Roger Bong, founder of Aloha Got Soul, has evolved decades of curated tunes into a library of musical diversity found only in the Islands.
Roger Bong has soul for eternity and vinyl for miles. After blogging for five years about rare and obscure ’70s and ’80s music of Hawai‘i under the moniker Aloha Got Soul, Bong flipped that blog—a collection of mixed tapes, reviews, and stories about underground artists and out-of-print music—into a record label in 2015. Today, Aloha Got Soul curates a library of eclectic albums from Hawai‘i artists that span the genres of vintage, modern, progressive, alternative, island, funk, R&B, and, of course, soul music. From relatively unknown to international reach, Aloha Got Soul is giving Hawai‘i artists new life on the turntable.
OluKai: Aloha Got Soul is a great name. How did it materialize?
Roger Bong: Aloha represents the culture in Hawai‘i. It’s so mixed, so varied, and so diverse. Despite this intense diversity, we all get along and live in harmony together. It’s achieved through the respect we share for one another, which can be defined in one word, aloha. The soul part is something that has substance, meaning and value. If you put the two together, Aloha Got Soul is a mixed group of people coming from all different kinds of backgrounds who are creating something meaningful, timeless, and impactful. A lot of people think that the label is just one type of sound because of the word “soul,” but soul is deep. And it’s just like aloha—it’s very deep. Yeah, the two go well together, hand in hand.
What’s your process for curating the artists that you promote?
I think curation is having a vision and finding ways to promote or further that vision. By no means is curation an end all or be all. It’s a point of view from someone’s particular perspective or vision. I look for the underdog—lesser-known or underrepresented artists—and give them a voice and a platform in the modern age. Aloha Got Soul has a global reach, and we want to open that up to the people of Hawai‘i who are making music and give them opportunities to reach a wide audience and to define their own identities. That’s really important. We’re in the middle of the ocean and people’s perceptions of Hawai‘i can be very narrow, and so we want to work with artists who are ready and willing to define themselves and define their part of Hawai‘i that makes the most sense to them.
I think it all goes back to record collecting. When you’re digging for records you have to be discerning. You have to know a little bit about what you’re looking for, and about who is involved in the kind of music that you’re looking for. You’re drawn to artwork that catches your eye, you make some bad choices, but sometimes you stumble upon some really good and interesting finds just based on that gut feeling on top of what you’ve come to know so far.
Tell us about the music scene in Hawai‘i right now?
There’s a groundswell happening in music that’s outside the popular scheme of things. I’m seeing a lot of the artists that we’ve worked with collaborating and creating new stuff together. And there are artists who are coming out of the woodwork, who feel inspired by what’s happening around the music scene in general. There are definitely ups and downs in Hawai‘i’s music scene. It comes in waves. It’s a very small community, but I think right now is a particularly interesting time with more artists experimenting, collaborating, and pushing each other. We’re trying to feed off of that and do the same thing with the label.
Is the label succeeding in helping your listeners understand the broader diverse culture in the islands through the diversity of the music you offer?
Oh yeah. I think we’re in this position now where we can contribute to the conversations that are happening about Hawai‘i outside of the islands. Now we have a responsibility to challenge people’s perceptions of what Hawai‘i is. The physical distance that separates us from the rest of the world makes it hard to come out here and truly sink your feet into the culture.
You work side by side with your wife, Leimomi. What does she bring to the turntable?
We do everything together and are always bouncing ideas off each other. I might be more on the logistical side of things, putting releases together, contacting artists, tracking down producers or licenses, and Lei very much sees a bigger picture, a broader scheme of things, like where we might be in five years or how we can redirect our path to reach a wider audience. Our aesthetic is very similar. We both share the same feeling of what works well with Aloha Got Soul, whether it’s music, merchandise, events, or artwork that we’re designing for a release.
Tune in to our Spotify playlist curated by Roger himself!
Roger Bong's choice of sneaker:
Mōno proprietor Dean Song has an eye for utility and design.
Wallets and clutch purses from Japan are artfully displayed on handmade wooden shelves against white walls. A Taiwanese stationary kit with forged scissors and hand-lettering sheets is displayed on a small mid-century modern end table. Bento boxes from Japan, colorful backpacks from Sweden, and mugs and bottle openers from the U.S. adorn other simple spaces at Mōno, a small design goods boutique in Honolulu. Hawai‘i’s modern culture is an amalgam of Eastern and Western cultures—a melting pot of food, music, art, fashion, and lifestyle—and Mōno is its manifestation. Owners Dean and Cassy Song curate high-quality, everyday necessities with design aesthetic and functionality from Japan, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. Whether it’s stationary, office supplies, homewares, or personal accessories, Mōno is informing Honolulu’s modern and diverse lifestyle, a blending of bests. We checked in with Dean Song about his favorite little things from Mōno.
