Keeping Aloha Alive: Checo Tohomaso

One of the greatest things in the world is seeing another human being smile. People expressing their happiness; just thinking about it makes me feel good.

They are in love with life—or at the least, that very moment in life. This simple expression sends waves of positive energy to everyone in sight, because to smile is to evoke mankind’s most lovable trait.

Checo Tohomaso loves to smile. He loves God, living a healthy lifestyle, music, his friends and family. But most of all, he loves aloha.

Checo Tohomoso at the Blaisdell

Meeting Checo for the First Time

I realized this with a moment of clarity as Checo and I said our goodbyes in the parking lot of a Waialae Zippy’s. I met Checo for dinner and an interview (which, by the way, proved difficult because you can’t talk much while eating!) just a few blocks east of the new Harry’s Music Store location.

Checo had been into Harry’s earlier to chat with old-time friends and in search of a keyboard rental for a friend’s wedding gig. He was in town for a week, visiting Oahu all the way from Canada, where he now lives and works as the leader of the Vancouver VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir director.

After a handshake and a hug and a friendly “keep in touch!”, we hopped into our separate cars. I drove off first, but as I passed Checo’s white SUV rental, he threw me a shaka with a big smile.

Checo Tohomoso at Zippy's near Honolulu

Checo Tohomaso and I met at Zippy’s on Waialae Ave. to talk about his band, Nova, healthy food, and Marvin Gaye.

Checo says “shaka brah!”

Keeping Aloha Alive

The realization was immense, but it had been there all along: Checo’s all about aloha. He knows that just like this soul music we love so much, the spirit of aloha needs to be nourished, cherished, and passed on to the people around us.

Aloha needs to be kept alive.

That’s what’s cool about Checo Tohomaso, a multi-instrumentalist/singer/composer who grew up in Manoa Valley, just minutes north of Honolulu and Waikiki. For Checho, aloha and feel good music go hand-in-hand.

Just give his music a listen. The uplifting mood, the positive lyrics, all of this pours from a single underlying drive: Checo loves making feel good music.

Nova, Obama, and Donald Byrd

During our very first conversation, an international phone call from Canada during a sunny day in Hawaii, Checo revealed that his band, the funky disco outfit named Nova, played at Barack Obama‘s junior prom in 1978 at Punahou School.

“Can you imagine that?!” Checo asked me. Indeed, I could vividly imagine Barry getting down to Nova’s irresistible groove. He’s that kind of President. And Checo’s got that kind of funk you want to smile and dance to.

Then there was Nova’s numerous gigs as the opening act for headliners at Honolulu’s Blaisdell Center, including trumpeter Donald Byrd. They also performed at places like The Point After and Sweet City Disco, military bars and boat cruises.

Nova performed with Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds (here, mispelled as "Nove").

Nova performed with Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds (here, mispelled as “Nove”).

The best part of it all, Checo told me, is watching everybody get down on the dancefloor when you play a song.

Nova, an obscure funk-disco outfit from Honolulu, 1980.

Nova, an obscure funk-disco outfit from Honolulu, 1980.

Getting This Music Out

I wasn’t the first to discover Checo’s eponymous Nova album, which turned up last year in the hands of my collector friend after sitting in a Salvation Army for a few days. (My friend saw it one day but passed on it, then saw it again another day and picked it up. Unbelievable!).

Mr. Tohomaso—whose name is incorrectly spelled “Checo Tohomas” on the Nova LP—explained that a Chicago DJ with Hawaii connections called him years ago in search of the artist. Apparently the DJ, whose name evaded Checo, had been spinning “Feel Like Getting Down” at dance clubs around the world, consistently receiving great responses from the crowd.

Of course it would, it’s the funkiest feel good track I’ve heard in a long time. (It’s also track 1 on the Hawaiian Mystery Mix.)

Barack Obama, an anonymous-yet-internationally-traveled Chicago DJ, opening for Donald Byrd, and what else, let’s see… Oh yeah: Checo was Marvin Gaye‘s percussionist on the influential soul singer’s 1980 tour of Europe, an engagement that survives today on YouTube and DVD.

From Manoa Valley to Marvin Gaye, I’d say that’s a life worth smiling about.

I’ll let Checo tell you more about his experiences in my next post, a full interview with Checo. For now, watch Marvin and company thrill Montreaux, Switzerland with “Got To Give It Up”.

Read more about NOVA:

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