A Look at Aloha Got Soul, a compilation of Hawaii’s soul, funk, and AOR music from the 1970s and 1980s.
Hawaii is one of the last places you think as a hotbed for the disco and soul movement, but next to New York City or Detroit, Hawaii is the exact spot that was a hotbed for soul, disco, and AOR. Aloha Got Soul’s Roger Bong has been a fan and collector for many years, throwing modern dance parties with ‘70s and ‘80s disco, AOR, and soul as a constant, while kicking out his rare collection of cassettes and platters. Digging through the vaults, Bong compiled what he thought were the most important 16 tracks to feature on this amazing historical perspective.
In 1959 when Hawaii gained statehood, so came the lounge scene that stretched into the 1960s. Past the Martin Denny craze and the tiki movement, the ‘70s through the mid-’80s saw an explosion of groups getting down to a more progressive musical stance with one common goal in mind—peace, love and luxury. Sunset parties and the aroma of polished platform shoes turned into late night dance affairs emanating from military clubs and the like. Large groups constructing Big Band escapades transformed into large groups adorned in bell bottoms, wide lapels, and stylized hair. Ohau saw a fast rise in the nightclub scene building up a reputation of now local legends and club folk tales coming from bars now abandoned, changed or extinct.
The white hot flame of disco and soul became the first non-traditional original genre to hit the islands. Before that, clubs were basked in the afterglow of Ragtime, Polynesian folk, and exotica. By the time the 1970s rolled around, Hawaii experienced a recording renaissance bringing about a scene of musicians that transformed rock, R&B, funk, AOR, and disco. Some of the hottest bands never made it off the islands. A few hit the States, but it was a rarity.
What this collection demonstrates is a vibrant genre fueled by modest diversity the bands possess. Here’s a breakdown:
The collection starts out with Tender Leaf’s “Countryside Beauty.” Considered one of Hawaii’s most sought-out contemporary LPs, Tender Leaf’s blend of soft soul and sweet-tongued lyrics takes us back to a time of easy conversation and glorious leisured enlightenment. Formed by Murray Compoc and Darryl Valdez, the band may have been short-lived—they only released this one DIY self-released album—but was important to the Hawaiin AOR movement. Compoc described his music as “laid back, easy listening. You know, stuff you would listen to at a gathering or just sitting around with some friends drinking beer.” When the band sings, “It’s a beautiful morning,” your mind gravitates to the warm hues of Tender Leaf’s hypnotic music. “Countryside Beauty” was the second song on the album.
Aura became the first local band to perform at Honolulu’s hottest nightclub The Point After. In the late ‘70s, siding more towards R&B than the disco fantasy we hear on “Yesterday’s Love,” the band got their big break as a mega group. When disco broke, the band had the staff to make something marvelous happen, all pointing towards Beverly Ann’s sparkly-nightlife vocals. “Yesterday’s Love” gives up the bedroom soul for a disco ball and meanders into soft psych jams the song trails off to.
The compilation bounces back to beautiful AOR (even though this band’s AOR movement now is one of the more rare finds, fetching a 150 dollar price tag on discography.com) and the late ‘70s jams of Aina (the word meaning “that which feeds us”). The music emits from blue-jeaned bell bottom serenades, but to me “Your Light” means more to the ‘70s Hawaiian continuum than Tender Leaf, although each having their own importance. Aina just takes more from the history of the region while being influenced by the likes of Steely Dan or Robbie Dupree. Aina’s song may be the biggest gem of this release.
Lemuria takes a musical shift from what has being explored on the comp with “Get That Happy Feeling.” Why Aloha Got Soul hand picked an instrumental instead of something like “Moonlight Affair” is uncertain, but it still gives us a look into an unprecedented Hawaiian band. Kirk Thompson’s music career dates back to his work with Don Ho at the age of six. Thompson may be better known for the band Kalapana, but Lemuria was a product of musicians living in Oahu just waiting to get their big break on the mainland. “When we left [for the mainland], I knew plenty guys who were just as good as Kalapana and just as hungry,” Kirk said in an interview with Bong. Guitarist John Rapoza was playing for local band Beowulf when he wrote “Get That Happy Feeling.” It carried over as Thompson snatched these musicians along with others up to form his super group as Lemuria clocked in at 18 members. Even though “Get That Happy Feeling” is not an exemplary example, the band went on to create an essential R&B album.