OluKai: What types of utility and inspiration do these well-designed, small things bring to people's lives?
Dean Song: Mōno is focused on small design goods to improve your home, office, or lifestyle. I feel that people associate certain objects with memories of places, people, or experiences. This could be a reason why people get attached to an item or product. One of my favorite principles from Dieter Rams is: “A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.”
When did you begin to appreciate the concept of design thinking and well-designed goods?
Growing up I remember my mom’s Marantz sound system. It was beautifully designed and it sounded amazing. I think that might have been the start for my appreciation for well-designed things. It had all the elements that I look for in good design—equal parts of form and function. Yes, it permeates beyond the items I carry at Mōno. I try to follow Dieter Rams principles, not only in the products I create or curate, but also in my lifestyle.
It feels like there’s been a shift in in urban Honolulu to embrace smart design and quality. Why do you think this is trending now and how does it blend with an island lifestyle?
I think it’s because these items are becoming more accessible to us now. Whether it be through finding inspiration on social media, the Internet, or local shops and creatives, I feel people in Hawai‘i have started to take notice and appreciate the allure of clean and modern design. In my opinion, it fits well with tropical urban living because it gives a nice balance of traditional and modern design. It’s hard for me to say what has influenced this trend, but I do hope that Mōno has made a small impact. We’ll continue to do what we do and we’ll try our best to influence this lifestyle through our products and store.
When something is handmade or hand crafted, does it elevate that item?
I feel that it does elevate an item or product. When a piece is handmade or handcrafted, it makes it that much more special. It becomes something that can’t be duplicated. You probably could get close, but it will never be exact. I feel that having that one-of-a-kind piece makes a person appreciate an item or product even more.
For someone new to the world of well-designed, small things, what are your five must-have picks?
I would pick these 5 items: MD Notebooks from Midori, Horizon Pens from OHTO, Hasami Porcelain Mug and Wood Lid/Coaster, Round Analog Clock from Braun, and the Pencil/Storage Case from Yoshida Porter.
Dean's choice of Nalukai:
Matthew Dekneef, managing editor at Nella Media Group, is sharing the hopes, dreams, and struggles of the people that define Hawaiian culture
At Nella Media Group, a multi-media company specializing in Hawai‘i lifestyle and visitor-industry print publications, managing editor Matthew Dekneef has his finger on the ever-changing beat of Hawai‘i culture. He has created a vivid channel to amplify Hawai‘i’s voices and share its many perspectives through robust storytelling. Dekneef is inspired by the humanity of Hawai‘i, the stories and voices that form the emotional narratives that live next door to the contextual facts and figures of traditional journalism. Through collaboration and a deep respect for the unheard and underrepresented, Dekneef curates compelling stories grounded in Hawai‘i’s rich history, stories that testify to the strength of diversity.
OluKai: People from all over the world write about Hawai‘i and its people. How does your local perspective differ from those other voices and what does that bring to story?
Matthew Dekneef: I’m very interested in communities and people that are underrepresented, feel invisible, or are portrayed differently in mainstream media. If you’re born and raised in a place, you just come with a different perspective and a different approach to storytelling in that place than someone that is new to the place. There are hundreds of ways you can tell the same story, but I’m only concerned with telling it in a way that hasn’t been told, or focusing on an angle that hasn’t been exposed. I’m trying to get as deep as possible or in terrain that hasn’t been explored.
As an editor, how do you develop your story lines?
Basically, I identify people, communities, places, and creatives, just interesting points of view and perspectives about the islands—what it means to live here, what it means to have a family here, what it means to be an artist, chef, or writer in Hawai‘i. I’m really interested in the humanity of Hawai‘i and what that looks like, what that sounds like, and what that feels like. As far as editing is concerned, my role is to find a place for those voices and those stories to be heard and to be visible. I’m always on and everything is timing to me. We’re constantly following up with people over the course of a year—I’m a really patient person—or we’re working with a photographer to see what areas of the island or communities they are interested in. My creative process is just remaining interested all the time.
Do you draw on the past to inform your perspective for current pieces that you’re collaborating on?
