Various Artists: Aloha Got Soul: Soul, AOR & Disco in Hawai’I 1979-1985
With Aloha Got Soul, a previously overlooked, vibrant Hawaiian music scene finally gets its due.
The recent revitalization of vinyl within the broader public consciousness has not only seen the form once again become financially relevant within the industry, but also created a market for seriously deep crate digging on an increasingly global scale. With a select few coming to dominate their respective niche of choice, many then generously share the fruits of their labor either in the form of long-forgotten albums and artists granted new life or on one of the many compilation albums flooding the market. In the case of the latter, it seems each week brings with it a new, previously overlooked country or region’s take on popular American music styles.
From African funk to Japanese garage rock to Middle Eastern metal, it seems American pop music’s spread of influence has successfully permeated the whole of the world. And so long as there are those willing to go digging on an almost anthropological level, these musical refractions will likely continue to crop up for years to come. And now that the late ‘60s and early ‘70s seem to have been largely mined or at waned in favor, labels are snatching up increasingly obscure late ‘70s and early ‘80s recordings from all corners of the globe.
Recent compilations such as Favourite Recordings’ AOR Global Sounds series have seen the previously only ironically enjoyed genre rising in critical stature. Much derided by critics during its heyday, AOR, disco and its various subgenres dominated the American airwaves to the point of pan-global saturation, resulting in far-flung locales delivering would-be hits in the titular style. And while many of these tracks are genuinely good or, at the very least, solid approximations of solid American styles, it’s their slightly-off-yet-familiar tone that has led to their continued appeal.
With others long since having established themselves as the preeminent diggers of African, Middle Eastern and Asian obscurities, it fell to Roger Bong to begin cataloguing the scores of lost recordings made by Hawaiian artists working in then-contemporary mainland styles. Having established his Aloha Got Soul blog in 2010, Bong set about bringing to light the many lost should’ve-been hits languishing in obscurity throughout the state’s islands. And as with many similar like-minded individuals, Bong’s efforts proved so successful and popular that he was able to establish his own label to begin reissuing some of these lost classics.
Working with the obsessively curatorial UK label Strut, Bong and his Aloha Got Soul blog and label worked to compile what is being touted as the first definitive overview of classic contemporary Hawaiian soul (Mike Lundy’s “Love One Another”), AOR (Tender Leaf’s “Countryside Beauty”) and disco (Lemuria’s “Get That Happy Feeling”). Over a year in the making, Aloha Got Soul: Soul, AOR & Disco in Hawai’i 1979-1985 delivers just that. Where other collections sourced from the recesses of record bins across the globe tend to function with something of a freakshow appeal, Aloha Got Soul quickly dispenses any pretenses of these being pale imitations of their influences, establishing the scene chronicled here as one full of immensely talented, wickedly funky players who, given broader national exposure, would have been, if not household names, at least well-known within collector circles.
Having established their aim as one of cultural celebration, Bong and company have put together a gloriously celebratory collection of recordings from many of the island’s unheralded musical luminaries. By culling tracks from the islands’ full musical spectrum from the era in question and presenting them under a cultural, rather than stylistic, theme, the collection provides a holistic overview of the regions previously overlooked and surprisingly rich music scene. While only a handful explicitly reference the island or island life, the majority of these tracks could’ve been recorded in a major studio on either coast in period. So stylistically of a piece are they with their contemporaries that casual listeners would have a next to impossible time pinpointing their point of origin as anything other than the continental United States circa the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.
Even those that are undeniably Hawaiian in origin do not so much rely on the stereotypical notion of Hawaiian music, but rather lyrical documentation of life on the islands set against contemporary musical backing. Confined largely to album’s latter half, these tracks -- Nohelani Cypriano’s “O’Kailua", Brother Noland’s “Kawaihae” and Marvin Franklin with Kimo and the Guys’ “Kona Winds” in particular -- help establish a cultural context largely lacking in the collection’s more immediately musically and lyrically identifiable recordings.
That having been said, were it not for their overt lyrics, each would easily be free from any sort of contextualization. So seamlessly does Aloha Got Soul’s collection of tracks flow together one would be hard-pressed to find fault with anything here. Only “Papa’A Tita", performed by Chucky Boy Chock & Mike Kaawa with Brown Co., sounds as one would expect of music from the islands. And yet even this track retains elements that make it of a piece with the preceding, more mainstream sounding tracks.
In all, with very few exceptions, Aloha Got Soul offers a fascinating glimpse into a criminally under-documented and under-appreciated music scene rich with talent and possibility. As listeners, we should be eternally grateful for people like Roger Bong and the folks at Strut for making these previously obscure recordings available for broader consumption and, more than anything, appreciation. Aloha Got Soul, both the album and blog, are a welcome addition to the ever-expanding musical universe of our not-too-distant past.