One of my favorite songs on the album comes from one of the more contemporary groups on the islands. Roy & Roe had a heavy hand in the local scene as Ed Roy engineered a hundred plus albums for Hawaiian musicians and David Rorick who was known for playing in hippie rock and country bands in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s helped formulate the original music scene in Hawaii. Being able to hand pick from a selection of talented musicians only fueled their creativity while the duo would capitalize on their own muse. “Just Don’t Come Back” stems from late night sessions that fueled the making of their album Roe & Roy. If there is one song you should take from this comp it’s the masterwork of these two.
The band that should be the poster children to all of this is the most historically convoluted. Hawaii has one of the best ‘70s logo designs that deserve to be on the side of a van. Nothing screams the 1970s more than Hawaii’s “Lady of My Heart.” Released in 1980, the song, I would hope, became an island anthem to sunset cruises and cliff side parking.
“He had this way of making people feel comfortable,” said Hal Bradbury’s former manager Yemun Chung. One of the ways Bradbury made people feel comfortable is through his soft-spoken crooning. “Call Me” is that ‘70s dream that made the girls swoon. Originally a member of The Fabulous Crush, later turned into simply The Krush, the early 1980s saw Bradbury’s greatest and most personal gifts, his solo album This Is Love. “Call Me” is the pinnacle of that release with simple, heart-felt lyrics from a humble entertainer. But it was a brave move on Bradbury’s part to leave one of the more successful Hawaiian groups (Fabulous Krush won the prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for album of the year and most promising artist) to pursue a solo career. Looking back, it probably was a horrible decision to his success, but his only solo album is the holy grail to the Hawaii scene of the time. This Is Love has it all from AOR, folk, funk, pop, soul and even reggae.
Spun off of the days when Tower of Power and Average White Band was ruling the airwaves, another holy grail of the Hawaii scene is Mike Lundy’s The Rhythm of Life. “Love One Another” blends more classic soul into Lundy’s rock spectrum and is one of the few people still active in the music scene and got a re-release through the Aloha Got Soul label. How does he reacts to the music he makes? “The easiest thing I can say is that I go very much inside myself. It’s almost like praying. It’s almost like that,” said Lundy in an interview.
When you hear Nova’s “I Feel Like Getting Down,” you want to pick it apart and hope the Beastie Boys sampled it at some point because the song is spot on. More goove-oriented power soul than most of the other Hawaiian bands out there, Nova is one of the great unheard disco funk albums. The magical spot to “I Feel Like Getting Down” is its organic presence and live atmosphere from the hand claps to the random cheers and woos. In an interview with Checo Tohomaso about the song: “I got inspired by Marvin Gaye “Got To Give It Up”, cause we got a bunch of people in the studio saying “Braddah, I got to get down!”. And I made it high school friendly, it goes “Been in school from 8 to 3, working hard on my basic skills,” you know? It’s a Friday night, you know. It was about not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing. It’s a good party album, feel good all around.Back then all those bands was positive: Kool & The Gang, Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire. It was all uplifting, it was all high energy. Still with EW&F, “Do You Remember”, everybody go crazy when that comes on.”
Moving back to more traditional Hawaiian means, Nohelani Cypriano combines ‘80s funk with the essence of her culture in “O’Kailua.” If you want a primer of why Cypriano was chosen as Hawaiia’s next superstar of the time, then listen to “Ihue.” But I can see how “O’Kailue” was chosen for this comp as she best capitalizes on the means of what the scene was like back then and how important it was to keep the island roots into a transcending musical environment. She is the pioneer of what is contemporary Hawaiian music.
Marvin Franklin is another artist who took cues from Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On album. Smooth, beachfront croons, starry eyes, Marvin Franklin With Kimo and the Guys is that late ‘70s smooth rock and “Kona Winds” serves as a barrier between Toto and Barry Manilow. Not as extravagant as other bands, but taking with him more of the Big Band croon philosophy and placing it in the context of its time, you may not find a better example of that.
What a better way to mark the departure of such an amazing compilation than with Greenwood’s “Sparkle.” The great nightlife beats, the sax solo that sends us to other dimensions, that power funk from the rest of the horn section and guitars; it all swirls with beauty. Greenwood got its start in the late ‘60s. Taking cues from bands like Chicago, the dominate brass gave way to more funk, soul, and R&B. By the time “Sparkle” came about, they were well experienced in creating allure and became the king of Hawaii’s discos.
This would have made for an excellent stopping point. But Bong threw in a couple extras from the sincere bedroom folk of “Kaho’olawe Song” from Frank & Teresa to the groovy cocktail luxurious and primarily instrumental of “Coast to Coast” by Rockwell Funkino. The song is as extravagant as being sent to sail onboard The Love Boat. Aloha!