Aloha Got Soul just got more fans in South America, thanks to the Brazilian black music blog known as coletivoACTION, which features rare groove music from around the world.
Back in October, blogger and graphic designer Raphael Morone contacted me with hopes of learning more about Hawaiian funk, jazz, and soul music. He wanted to add a Hawaiian mixtape to coletivoACTION’s impressive roster of mixtapes. I was more than happy to oblige!
The mixtape (click here)
Na última mixtape do ano na Action, inspirados pelo calor que está aqui na Baixada, chegamos chegando no paradisíaco Havaí e sua exótica e pouco conhecida cena black dos 70/80′s. Só que desta vez, resolvemos fazer diferente. Entramos em contato com o Aloha Got Soul, um dos nossos blogs de música favoritos, voltado para este tipo de som para entrevistar seu autor, Roger Bong…
(English introduction coming soon, check back!)
I don’t speak Brazilian Portuguese (you might not either), so I’m posting the interview in English here. In the interview, I share what I’ve learned about the 1970s and 1980s Hawaiian music scene. Plus, you’ll also find out how I first fell in love with Hawaiian rare groove music (I started Aloha Got Soul in August 2010).
coletivoACTION: In the blog, you said that the blog started after you listened the mixtape of DJ Muro’s. Can you talk a little about you and your passion and work for Hawaiian black music?
Roger Bong: I moved to Hawaii in 1995 when I was about 8. The island lifestyle surrounded me throughout my childhood and teenage years. In 2004, my friend brought his aunt’s records to my house and we started sampling music and making beats. At 16 years old, I became addicted to digging for records and sampled anything I got my hands on, from Jackie Gleason to James Brown. Over time I started looking specifically for jazz, bossa nova, prog rock, funk—building my collection with soulful sounding music, though I had no idea there was Hawaiian funk/soul music out there.
In fact, I borrowed the Mackey Feary Band debut album from another friend and loved it. I played “A Million Stars” on repeat for weeks. But that didn’t trigger me to search for more local music. I honestly didn’t care much about Hawaiian music at the time, I wasn’t interested enough to know more than what was already on the radio.
In 2006, I went to college on the mainland. As the years passed, I started to miss Hawaii more and more. Then, sometime in 2010, I heard DJ Muro’s Hawaiian Breaks mix. It blew me away! When “A Million Stars” came on, I immediately recognized Mackey’s voice and remembered playing this song on repeat years ago. With that single song, the seed that waited so long to grow finally broke the surface, and my passion for Hawaiian jazz/funk/soul was born.
How the black music scene started in Hawaii? We all know the reach and impact of the genre in the music, but in Hawaii, specially for us outside USA, is very unknown. Apparently, for the distance and the influence of the Japanese and Polynesian culture, it’s fantastic how these rhythms penetrate through the island.
I know this doesnt sound as romantic as you might hope, but Hawaii is just like any other place in the USA. We have the same access to music trends, so back then bands like Earth Wind & Fire became popular in Hawaii just as they did anywhere else. There are other factors, too. People are always coming to Hawaii, and I bet a lot of people who moved to Hawaii brought their records and knowledge with them. And there’s the Waikiki show biz scene, where locals play popular music to entertain tourists. No doubt a lot of artists were learning popular tunes of that era, whether it’s Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, or Marvin Gaye. Society of Seven is a prime example of this.
Another reason people don’t know much about Hawaiian funk and soul is that local artists hardly get exposure beyond the islands, so the music scene continues to remain something of a mystery for most people outside of Hawaii.
Of course, the artists have the advantage of adding homegrown tropical and Asian influences to black music, which is why some Hawaiian black music sounds much more laid back, in my opinion. But I think locals just wanted to party! And what better what to groove in those days than to funk, disco, or soul music? The reach and impact of black music in the 70s and early 80s didn’t skip over Hawaii, it hit right on target!
How the importance of Ron Jacobs and his KKUA Records in the scene? Was there any other local label that launched black music from hawaiian artists?
