When the two words Hawai‘i and music come together, the images in your mind might look like a romantic cliché — the palm trees swaying, the hula dancer and her hips, the vowel-heavy pronunciations of native language, all coalescing into the predisposed notion of what music from Hawai‘i is supposed to sound like. But over time, Hawai‘i’s music moves on and evolves from the islands’ rich history no longer fitting the stereotypes that fell by the wayside and into obscurity. Oftentimes it takes the fervor of a fanatic from elsewhere to raise awareness of what we have right here in our own backyards. This story takes much of its cues from that phenomenon.
Aloha Got Soul started off as a blog dedicated to uncovering obscure music from Hawai‘i. It all begins when Roger Bong, a homesick journalism major in Washington, came across a mixtape by the famous DJ Muro of Japan. The mix boasted songs of Hawai‘i that locals remember through foggy nightclub memories of a past era — the Hawaiian pop-rock-folk vibes of Mackey Feary and Nohelani Cypriano, sipping poolside drinks to Arthur Lyman at the Hilton Hawaiian Village or the hapa-haole style of Theresa Bright. This birthed the blog “Aloha Got Soul” and a dedication to learn of Hawai‘i’s rich and under-appreciated music past.
The journalistic side of Bong’s soul leaves him just as fascinated with the history of a record as the sound that it makes, although the sound is pretty important too. As the blog gained popularity, Bong’s affinity for local obscurities grew as well, pushing him to transpose his blog into a record label dedicated to re-issuing and revitalizing rare local grooves.
I met Bong while playing music at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum for Mori Art&Flea in late 2017. He and his wife Lei approached me wanting to partner up and possibly release music together. Aloha Got Soul, now known for local re-issue music, was looking to start producing new local music of their own moving into uncharted territory for the infant record label.
With Aloha Got Soul now churning out a new generation of music and re-issues, the label starts to hit its stride. Collaborating with Japanese companies like Beams and throwing DJ parties both domestic and abroad, the Bongs began gaining recognition for their discography and style.
With the record label setup and slowly but steadily gaining ground, Roger always fantasized about a brick and mortar space to call home base for Aloha Got Soul. Although an online presence seems to be the most cost effective, the psychological aspect of owning a physical store and having a hub was crucial for Bong. The label finally got its dream in a storefront in the McCully area.
Dubbed AGS, the record store located at 2017 S. King St., touts releases from Aloha Got Soul itself as well as obscurites from Bong’s own collection and that of local collectors that want to consign their vinyl. The store utilizes the relations Aloha Got Soul has made over the years to bring in vinyl that can’t be found within local channels. The shelves of AGS are particularly curated for the audiophile to breeze through the bins and find something to add to a collection every time you pass through the door of the shop. The problem is not whether you’ll find a vinyl, it’s what vinyl to choose from the stack you pull or if you have enough cash to buy them all! If you are ever in the area and in need of some audio therapy stop by and say hello. The shop is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
Nick Kurosawa is a writer and a singer/songwriter. He was raised in Mänoa and graduated from Chaminade University with a B.A. in English. As a soul-pop artist he has written and produced several original albums and is a music instructor (see nickkurosawa.com).