Aloha can be interpreted as “sharing in the presence of the breath of life” — heady stuff, and open to varied arrangements such as “the joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or “joyfully sharing life”. It goes deep, but what aloha distills down to is connecting with the spiritual presence of one another as we exchange this shared space known as life.
I don’t recall exactly how I first encountered Momi’s music, perhaps it popped up on eBay while I was living in Oregon. I might’ve seen it around on some Japanese music blogs or something, and ended up paying $30 for a sealed copy. Cracked the seal and immediately fell in love with her music. Here’s what I blogged in 2010:
Momi (Diane Leimomi Riley) was about 23 when Borne was released. The album has been described as warm folk-psych, or even soul music. I’d say it’s roots are in jazz, with a touch of funk/psych and some reggae for good measure (see: “Lambsbread”). Despite the labels, Borne is one hell of an album. It’s heavenly, I mean, and outstanding for someone so young.
Momi found that blog post in 2015 and left a comment. I emailed her later that day, here’s what she said:
Aloha Roger! Your appreciation of my music is so encouraging. Mahalo! Yes, I’m still composing. I perform on special request. ‘m working on my 3rd album which will be solo, harp & voice, with new & previously recorded material, & videos as well. I have also been working on a book of poems & lyrics . I’ve also been painting canvases & building a Celtic harp. My boyfriend, Dougie, & I have been living in Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii for over 10 years… yes, a 5 – minute drive from where the molten lava was flowing recently. Not to worry. All is well. Mother Earth, giving birth. Where are you located?I will search out a copy of “Share the Light ” for you. Mahalo, Roger, for perpetuating the positive vibration. Me ke Aloha! Momi
“Mahalo for perpetuating the positive vibration.” These words beautifully capture who Momi is, a Big Isle harpist/singer whose poetic, original songs pull from jazz, Hawaiian, rock and folk music — but more importantly, her songs aim to perpetuate positive vibrations: Aloha.
“To perpetuate love, perpetuate aloha,” Momi said of her purpose in life. We were visiting her home on the Big Island in January 2017 while filming the Aloha Got Soul documentary. Her words were heavy, but not farfetched. We all believed what she told us: “I think music could save the world, and I think aloha could too. And together I think we can make it happen, because if you can conceive it in your mind and you believe it, then you can achieve it.”
When I think about what the world needs now, it’s two things: music, and Aloha.
We are fortunate to exist in a time when Momi is with us. I believe she exists on this Earth today to share with others her spirit, her energy, her words, her life, and her music. All of these things that she is and does are about the perpetuation of Aloha.
I’m not sure what could be greater than this.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Momi recorded two albums, entitled Borne in a Faint Streak of Light and Share The Light. She had been living on the mainland for some time, and decided to return to the islands to record these albums with full backing bands. She tapped into local talents like Kapono Beamer, D.J. Pratt (Kalapana), Kevin I., Brother Noland, Peter Hernandez, and Jerry Byrd.
The songs are a unique mix of Hawaiian, jazz, folk, reggae, funk, and rock. It’s not like anything else that’s ever come from Hawaii — at least, nothing exists to our knowledge can be used as a reference here. Momi is wholly her own. The back of her Share The Light LP explains:
“MOMI… a unique Hawaiian musician with an island sound. If unique is what you seek take a look!
Proud to be Hawaiian, Momi has joined with some of the finest musicians in Hawaii to weave for you a lei of songs, which vary from contemporary to traditional Hawaiian.
With much Aloha Pumehana, Momi presents this music… her way of sharing the light.”
In 2010 when I received that sealed copy of Borne in the mail, I was so enamored by Momi’s music that I put together a “mix” of sorts for YouTube. Have a listen a let me know what you think:
Within the context of Hawaii, what makes Momi unique is that nothing else sounds like her — not in the 1980s when she released her albums, and not now even when the world’s musical palette is more available than ever before.
Within the context of today, what makes Momi’s music more relevant than ever are her lyrics.
The message Momi brings through song remains as powerful as I’m sure it did in the 1980s — and in our world today where turmoil, tension, and distrust have overcome our lives day-in day-out, Momi’s words of wisdom, her sharing of the light, resonate more strongly than it might have since its inception forty years ago.
That’s why we’re extremely grateful for this opportunity to present Momi and her music, live on Saturday, December 2, 2017 at Hawaii Public Radio’s Atherton Studio. Purchase tickets here.
I get chicken skin thinking of what her performance will be like that evening.
We met Momi in real life for the first time in January 2017, at her still-unfinished home in Pahoa, Big Island. Her harp was resting peacefully in a soon-to-be-bedroom. She carefully rolled the harp into the living room area and gave us a private concert — just her voice, her harp, her songs, and her stories. She’s written at least 300 originals songs and poems to date.
Prior to our visit, I hadn’t imagined what her music sounded like solo. But strip away all the details that flavor her recordings — the punchy drums, the thoughtful horn arrangements, the funky bass lines, the flutes! — and what remains is a gorgeous literary and musical experience that elevates the spirit. Chicken skin music. Music of the heavens. In its purest state, Momi’s music is more angelic than anything I’ve ever heard from these islands.
This is when the thought occurred to me: more people need to hear her music, just like this —sitting in a room with Momi’s stories and music, everyone sharing in the perpetuation of positivity.
Pure, inspiring, angelic, Aloha. This is Momi.
In her home in Pahoa, she told us “musicians and artists and comedians become light gatherers because we walk through dark times — we all do — but to be able to express it is to let everyone know that you are not alone in this; we are all walking through some darkness.”
Momi Riley at the Atherton on December 2nd, 2017 — this be her first live performance in many years. This intimate performance brings forth Momi’s music in its purest form. Her lyrics and message are essential for the modern world we share today.
Join us in reviving a spirit that first flourished from the soil several decades ago, and now exists with the opportunity to inspire us today and for our future.
Pre-order tickets now — seats in Atherton’s studio are limited and go quickly.
We’ll see to it that every ticket purchase receives a free digital download. Join the Facebook event page for the latest updates.
We hope to see you there, sharing in the light of Momi’s music!