music festival fiji
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

This Immersive Music Festival in Fiji Is Everything Fyre Fest Wasn't

Your Paradise offers DJs and dancing; Fijians offer dolphin safaris, kava ceremonies, and—importantly—permission.

“I feel like I’m on acid,” joked a fellow passenger as we deboarded a ferry docked at the Mamanuca Islands. They had a point—Fiji has that effect. Malolo Lai Lai’s beaches and palm trees stung our eyes in a way that made me feel like I’d turned the saturation all the way up on my camera. You can kiss your photo editing apps goodbye while on Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands; they won’t be needed in a land this lush.

Here, morning alarms get replaced by the sound of the Beci birds chirping outside your bungalow, and your jaunt to breakfast might just include scooping up vibrant Heliconias petals coating the ground or being tossed a large coconut from men scaling palm trees. Meals feel like a trip to the farmer’s market, with spreads of papaya, pineapple, jackfruit, and bananas picked that morning or else fresh ceviche made from the day’s catch. And a traditional Lovo, a Fijian version of a barbecue, offers a feast where a banana leaf-coated oven is dug into the ground to cook a variety of meats.

Thought we were on our honeymoon? Think again. We’ve arrived in the Mamanucas for the appropriately named Your Paradise festival on Malolo Lai Lai, the first since 2019 due to the pandemic hiatus. Your Paradise is a five-day fest that brings DJs from around the world to Fiji for a cross-cultural experience and immersion in Fijian culture.

"Your Paradise is almost 60% about Fiji and 40% about the music."

Dom Furber is one of the co-founders and says that his goal with launching Your Paradise was to make it less about the music and lineups and more about the cultural experiences and island adventures you can take part in throughout the week. Whether kicking things off with a traditional kava ceremony, embarking on a dolphin safari or guided medicine walk, or surfing the world-renowned swell at Cloudbreak, guests usually leave the experience with a lot more than a new favorite artist and pounding hangover.

“From my opinion, Your Paradise is almost 60% about Fiji and 40% about the music,” says local DJ and Fiji native Christonite Boginikua. “I want to say it’s all about music, because that’s what brings us all together—but when YP comes, the guests immediately dive into surfing, snorkeling, sandbank yoga, and all the different cultural retreats.”

your paradise
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

Boginikua got involved with Your Paradise in 2015, when the festival first announced their debut in the Mamanucas and held a wildcard competition to involve local artists. He and his co-DJ Alby Eastgate submitted a mixtape that won them an invitation to participate in the event. “Back in 2015, we were listening to [artists] like David Guetta and Steve Aoki, but we never thought that something of that caliber could come to Fiji. But then Your Paradise came along, and of course we wanted to be a part of it,” remembers Boginikua.

That being said, once they were welcomed on board, Boginikua wrote the team an email thanking them for the invitation—but giving them a clear warning that his country wasn’t yet cut out for this type of production. And so they got to work. As a full-time architect, Boginikua helped to build the stages. Meanwhile, the YP team worked with a local production company to purchase sound systems and electrical equipment that they could lease during the festival, but that the island would own so they could host these types of events in the future.

“From then on, they promised to bring Your Paradise every year and keep helping the locals—which is exactly what they do.”

But the island’s logistics weren’t all that needed to be considered. “Our music industry just wasn’t built up,” says Boginikua, who struggled as a striving musician himself. “I asked the YP team to help us build up our DJ industry. We settled on an agreement for them to bring DJ Craze, one of the biggest DJ’s of the time, onto the mainland. He did a workshop for the locals and totally blew their minds—the kids couldn't believe they were meeting someone they saw on TV. He spent time with them, explaining how they had gone from Nicaragua to making it big in Miami. I still have photos,” he laughs. “From then on, they promised to bring Your Paradise every year and keep helping the locals—which is exactly what they do.”

