The Meaning of Soul: MJ, Dilla & Kanoa of Gomega

What is soul? It’s hard to pinpoint, even when so many artists past and present have given Soul an everlasting place in music. “Soul can mean anything, depending on who you’re talking to“. True. But can a single song be so soulful that it demands further interpretation from artists across the music spectrum? I believe it.

Jackson 5’s “All I Do Is Think Of You” laments with such generous amounts of bittersweet compassion that any listener should feel chills when hearing this song. It’s not just Michael Jackson’s wailing, heartfelt voice, or the swaying orchestration, or the synthesizers that sound so…human. There’s an essence of soul that cannot be described with words.

That essence was successfully rechanneled by the late hip-hop producer Jay Dee, who released the song “Time: Donut of the Heart” on his album Donuts just before his death. Donuts introduced me to Jay Dee, aka J Dilla. Every song sounded like it was his last breath, a final letter to his loved ones. It was a solemn, brutally candid record. With “Time: Donut of the Heart,” Dilla rubs heavy doses of love with a simple loop and precisely timed vocals by the Jacksons.

By chance I heard Kanoa of Gomega’s “Loving You” while browsing new Hawaiian artists on Kanoa of Gomega is musician Kanoa Kukaua, who sang and played most of the instruments on his album Makin Thru the Breakthru.

Unlike the tribute cover by Korean band Bullssazo, Kanoa Kukaua extends Dilla’s chorus-like loop to a full song with bridge. “Loving You” lightens the mood previously left by Jay Dee and MJ, which is a good thing—without Kanoa, I’d be constantly on the verge of tears while listening to these songs.

Soul music is founded in its ability to move us from deep within, and these artists have found their own way of doing just that.

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