d>8. <a c>16 | <g b>8 <f a> <f a>8. <f a>16 <f a>4 <c f a c>8. <c f a>16 | <c e a>8 <e g> <e g>8. <e g>16 <e g>4
    <f a>8. <e g>16 | <e g>4. <cis e>8 <d f> <e g> <f a>8. <e g>16 | <e g>4 <e g>8. <e g>16 <e g>4
    <a c>8. <g b>16 | <g b>8 <f a> <f a>8. <f a>16 <f a>4 <c f a c>8. <c f a>16 | <c e a>8 <e g> <e g>8. <e g>16 <e g>4
    <e g c>8. <g b d>16 | <g c e>8 <g c e>4 <g c>8 <f g b> <f g c> <f g d'>8. <f g b>16 | <e g c>4 <e g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4 }
left = \relative c {
  \repeat volta 2 {
    r4 | c <e g c> c <e g c>8. <f g b>16 | c4 <e g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4
    r4 | c <e g c> <g, d'>8 g' b g | <c,, c'>4 <e' g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4 }
  \repeat volta 2 {
    r4 | <f, c'> <f' a c>8. <f a c>16 <f a c>4 r | <c, c'> <e' g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4
    r4 | g, <g' bes> g, <g' b> | c, <e g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4
    r4 | <f, c'> <f' a c>8. <f a c>16 <f a c>4 r | <c, c'> <e' g c>8. <e g c>16 <e g c>4
    r4 | c8 <g' c e>4 <e g c>8 <g d> g b g | <c, c,>4 <c e g c>8. <c e g c>16 <c e g c>4 }

sopranoVoicePart = \new Staff \with { midiInstrument = "choir aahs" }
  { \sopranoVoice }
  \addlyrics { \verseA \verseC }
  \addlyrics { \verseB }

pianoPart = \new PianoStaff <<
    \new Staff = "right" \with { midiInstrument = "acoustic guitar (nylon)" }
    \new Staff = "left"
      { \clef bass \left }

\score {
  \layout { }
\score { \unfoldRepeats { << \sopranoVoicePart \\ \pianoPart >> }
  \midi { \tempo 4=60 }


Fijian text[edit]

Isa Isa vulagi lasa dina
Nomu lako au na rarawa kina
Cava beka ko a mai cakava,
Nomu lako au na sega ni lasa.

Isa Lei (Isa Lei), na noqu rarawa,
Ni ko sana vodo e na mataka
Bau nanuma, na nodatou lasa,
Mai Suva nanuma tiko ga.

Vanua rogo na nomuni vanua,
Kena ca ni levu tu na ua,
Lomaqu voli me'u bau butuka
Tovolea ke balavu na bula.


Domoni dina na nomu yanuyanu,
Kena kau wale na salusalu,
Mocelolo, bua, na kukuwalu,
Lagakali, maba na rosi damu.[2]


Isa you are my only treasure
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken?
As the roses will miss the sun at dawn,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning.

Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow,
Oh forget not, when you’re far away
Precious moments at Suva.

Isa my heart was filled with pleasure
From the moment I heard your tender heart greeting
Mid the sunshine, we spent the hours together,
Now so swiftly those happy hours are fleeting.


Over the ocean your island home is calling
Happy country where roses bloom and splender,
Oh if I could but journey there beside you
Then forever my heart would sing in rapture.[2][10]


Tongan text[edit]

Si'i lile, viola lose hina,
Fisimoto matala he lilifa,
Isa ete nofo 'l he toafa,
To'eloto tangi 'l he potulala.

Ake mai pe va'a he peau,
Toko faingata'a ene ha'u,
Ka neongo si'i lupe ni kuo 'alu,
Ho sino na te u fua pe 'eau.

Fakapo he kohai te ne lava,
'E te manatua 'ae 'ofa'anga,
Ne ngangatu mai o alaha,
Feluteni si 'eku 'ofa ta'engata.[7]

Oh my! those viola white roses,
Blooming flowers from yonder, howbeit, I live in a desert,
With the aching heart of loneliness,
Crying from desolate.

Those branches reaches through the waves,
Though difficult and laborious thou attempt,
But lo! the lovebird (dove) will now depart,
Your body's image will be a burden of my heart.

Oh no! Who can endure?
The memories of whom I love,
She is my perfume and the fragrance of my life,
The catalyst for my eternal love.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Samuela Kailawadoko (29 November 2016). "Classic tribute". Fiji Times. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Isa Lei (Fijian Farewell Song)" by Wiliame Gucake Nayacatabu,, 25 October 2015
  3. ^ Matilda Simmons (15 April 2018). "Origins of our Isa Lei". Fiji Times. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  4. ^ "Famous Fiji Melody Is From Tonga". Pacific Islands Monthly. Vol. XXXII, no. 7. 1 February 1962. p. 25. Retrieved 3 December 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Isa Lei: The love song that became a Pacific favourite". Pacific Islands Monthly. Vol. 51, no. 8. 1 August 1980. p. 149. Retrieved 3 December 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ "Video: Is it Viola Losehina or Isa Lei? Confusion for singing Tongans at UN causes hilarity online" by Kalino Latu, Kaniva Tonga, 26 September 2016
  7. ^ a b c Dave Langi (11 August 2011). "The Tongan Contribution to Fiji's Welcoming Spirit". Matavuvale Network. Archived from the original on 19 February 2020.
  8. ^ a b Lieut. A. W. Caten (1932). Isa Lei – A Fijian Melody. London: Boosey & Hawkes for T. C. Widdowson, Suva, Fiji. OCLC 122451476. Shown at Eleanor King (6 December 2018). "Music: Capturing a time and a place". Air Force Museum of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  9. ^ "DEATH OF MR. A. W. CATEN IN SUVA Noted Musician and Composer". Pacific Islands Monthly. Vol. XVIII, no. 12. 19 July 1948. p. 35. Retrieved 3 December 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ Chords and words,

External links[edit]