The Green raises the bar for Local Reggae
Oahu-based reggae band The Green came up with a novel way to open their latest album, “Hawaii ’13,” – by recording a group of school students performing a Hawaiian chant.
“We wanted to bless everybody who had the album and everybody who worked on the album and give respect to all the forces that made it possible,” The Green’s JP Kennedy explains. “It was an opening ceremony kind of thing. It was an original chant written by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a teacher at a Hawaiian immersion school in Honolulu. We were going to go there to do the last track, ‘Hawaii Aloha,’ with the kids, and then we thought about a chant and she had one. We try our best to express our love for Hawaii, its people and its culture. Reggae isn’t Hawaiian music, so we have to try and fit ourselves in somehow.”
These rising stars in the world of reggae music made history when they became the first local reggae group to reach Billboard’s major mainstream charts, with “Hawaii ’13” placing in both the Top 200 albums chart and Hot 100 Singles chart, besides debuting at No. 1 on the reggae chart.
Fans in the islands and beyond are especially attracted to The Green’s music for the positive vibes. You just feel good listening to their catchy songs.
“The whole point of reggae music is the uplifting spirit, and being in Hawaii, it’s what we grew up feeling,” Kennedy says.
On tunes like “Power in the Words,” they remind folks “to think about what you say” and avoid negative communication, while the rootsy “Stand and Rise” affirms better times ahead.
With four of the musicians sharing lead vocals, Kennedy, Caleb Keolanui, Ikaika Antone and Zion Thompson, the band also comprises bassist Brad “BW” Watanabe and drummer Jordan Espinoza.
Raising the bar for local reggae bands, along with creating infectious reggae grooves, they demonstrate a gift for crafting beautiful romantic ballads with the track “Chocolate and Roses,” which recalls the impassioned work of Frank Ocean.
“We’ve been waiting to release it for a while,” Kennedy notes. “We knew it had great potential, but it’s so different. It’s one of Caleb’s masterpieces. I think you’ll see more of that in the future, music that’s not totally reggae.”
Sometimes described as Hawaii’s version of Third World, they reflect the spirited energy of Britain’s Steel Pulse, to these ears.
“We’re huge fans of both bands and grew up listening to those guys,” says Kennedy. “My number one reggae band is Aswad, and I’m a huge fan of Jr. Gong Marley.”
Since their days in high school, the members of The Green have relished playing music. “Most of us grew up around musical families,” Kennedy explains. “Performing arts from a Hawaiian standpoint is everywhere with hula, luau, all kinds stuff, so we got into playing music with friends in school and forming little bands. A couple of the guys were in a band on the other side of the island and we ended up seeing each other at the weekends in high school. That had a lot to do with us realizing our dreams early on. We were part of a scene already so we could start our careers in a way.”
Both Kennedy and Keolanui are nephews of Manao Co. cofounder Danny Kennedy. “So even before we started jamming with friends, we would go to gigs with the uncles and hang out with them and try and get in the studio with them,” he continues. “After graduating from high school, I had a little studio set up in my room, and Ikaika and Caleb and Zion would come over, and different bands would be in my house. Then 2010 came, and it was, ‘OK, we (got to) do something for real,’ and we finished the (first) album.”
So what was it about reggae that hooked them? “We were all into it. It was the genre we knew most about, and we weren’t supermusicians who could play all kinds of stuff, we were playing reggae. We were getting respect and recognition from our peers, so we were validated in a way. People were always encouraging us. It’s only now that we’re getting really interested in other genres and doing other things. Back in the day, it was live and die reggae. Now we realize we’re fans of all kinds of stuff: James Taylor, country, Etta James, C&K and Kalapana. But when the reggae music hit us, we were in love.”
Right after releasing their debut album, The Green went out on tour with Maui’s Anuhea. “She got us to open her tour,” he recalls. “It was insane, 40 cities across the country. It was the hardest thing ever. We had on average about 10 to 20 people coming to see us. It was rough, and we lost a bunch of money.”
After strategizing with their management, they began an intense regime of touring, which gradually increased their exposure and fan base on the Mainland. “We toured for two years straight,” he says. “Our fans that we made stayed with us. And we had the opportunity to open for bigger bands. We did four shows with Damian Marley and his brothers. It was unreal. We opened for him in Hawaii a couple of times, but to have him ask us out on the West Coast was sick.”
For the future, it looks like The Green’s star power will continue to rise. “We’re trying to keep on improving,” Kennedy concludes. “We’re going on the road with Rebelution in the summer, and we’re going to do some stuff in Abu Dhabi with the armed forces, and we will head to New Zealand again. South America is a big market we’ve been trying to get into, so we might be there this year. A lot of offers are showing up.”
Chatting after performing at Willie K’s BBQ Blues Festival, Mick Fleetwood confirmed the rumor that Christine McVie will rejoin Fleetwood Mac. Already composing new songs, McVie will begin recording with most of the band members in March. Mick indicated that Christine’s rapturously received appearance with the Fleetwood Blues Band in the Castle Theater early last year opened the door for her return. The Mac will head out on the road again in the fall. No word yet if Hawaii is on the radar for shows.
Multi-Na Hoku Award-winning duo Hapa returns to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center to play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Yokouchi Pavilion.
Successive recording has cemented Hapa’s reputation for crafting superlative contemporary Hawaiian music. Among their recent works, “Uakoko” was dedicated to the late chanter Charles Ka’upu. And in December, the popular duo of Barry Flanagan and Ron Kuala’au released new CD, “Tuahine,” which includes covers of Matisyahu’s “One Day” and the instrumental “What I Love” from the movie “Just Go With It.”
Tickets are $30 standard and $45 for premium seating; visit www.mauiarts.org for details.
Blending Hawaiian chant and English lyrics with hip-hop’s gritty dance beat, Sudden Rush made their debut in the mid-’90s, creating a polished, urban sound on songs that explored topical Hawaiian issues like sovereignty, drug use and cultural pride. Guests on their brilliant ‘Ku’e” album included Keali’i Reichel, Willie K and John Cruz.
The Hilo-based band will make a rare Maui appearance Friday, playing LuLu’s Lahaina. See Events for details.
After playing with the New Riders of the Purple Sage at the close of the year, David Nelson returns to our island with his band to play a few shows at 9 tonight and Friday night at Stella Blues Cafe; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Iao Theater; and 5 p.m. Sunday at Maui Tropical Plantation.
Tickets for all events are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or at the Wine Corner in Paia.