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Reggae strong influence on island music

by Hiro Ishimaru, A & E editor

Mona Warsame Faran, an HPU senior majoring in psychology, saw local people get wildly excited at Lucky Dube’s recent reggae concert at Kapono’s in Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Faran, who is from Somalia and who has lived in Sweden, likes all kind of music, had never heard of Dube until she moved to Hawai‘i, and discovered reggae on the radio.


Faran said reggae is more popular in Hawai‘i than in Sweden. “People in Hawai‘i, have a lot of opportunities to listen to reggae or Hawaiian reggae on the radio and see those concerts,” she said, referring to Dube’s performance.

Dube, who is from South Africa, is one of Africa’s most popular reggae stars. He performed a three-island tour in October, starting on O‘ahu. “Dube’s concert was very successful for everybody,” said Henry Kapono Ka‘alhue, who operates Kapono’s, and is a popular musician in his own right. “We, all the audience, got our money’s worth. It costs a lot to bring someone of [Dube’s] stature to the people, and if the people, don’t come the way they did, then everyone loses.”

People in the local music scene said contemporary Hawaiian music has a strong connection to reggae. “I have become a big fan,” Kapono said. “I am more a big fan of [Dube] because he is a very spiritual and sincere man and a professional artist.”

Faran attended a big reggae concert by the Marley brothers—Damian “Jr. Gong,” Stephen, and Julian—and The Ghetto Youth Crew with Daddigan, Capleton, Bounty Killer, and Yami Bolo at the Waikiki Shell in 2001.

Many contemporary Hawaiian musicians perform reggae music by Bob Marley, a superstar who died in 1981, or Jimmy Cliff, who is the first superstar of Jamaican music. Cliff performed a three-island tour in 1998.

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s breakthrough album, Mr. Marley, hit big in Hawai‘i on the strength of the Marley Boyz, which were managed by Stephen Marley. The album includes remakes of several of their father’s songs and Damian’s musical calling card—“Me Name Junior Gong.” The song was a hit locally, along with “One Cup of Coffee” and “Now You Know” from Julian’s debut album.

Carolyn Isidro, who works in Hawaiian music at Ala Moana Tower Records, said reggae is popular in Hawai‘i because of the islands’ lifestyle. “We are separated from mainland,” she said. “There is no rush here, and we have a lot of positive influences from Jamaica.” Isidro was born in Hawai‘i and played music with a band at James Campbell High School, in Ewa Beach. She has worked at Tower Records for eight years.

“ People who live in Hawai‘i, like reggae music, because, I think, reggae is island music and Hawai‘i is islands, Jamaica is an island,” Faran said. Growing up in Somalia, Faran listened to Marley’s music. “Bob Marley is my favorite reggae singer,” Faran said. “He is the best, even though he died a long time ago. His music is still modern and alive.”

“Bob and Jimmy are great artists and have great music,” Kapono said. “I listened to reggae from 1972 when the film The Harder They Come was first released, and that changed my life.”

The film starred Jimmy Cliff and introduced reggae music to the world. Last shown at the Hawai‘i Theatre in March 1997, it tells the story of the challenges faced by a young reggae musician from the Jamaican countryside who comes to the teeming, shantytown slums of Kingston to pursue his dream of making music.

Kapono said Hawaiian reggae plays a very small part in his life, because it is a fad and doesn’t have the depth that reggae has. He said a Hawaiian reggae band called THC (The Hearticle Crew) is probably the closest to reggae roots, and they do it very well. “They just need a front man. I think they could be big,” he said.

THC, a quintet—Isis (bass), Maakah (keyboards), Drummie (drums), Poppa E (keyboards) and Binghi T (guitar)—that has been together seven years, is one of the rare reggae bands in Hawai‘i. The band’s music calls for peace and unity among mankind, and warns against materialism.

Reggae is “world music” these days, and THC reflects the cosmopolitan appeal of the music and the message beyond its origins in Jamaica, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (July 22, 1999).

The band backed international reggae star and legendary musical pioneer Mikey Dread at Don Ho’s Island Grill in the Aloha Tower Marketplace Nov. 21. It also performed with him for 2001’s Bob Marley Tribute Concert at the Blaisdell Arena.

“ In my opinion, Hawaiian music has changed greatly in the past 10 years,” Isidro said. “There are a lot of new artists on the scene that mix the traditional music with the reggae beats to make the Jawaiian music tracks.”

Lina Girl, a DJ at KCCN radio FM 100 on Fort Street, and a reggae fan, said she loves reggae, and Hawai‘i has a strong reggae base.
Joaquin “Quino” William McWhinney, lead singer and sole remaining founding member of the American reggae band Big Mountain, recorded a Hawaiian album, Mahalo, with Kapono, in 1999. Big Mountain had a concert at Kapono’s in January 2003 and recorded an album, Reggae Remakes—Covers in Paradise, in July.

“ I happen to know them personally, especially Quino, and they love the vibe the islands have and the people,” Kapono said.

Jason AKA Pipi, also a DJ at KCCN, summed it up: “Hawai‘i wouldn’t be Hawai‘iwithout music,” he said.

Born and raised in Ewa Beach, Pipi has been a radio DJ since 1998 and now is the DJ of Morning Jam every day. “Reggae music, Jawaiian music, local music, island music, Hawaiian contemporary music, whatever you want to call it, that type of music makes you feel good, and that’s the right type of music,” he said.


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