I’m very drawn to and curious about how the generations before us experienced Hawai‘i. I draw comparisons from the universal storyline between all the people that came before us and how they perceived certain subjects and their environment. I look for the commonalities and the differences and reconcile the two. Then I filter that in a way that makes sense for today, bringing in my own feelings. There’s a degree of nostalgia to it that’s always kind of fascinating to me. Hawai‘i is in this constant state of change all the time, so I like to ride all those different waves and figure out where we are in the whole scheme of it.
You have a penchant for exploring native Hawaiian stories and disseminating those stories to a much larger audience. What is it about Hawai‘i that captures your interest?
Hawai‘i’s greatest strength is its diversity. The people living here express so many different points of view, and not just all the great things, but all the struggles that people have, too. My stance on curation in this field is not along a spectrum of what’s good and what’s bad, and it’s not necessarily anything to a taste level. It’s collaboration. It’s talking with local writers, photographers, designers, and seeing what excites people or what starts a conversation. It’s also recognizing what kind of language people use when they’re discussing certain subjects.
What drives the message home, words or images?
I want Hawai‘i stories to reach as many people as possible. I’m very drawn to the potential of something. How far can we take it? What boundaries can it cross? I think the content that we produce here is very visual because the visual component is very inspirational. The relationship between words and images tells a well-rounded and rooted story. I’m always thinking about the relationship—the dichotomy or the interplay—between the two.
Matt's choice of Nalukai:
Every morning, over 450 guards of the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association wake up with a mission to maximize safety in and around the ocean. These brave men and women face extreme conditions to protect their coastal communities, which is just one reason we’re proud to outfit these heroes with footwear built to their needs. From the slick rocky outcropping around Hanauma Bay to the 25 foot swells of the storied North Shore, these sandals and shoes support any situation the guards encounter.
OluKai is proud to give back to the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association financially and with a donation of product to every single lifeguard. In July, armed with thousands of shoes and slippah’s we hit the beach to outfit the guards with the tools necessary to train and save lives. To celebrate the guards and honor their service, we sparked up the grill and cooked up a tasty barbeque on each island - O’ahu, Hawai’i Island, Kauai, and Maui, uniting friends and family in every district. The opportunity to talk story, get feedback on product and hear how the lifeguards put it to the test everyday enables us to make the best shoes and sandals in the world for the conditions they face.
Wrapping up the series at the Ocean Safety Conference and Jr. Lifeguard State Championship in Kauai, we are humbled by the opportunity to outfit the men and women who risk their lives for the safety of others.
For more on the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association and the footwear collection click here.
Hawaiian-language experts are working to preserve a centuryʻs worth of history locked in Hawaiʻi's Native-Language Newspaper Archive. We got exclusive access to the archives, thanks to our ʻohana and advisor on this project, Kamuela Yim. The archives contain thousands of newsprint pages, some dating to over 100 years back, that contain the history of the culture as documented by Hawaiian's. These archives could hold the key to a more sustainable future by looking back at a time where Hawaiʻi was fully reliant on home-grown resources.
Sailing the sunny skies from Kualoa to Haleiwa, Team OluKai embarked on this year’s Annual 2-day wa`a (canoe) race, though this year served an unanticipated challenge. Handedly winning the first day of the competition, the 6-man crew took an early lead Day 2 with mirrored mental focus and refreshed physical stamina. However, adversity quickly found Team OluKai in the form of an incongruent, ravaging wave dealing severe damage to their ama.
Quickly recovering sound structure to their ship, the crew found themselves bumped to sixth place. Thankfully, in the sport of outrigger canoeing concentration and strength alone don’t earn you the lead, synchronicity is the deciding factor. Hand to paddle, one crew member said, “we pull together and finish the race.” Without hesitation, all members of Team OluKai paddled harmoniously back to competitive standing, passing each boat that had cruised by during their skirmish with the ocean.
Nearing Kahuku Point, the team utilized shifting wind patterns to keep the bandaged ama out of the water, a tactic deservedly placing them back in their original first place position. Kawela Bay, Kaunala Stream, Sharks Cove and Waimea Bay were practically the only obstacles in their way. In most cases, the trade winds would push the canoe straight to victory at Haleʻiwa finish line; however, sailing down wind was not the case for Team OluKai. The crew anticipated that the downwind push would re-level the boat, dragging the unsteady ama through the currents and wrecking it once again. It was too risky to compromise such a crucial part of the wa`a, so the six men quickly adjusted their weight distribution and realigned their sail according to more suitable wind patterns. With the second place team gaining way, these necessary concessions immediately bumped OluKai out of their first place position.