He was one of the most popular DJs I Hawaii at the time. He still broadcasts and blogs at whodaguyhawaii.com. I think the KKUA Home Grown series was the first massive effort to showcase upcoming talent in Hawaii, and one of its greatest successes is Nohelani Cypriano. She still performs “Lihue” to this day!
Off the top of my head, local labels that released noteworthy music include Paradise, Silvercloud, Shell, Heaven, and Rainbow. There were also a lot of private label releases with good music. I’m probably missing something here, though.
Did the Hawaiian language receive attention of the artists? Is there any track you can feature?
The majority of Hawaii’s residents don’t speak fluent Hawaiian. A lot of people know words like aloha, mahalo, mauka (mountain), malama (respect), so you’ll find more contemporary artists using short phrases instead of entire songs in Hawaiian.
But the artists really stand out to me are Brandon Bray, Chucky Boy Chock, and Brother Noland. Brandon’s “Ho’opili”, which I believe was covered by another musician recently. Need to check on that. His family was fluent and I believe his uncle or grandfather was a well known kumu (teacher). Brother Noland’s LP “Paint the Island”, which is a perfect blend of Hawaiian and English language songs with jazz and soul. I love his track “Le Ahi (The Diamond Head Song)”. And Chucky Boy Chock is one of my favorites, he brings an original perspective to contemporary Hawaiian music by blending both urban sounds and traditional compositions.
Why the scene have small attention of people with so much quality of the music created?
We’re stuck on an island! Haha. Not many people look to Hawaii as anything more than a vacation destination, so people don’t expect to hear Hawaiian music beyond ukuleles and steel guitars.
But with Aloha Got Soul, there aren’t really any other websites out there like it, so I’m hoping my work brings much deserved attention to the scene. Hawaii’s bred some of the best musicians on the planet, whether funk and soul or traditional island folk, and these artists need to be recognized outside of Hawaii.
Mackey Feary is a institution, can you comment the importance of him in the music of Hawaii?
Mackey, everyone knows his music here. He is one of Hawaii’s greatest, most talented songwriters, a legend. You might say Mackey is to Hawaii what Tom Jobim is to Brazil.
When the band Kalapana debuted, they crafted the perfect balance of contemporary sounds and island lifestyle. “The Hurt” was and still is one of the most popular songs, it was their first big hit. Kalapana gave Hawaiian music the fresh sound it needed in the modern world, and it would not have been possible without Mackey. His music was both fragile and heartwarming, catchy but not poppy, ernest yet hiding something else.
Unfortunately Mackey’s drug use brought him a lot of trouble. He committed suicide in 1999. The people of Hawaii were so saddened, hearts sank. His music filled the souls of everyone here and around the world, his legacy will carry on for a long time.
In the mid eighties, apparently, the scene stopped to produce like it was in the past years. Is there any reason for that?
Trends changed, tastes changed, time moved on. Club owners started hiring DJs instead of live bands–it was a lot cheaper to hire one guy than four or five. That said, I think a lot of the funk and soul groups saw this change as a signal to move on, they found less and less work, so maybe it was time to start thinking of a career. Some of the musicians who are reuniting these past few years haven’t played music in decades.
Also, Hawaii started embracing reggae around that time, which evolved into Jawaiian music, which was I think peaked in the 90s. Hopefully funk and soul music will find its way back into the popular music scene of Hawaii.
Is there any other artist actually that continues the legacy of Mackey Feary, Vic Malo and other legendary musicians of the island?
Not that I know of. Most of the music I hear on the scene nowadays is similar to the rest of the America: hip hop, electronic, indie music. And honestly, beyond Mackey Feary I don’t think many of today’s artists know of Vic Malo, Lemuria, Phase VII, Aura, Music Magic and others. That’s why Aloha Got Soul exists, so the music isn’t lost.
9) Do you have something to say that we didn’t asked but is important for our readers to know?
Aloha from Hawaii, obrigado!