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Aloha Got Soul

Aloha Got Soul
Words / Daniel Ikaika Ito
Photography / Mark Kushimi

Back to the Future.

There is something futuristically nostalgic about the music that record label Aloha Got Soul is into. It may seem oxymoronic to view their vinyl record releases as innovative, but the tracks selected by crate-diggers Roger Bong, Oliver Seguin and Cedric Bardwail are modern marvels attracting an international fan base. From rainy, old London, England to the sunny shores of Honolulu, Hawai‘i and everywhere in between, Aloha Got Soul is touching multiple people of various backgrounds with their signature sound, combining soul, funk, world and Hawaiian genres.

The heart of AGS is the music that was made in Hawai‘i during the 1970s and 1980s. Those decades are regarded as the Hawaiian Renaissance, a period of time that saw a renewed passion for the indigenous arts, culture and language of Hawai‘i by the masses. With this cultural awareness came music that has yet to be creatively replicated or eclipsed on a large scale in the islands. The songwriters from this era had deep messages with substance and a mainstream appeal. Bands like Cecilo and Kapono, Kalapana, Olomana and a handful of artists like Nohelani Cypriano and Mackey Feary started during that time and still have a loyal fan base to this day.

“What intrigued me about the music is that it’s different from what you typically think of as Hawaiian music, but at the same time it’s so familiar,” explains Roger Bong, who first started Aloha Got Soul as a blog in 2010 while attending the University of Oregon.

“It’s the tropical, laidback sound that anybody, no matter their age, from Hawai‘i or anywhere, can enjoy,” he explains. “It’s something you can listen to with your parents or even with your kids, if you have kids, and when you put it on it’s just going to be right, know what I mean?”

Aloha Got Soul isn’t a frivolous act of hispsterdom, on the contrary AGS started from a desire to document and digitize Hawaiian music from back in the day. As a kid growing up skateboarding in Mililani, Roger fell in love with making hip-hop beats. After high school while pursuing a journalism degree in Oregon he got homesick, and inspired by DJ Muro’s “Hawaiian Breaks” mix, began digging for Hawaiian vinyl records from the ‘70s and ‘80s.


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“I think back then there was just a shit load of people making music—like musicians everywhere. When I grew up there were skateboarders everywhere, that sort of thing,” explains Roger. “You’d play music and you were cool, but what I think separates that time from now is the caliber. For everybody who I spoke with that was in that era, their mission was to be the absolute very best they could ever be: technical-wise, creativity-wise, improvisation, everything!”

It’s crazy to think about the profound effect the Internet has had on the evolution of Aloha Got Soul. Perhaps, it was Roger’s eloquent prose that built the blog’s following. Or, it might have been the soulful groove of AGS’ mixes that captivated listeners. Most likely it’s a little bit of both that evolved Aloha Got Soul from a blog to a monthly event to an international record label. The World Wide Web connected Roger with Cedric who brought Aloha Got Soul to the United Kingdom where its fan base is constantly growing. According to Cedric, the European response to AGS is “overwhelmingly positive” and despite never meeting face-to-face Roger, Oliver and Cedric continue to share their music with the world.

“Heroes in the UK independent music scene including Patrick Forge, Floating Points and Gilles Peterson have given their support on current Aloha Got Soul releases, playing the Mike Lundy records to a massive audience,” says Cedric. “I’ve been invited by NTS radio hosts to play Hawaiian DJ sets and have a bi-monthly residency at Brilliant Corners for a ‘Soul Time’ party. Cult record shops such as Honest Jon’s and Sounds of the Universe have been excited about stocking the releases and discovering more about the Hawaiian music scene. We’ve also had strong interest in Europe and beyond.”

In March 2014, in a brilliant marketing move coupled with two cool-ass parties, Roger and Oliver in Honolulu, and Cedric in London, simultaneously launched their “Soul Time in Hawai‘i: Aloha Got Soul x Weekend West” mix. It was one nation under a groove, getting down to the funk of it, like a three-headed George Clinton spinning classic Hawaiian records for the masses. Given Hawai‘i’s history of idolizing the United Kingdom’s monarch, it was a really cool way for both nations to come full circle musically.

“Hawaiian music from the ‘70s and ‘80s is diverse and expansive,” states Cedric. “Despite this diversity there’s an island feel to Hawaiian music, which comes through in its production and instrumentation: its upbeat and carefree, music you’d want to listen to on a beach.”

“I’ve been a DJ for 19 years,” states Oliver. “There’s a lot of stuff that people have come out with as far as technology and that’s really dope, but I’m sticking with what I grew up on. I come from a hip-hop background and I love vinyl because I love blending the sounds of different vinyl that aren’t supposed to be mixed together […] taking music someone made in 1958 and blending it with a baseline from 1988. There’s something with vinyl where you’re time traveling and seeing what happened in each generation and their music scene.”

It’s amazing how the Internet was able to join the Aloha Got Soul trifecta and connect individuals from different backgrounds despite the distance between oceans. But, what’s even more astounding is how music, especially vinyl records, has the power to connect different periods of time in the present.

This feature can be found printed in Contrast 15