The festival has come every year since, adding a boost to the local economy each time. When you attend Your Paradise, you have the option to pay for extra outings, such as skydiving, snorkeling, scuba diving, and different water excursions. “Really what helps the local businesses are all the add-on’s,” says Boginikua. “The owners of Cloud 9 and the ocean excursion companies are so happy when YP comes each year.”

fiji festival
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

The exception to the annual gathering, of course, was during the COVID pandemic. During that time, the Your Paradise team gathered donation packs with food and rationed items that Boginikua and his friends delivered to all of the resort staff who were laid off. “This was our first year back with Your Paradise, and it really instilled a sense of family,” Boginikua continues. “Everyone was like ‘Oh my god, thank you—we haven’t seen you in so long!’ and we picked up right where we left off.”

"There’s an idea that going to an electronic music festival, especially on a tropical island, is like spring break and there’s no restrictions or no need to think about how you behave."

“There’s an idea that going to an electronic music festival, especially on a tropical island, is like spring break and there’s no restrictions or no need to think about how you behave,” says the other co-founder of Your Paradise, Ignacio Garcia. “At our event, there’s an underlying respect for the culture and the staff, rather than just coming here to party. The idea is that we come here to learn: about Fiji, about each other, and ourselves. It makes the experience really powerful.”

In addition to building up infrastructure and local offerings, each year when YP arrives to set up shop, they do a proper kava ceremony to ask the chief’s approval to host the event on their land. “Both representatives of Plantation Island and Musket Cove attended, and as soon as it finished, they received a call from the chief saying ‘Malolo Lai Lai is now your home,’” Boginikua explains. “Everyone was amazed, because in Fiji those protocols really matter.”

flight to fiji
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

Welcome the bula spirit

Aside from being a bucket list destination for hardcore Survivor fans, when many imagine a vacation in Fiji, they’re often intimidated by the distance of the South Pacific country. Before you knock it off as a land far, far away, you’ll be pleased to know you can fly directly from Los Angeles to Nadi Airport.

“North Americans will say ‘I’ve heard of Fiji, but where is it?’ And when they learn it’s only an 11 hour flight, overnight, directly from LA, they’re like cool. And suddenly they start to unpack that it’s not this impossible place that you can’t access,” says Garcia. “It creates an opportunity to go to Fiji that never might have been.”

But there’s so much that makes Fiji worth the trip, beyond the festival or what you might imagine of a tropical destination—and certainly more than just all-inclusive resorts, island-hopping study abroad students, and turquoise waters. In addition to about 330 islands to explore, on the mainland you can hike rolling hills, visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, cleanse in an authentic Fijian mud pool, or get a taste of the local arts and culture at street markets. You’ll also find the local population is overwhelmingly hospitable to visitors—there’s a reason it’s known as the “friendliest place in the world.”

Spending time in Fiji reminds travelers what it truly means to be hosted.

“Fijians are renowned universally for their kindness and welcoming nature,” says Furber. “And the fact that you walk around the island and you can’t pass anyone without getting a big ‘Bula!’ is just incredible.” The country thrives on tourism; within moments of landing in Nadi, you’ll experience the genuinely warm welcome from locals. Hospitality is a word tossed around quite frequently in the travel industry, but spending time in Fiji reminds travelers what it truly means to be hosted.

best music festivals
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

“It’s just a Fijian thing, [the staff members] really immerse themselves with the guests and it gives them the opportunity to have those conversations. You can talk to the staff about things beyond the resort, actually discuss culture and traditions. They are the best spokespeople for their culture—that’s what really makes it a 360 experience,” says Garcia.

 

"If it was anyone else, you would think they would just come to Fiji, use the location, leave behind lots of trash, have a huge carbon footprint, and just make their money and go."

“When people hear about this festival in Fiji, I think they think of Fyre Festival. But it’s nothing like that,” says Boginikua. “Because in Fiji, tourism is our bread and butter. Put the festival scene on top of the tourism scene—they’ve created this beautiful thing.”

