Thanks to the ohana over at coletivoACTION and Trip Magazine for translating my Top 10 article into Brasilian Portuguese and publishing it online here. A big mahalo to Hungry Ear Records for letting me use their record wall for the photo shoot, and thanks to Melanie Keppler for taking the photos.
Now, I present to you my Top 10 Hawaiian Black Music albums, in English. Enjoy!
Like Brazil, Hawaii is home to some of the most beautiful music in the world.
When people think of Hawaiian music, their minds fill with the gentle sounds of ukulele, lap steel guitar, double bass and slack key guitar. They imagine falsetto singers and hula dancers swaying with palm trees as a brilliant sunset fills the sky on Waikiki Beach.
This is Hawaiian music to most people around the world.
All these images are true to life. You’ll find traditional Hawaiian music performances in Waikiki any night of the week. But a lot of people don’t know about the B-side of Hawaiian music, the urban sounds that fueled Honolulu nightclubs in the seventies and eighties. Dance music of R&B artists like Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, and Tower of Power inspired a different kind of nightlife scene in the islands. People wanted to get down, and Hawaii’s newly appointed masters of groove brought some of the funkiest music ever heard throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
It’s time to rethink Hawaiian music. Here’s your introduction, brought to you by the Hawaiian rare groove blog Aloha Got Soul.
Top 10 Hawaiian Black Music Albums
1. Mackey Feary Band – Macky Feary Band – Rainbow Records – 1978
Mackey Feary is the cornerstone to contemporary Hawaiian music. Starting with the group Kalapana and later debuting his own band, Mackey invented a new sound of the islands, mixing soul, AOR, jazz, and rock to create music that fit perfectly with Hawaii’s breezy, laid-back lifestyle. Songs like “The Hurt” represent the local pop music sound of the seventies. Hawaii radio stations still spin “The Hurt” on regular rotation.
But Mackey’s discography runs much deeper. Start with his band’s debut album, Macky Feary Band, and you’ll discover quality rare grooves like “A Million Stars” and “You’re Young”. In my opinion, this is the quintessential Hawaiian black music album because it represents a musician who is pushing the Hawaiian sound to new heights, experimenting with jazz, funk, and soul. If there’s one place to start exploring Hawaii’s black music scene, it’s here.
2. Lil Albert – Movin’ In – Silvercloud Records – 1976 (?)
Movin’ In is one of those classic soul albums cherished by some but unknown by many.
The world deserves to hear Little Albert sing, his music is pure and powerful. For a small guy, he brings more than most singers with each performance: presence, charisma, and a voice like gold. Movin’ In features some of the best music I’ve ever heard, and the only person who could immortalize a track like “My Girl Friday” is Lil Albert. And that’s big.
3. Babadu – Babadu! – Hanaiia Records – 1979
If it’s sunny and soulful, it’s Babadu.
I call him the Hawaiian Stevie Wonder. Although his voice doesn’t sound exactly the same, his music is just as joyful and sensitive as Stevie’s. Many potentially great soul/funk albums fall short of extraordinary because the music lacks a message. Babadu, however, sings the praises of life, love, music and God. He puts the soul in soul music and inspires listeners to follow the eternal message of “live life to the fullest.”
4. Lemuria – Lemuria – Heaven Records – 1978
The word “Lemuria” means a mythical land of perfection. The Hawaiian group Lemuria implies just the same.
At the pinnacle of black soul music stands Lemuria, whose only recording mystifies listeners with each spin. Can this really be music from Hawaii? Yes, it is. Words can hardly describe the incredible sound of this album, but the one perfect word for this effortless mix of funk, gospel, and rare groove is written on the cover: Lemuria.
5. Aura – Aura – FMI Records – 1979
I don’t know how it’s possible, but the debut LP by Honolulu’s brassiest bands—just listen to those horns!—apparently failed to capture the brilliance and power of Aura’s live performances (as entertainment writer John Berger once wrote).
But regardless of what the local critics have written about their first and only LP, I can say whole-heartedly that Aura recorded Hawaii’s heaviest funk albums ever. With two sisters singing lead vocals, this family band goes down in history as one of Waikiki’s most legendary dance acts—they could blow audiences away with the biggest brass sound the islands ever heard.
6. Nohelani Cypriano – Nohelani (aka Around Again) – Hanaola Records – 1979
Everyone who finds their way into Hawaiian rare groove music knows the track “Lihue”. It’s one of the best cuts of the era. In fact, Karriem Riggins included Nohelani’s classic dance track in one of his mixtapes.
Great music survives the test of time, and Nohelani’s debut is an testament to the exceptional talent bred in Hawaii during the 1980s: a solid R&B and funk release with a clever blend of disco and Hawaiian sounds. An instant classic.
7. Vic Malo – Vic Malo – Mataele Records – year unknown
Listening to Vic Malo’s self-titled album, you can hear his mastery of composition with every song. Track after track, Vic proves his genius. And his voice is real sexy, too. Vic’s career brought him local fame and lots of women from what I’ve heard. His friends call him an inspiration, and his music is nothing less than remarkable.
A lot of showroom singers fail to impress record collectors with efforts like this, but Vic Malo succeeds but his music is earnest, his voice is powerful, and his songwriting is captivating. No wonder so many women fell in love with him!
8. Phase 7 – Playtime – Broad Records – 1980
If you went clubbing on any given night during the early eighties, chances are you went to see Phase VII, the hottest Honolulu R&B group out there.
Phase VII was known for its hip horn section, but their on-stage rapport was just as entertaining. Good thing Playtime preserved those funny interludes, because while bringing people the funkiest grooves of the day was important, making the audience laugh positioned Phase VII as the best entertainers of their time.
9. Mike Lundy – The Rhythm of Life – Secor Records – 1980
Some of the best funk albums ever recorded out there can’t touch this obscure Hawaiian joint.
Masterfully executed in composition, arrangement, and musicianship, The Rhythm of Life is a holy grail of Hawaiian black music. Every song immediately captures your attention, crafted with extreme care and loaded with tons of funk. Some might call Lundy’s LP genius, Mike himself calls it the sound that comes from the soul: the rhythm of life.
10. Hal Bradbury – This Is Love - Fan Records – 1980
The first time I heard “You Win, I Lose”, Hal Bradbury’s voice soaked into my skin with a groove so finessed, I swore this was all I needed for the rest of my life. I’m not exaggerating—this simple, innocent ballad has my head nodding every time, my needle dropping back to the beginning every time I put it on the turntable.
Sometimes music works that way: it creeps into your life unexpectedly, yet you welcome it in with eagerness to learn another human being’s story of love. It’s a beautiful story, told through some of Hawaii’s smoothest soul tracks ever recorded to vinyl.
11, 12, 13 and beyond…
This top 10 list is by no means concrete. I’m constantly discovering music from Hawaii’s past. Along the way I find new favorites, albums and singles that have been lost to time.
I’m eager to revive this music for others to enjoy, and I will continue to share them with you on Aloha Got Soul.