Mantis were a psych funk rock band from Suva, Fiji.
The origins of the band go back to the late 1960s and the nightclub scene in Suva. The Fijian capital’s first and most popular nightclub was the Golden Dragon. Its resident band was the Dragon Swingers. They proved a fertile breeding ground over the years for some of the country’s finest musicians, including jazz guitarist Tom Mawi. Among them in the early 1970s was another brilliant guitarist and the band’s musical leader, Waisea “Wise” Vatuwaqa, lead singer Ken Janson, bassist Joe Heritage, keyboardist Ronnie “Paspatu” Sammuel, drummer Paul Stephen and his cousin, percussionist Rupeni Davui.
In 1973 band arrived in Wellington, New Zealand and were signed by Polygram. Their only album, recorded at the EMI Studios by Ed Morris, and released later that year on the Vertigo label was an instant classic - honed by countless hours playing funk and soul in Suva. An irresistible blend of originals (notably the epic Island Suite) and covers (including material by Mountain, the Wackers and Jo Jo Gunne), the album appeared in tiny quantities and became one of the most valuable records ever recorded in New Zealand on the international collectors’ market. Now called Mantis, the band quickly secured gigs at a range of Wellington clubs.
Although they were playing and recording and getting regular wages, some in the band who had left wives and loved ones in Fiji were getting homesick. So they returned to Fiji less than six months after arriving in Wellington, shortly after the recording of the album and following the end of their visa extension. This essentially saw the end of the band with the various members going their separate ways. Beyond Mantis, all continued to play music and most were involved in other groups that performed for many years in Fiji, in the process influencing many local musicians.