“If it was anyone else, you would think they would just come to Fiji, use the location, leave behind lots of trash, have a huge carbon footprint, and just make their money and go,” Boginikua continues. “That’s why we’ve stuck with them since 2015. You can see everything they’re giving back.”

your paradise music festival
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

Attend a festival full of Fijian and international DJs

Parts of Your Paradise are what you’d expect of a festival, and some bits are elevated: world-class DJ’s like Netsky and Choomba, vedic meditation sessions, surf coaches, yoga retreats, and holistic healers.

The yoga excursion takes guests out on a small boat to practice your downward dog in the middle of a sandbank surrounded by water—it’s totally worth the 5 am wakeup. In the afternoons, allow yourself to be whisked away by boat to the Mala Mala Beach Club, which brings pool party energy to a private island with cabanas, hammocks, and surrounding crystal clear waters for snorkeling.

international music festivals
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

If the music is calling, you could board the famous Fiji One, one of the largest sailing catamarans in the Southern Hemisphere, for an afternoon of B2B sets between DJs like Netsky and SUB FOCUS. You can also catch DJ sets and dance parties on and offshore until the wee hours of the morning, such as a secret set by Fernet (Los Angeles’ famed Brownies & Lemonade co-owner) and world renowned hybrid DJ drummer Neon Pony.

My personal highlight was at Cloud 9, a floating bar that’s only accessible by boat or jet ski. There, music keeps the energy cloud-high while wood-fired pizzas and mojitos are passed around the deck to refuel those dancing feverishly. After one of those days where you can’t see where the color of the ocean stops and the sky starts and you’re jamming with all your new mates until the sun set over the Mamanucas… it was safe to say we had officially found heaven on Cloud 9.

things to do in fiji
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

Embrace island life with deep sea adventures, medicine walks, and kava ceremonies

In addition to the festival, there’s so much to do on Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands other than kicking your shoes off and never thinking about them again for the rest of your stay. As tempting as it may be to lay in the soft sand all afternoon, don’t be surprised if the boats call you out to sea. You could spend hours snorkeling with colorful fish before stopping at the Musket Cove Island Bar for a round of Vonus beers.

If you really want to get your adrenaline pumping, you could rent jet skis for the day, sign up for a scuba tour to dive deep in the waters surrounding the Mamanucas, go on a dolphin safari, or try surfing Cloudbreak, which is known as one of the most challenging and legendary waves in the world. If you’re not an experienced surfer, you can still join the crew onboard for a thrilling show as surfers attempt the treacherous waves.

There’s also a variety of ways to explore the island, like paddle boarding or kayaking around the peninsulas and into secret coves or hopping on a Bula bike to sightsee other parts of Malolo Lai Lai.

kava ceremonies
Photo courtesy of Your Paradise

Then there are cultural excursions. Musket Cove offers medicine walks where you learn about traditional Fijian plants grown around the island and their powerful effects on the mind and body. If you’ve ever wondered how to heal a hangover, this is for you. Guides also point out herbs like Totodro, Moli, and Layalaya that treat a variety of ailments like sore throats, asthma, stomach aches, sunburn, and more. The resort also offers the option to join the locals for palm tree planting, basket weaving, coconut husking, or a guided cultural experience.

And don’t board your plane back home before participating in a traditional kava ceremony. Kava ceremonies welcome visitors into local villages to celebrate important occasions and holidays by sharing a mildly sedative elixir made from crushed yaqona and water. The village chief opens the ceremony by presenting the root before passing around a cup filled with brewed liquid poured from a large communal pot. You may be instructed to clap once, shout "Bula!", and finish the kava in one gulp. The drink causes a numbing, relaxing sensation, but don't think that means you can show up in your bikini—appropriate attire is required if you want to attend.

“It’s the stuff of dreams really,” says Boginikua. “I could do that in Fiji. I don’t think I could do that anywhere else.”

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Abby Maddigan is the social media manager at Thrillistwho recently relocated to Denver and is accepting all local coffee shop recommendations. Follow her on Instagram.