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Local band expands audience with roots reggae music

by Hiro Ishimaru, staff writer


Ryan Reger, an HPU sophomore majoring in marine biology, wanted to experience reggae music at the Hard Rock Café, July 9, but she gave up trying to enter when she saw the long line at the front of the building.

“I was supposed to go, but there were too many people. If there had been fewer people, I would loved to go,” Regar said.


When the nine-piece Hawaiian roots reggae band Ooklah the Moc performed at the Hard Rock Cafe this past summer, the audience packed the restaurant. So tightly that the only open area was the stage, where some audiences later danced with the band.

Security officers did not stop them because no one complained and the audience was peacefully enjoying the music.

According to a dictionary Web site, roots reggae, affiliated with the infamous Bob Marley, includes elements of ska, American rock, Rhythm and blues, and pop music. It is considered the most popular and accessible form of reggae music (

The band does not play the music of such superstars as Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff. Finding a band that plays such music is hard. “Actually, we play a few covers, but we try to make it sound like our songs.” said the guitarist Asher Philippart, who was born in the Philippines and has lived on O‘ahu since he was six years old. “We try to capture the essence of the music we love, not copy the sound. Roots always come first.”

At the Hard Rock Cafe concert, the group played 20 songs from their albums.

The band consists of Ryan “Jah Gumby” Murakami, the band’s main song writer, on bass; John “Barrucus” Davis on drums; Asher Philippart on guitar; Gary Nakano on trumpet/flugelhorn; Tony Bush on trombone; and Brad Watanabe on keyboard.

The three vocalists are Jimbo “Ras Bird” LaPierre, “Sista Mickey” Huihui, and Nick “Kali” Navales.

“ Me and Asher and Ryan, we used to play in a hard-core band (in 1994). We started [hard-core], but that was like for a few months, and then we started roots reggae,” John Davis, who was born and raised on O‘ahu, said.

“ I was probably getting into this stuff [reggae] like Police when I was like 12. I listened to metal, even glam rock, like Motley Crue, and then Player, and Metallica…, actually more hard-core, and then I got into reggae.”

Davis explained how the group came to name itself. “We decided at the second parking lot in Manoa town,” Davis said. “We were talking about Thundarr the Barbarian.” Ooklah the Moc was a character in the early 1980s’ Saturday morning animated cartoon show, “Thundarr the Barbarian.”

Ooklah was formed in 1997 to play a mix of reggae and hard-core music.

Hard-core music took its roots from punk rock, but was largely adapted to North America suburban themes where youth were looking a way to express their frustrations and disillusionment with society (

Through three years and several changes, Ooklah came to play only roots reggae music reached its present nine-person lineup in 2000 (

In January 2001, Ooklah released its debut album, Ites Massive, a 16-song original roots reggae conglomeration. Philippart said, “The first album was named after a sticker made by our drummer John Davis. It doesn’t have an exact meaning. Ites takes after the Rasta word ital which means pure, but it is also a way of saying ‘heights’. And Massive can mean either really big or a tight group of people”. He also said, “So ites massive can be really high or ital community. But chose the name for the way it sounds, not so much what it means.”

Ooklah’s second album, Rearrange Your Positive, having 14-track, was released on March 24. This album was ranked first in KTUH radio’s new-world top 10 list on June 28. [KTUH is the University of Hawai’i’ radio station and Hawai’i’s only 24-hour, non-profit, non-commercial educational radio station] (

Additionally, Ooklah has tracks on the Quiet Storm Records compilation disks, Roots Music I and Roots Music III.

In its second album, Rearrange Your Positive, two new singers, Kali Navales and Mickey Huihui, debuted. Davis said the vocal trio made Ooklah’s music thicker than before.

When asked why he joined Ooklah the Moc as a vocalist, Navales, who was born in Manoa and raised in Aiea, Koloa, and Kaua‘i, said: “First of all, they were my favorite group,” said Navales. “I kind of grew up with them.”

“First time I saw them was at a party in Kahalu’u in high school days. [They] really struck me, and then I got to school at Kapiolani Community College, and the bass player, Jah Gumby, was in my guitar class,” said Navales.

Ooklah has played shows all over Hawai’i and finished its first tour of L.A. and San Diego in March. “We’re going to keep trying to go to the Mainland. It [the tour] was cool. It was good fun, good response,” said Davis.

“We’re planning [to perform in the Mainland] sometime in October,” said Navales.

Reger, other HPU students, and fans, will have the opportunity to see and hear the group as they continue to perform on the islands.


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