Having already overcome one major setback and consistent conflict, the team squared their vessel on a starboard tack and reharmonized their rhythm, which allowed them to quickly retake the lead and win the race.
Team OluKai steersman Mike Field had this to share: “Winning this race, given the constant challenges, was beyond sweet. The crew responded to each challenge in the moment and “in sync” with each other and the canoe. What could have been a disaster turned into the most satisfying experience.”
“In winning, we were given the Ka’au Mckenney Award. Ka’au was a dear friend to all of us Ocean Athletes, he died tragically at Makapuu Lighthouse in 2011. I am extremely grateful to my crew and the people at Olukai for believing in us.”
In a three-part series with Surfer Magazine, we explore Hawaiiʻs rich surf culture and history through contemporary Hawaiians who are keeping their style and legend alive.
The first short film features Cliff Kapono, PhD., a Hilo Native who reflects on how growing up watching Larry Bertlemann influenced the surfer and scientist he is today.
Stay tuned for more!
Harnessing the power of nature – from the power of the ocean, to the power of koa.
Raised by his grandfather on Hawai‘i Island, Brandan Ahuna grew up in the ocean. Whether surfing or fishing, Brandan was taught to respect the ocean’s energy and nourishing bounty. His grandfather also instilled in him the value of giving, to share what he harvested from the sea. Today, Brandan is a Hawai‘i Island lifeguard and aspiring woodworker, creating functional art under the moniker Ahuna Hana. Quiet and thoughtful, Brandan is a reflection of old Hilo town. He carries himself with the confidence and patience of an old soul, working with an acute focus and attention to detail that translates to beautiful handmade traditional Hawaiian surfboards, skateboard decks, surfboard fins, and bowls.
OluKai: How did you get started shaping alaia, traditional wooden Hawaiian surfboards?
Brandan Ahuna: I enjoy the feeling I get after I make something and I use it. For the alaia, that’s what it started off with, just making my own alaia, surfing it, and realizing that it works. People see the joy it brought to me, surfing it, and they see how much fun I have, and they want to try it too. That’s what I want to share, is that feeling.
What are the challenges to making a surfboard out of a plank of wood?
There are certain things you can do to the board to make it better. I noticed that if I change the pitch of the rail, it affects the way the board turns, or how big the board is determines how good it paddles. There is a little play. Overall, big, small, whatevers, the board rides the same on the wave. To me, it’s more of the person. You have to put your energy into it in order to understand it. You got to try it and keep trying it. It’s always the surfer, not the board. You have to change to make it work wherever you use it.
Sometimes, certain surfboards are made for certain waves, depending on the wood. You have your heavier woods, which are more difficult to surf, and then you have lighter woods for lighter boards. Riding the kiko‘o at Bayfront was epic. The board matched the wave. They are so fast you need a longer wave to ride those boards. You could still surf them at Honoli‘i, but you wouldn’t get that full ride and be able to feel the full energy of the wave.
What type of wood do you usually work with?
Primarily I work with Paulownia. It’s easy to carve and shape out. It’s super light and naturally, it doesn’t absorb salt water. In the alaia, you want it to be a lighter board, you don’t want it to be heavy. It’s so fast already being flat; it’s easier to control when it’s lighter. The koa boards are hard to control because they are so heavy and long.
Are traditional Hawaiian surfboards something that anyone can jump on and get the hang of?
In anything you do in the ocean, you have to know the ocean. You have to know what it does, the currents, the energy. You have to know all that before you go out and into it, no matter if you’re surfing, body surfing, or riding an alaia. You have to be safe.
I learned that from my grandfather. He taught me everything about the ocean. He raised me on the ocean and taught me how to surf, how to fish, how to dive, how to live. It was hands-on. We spent every weekend, any time we had that he wasn’t working. We would go to the ocean for food, for family, especially the kupuna. We’d get fish for them, wana, opihi. He always taught us to respect the ocean. You got to know the right time, the right place, and to always give. You don’t take from the ocean and sell, you take what you need and if you get extra, you give.
Do your grandfather’s lessons about the ocean carry over to the workshop?
I take what he taught me, and then I use my own mana‘o. It’s trial and error.
What’s it like to work with koa wood?
The koa is native, and it’s beautiful and hard to get. Any time I get koa is more exciting. Paulownia is nice, but having the connection of koa, being from the ‘āina at home, and being able to make it into something—putting your mana into it and making it functional, functional art, that feels good. I always like to know where the wood came from, how it was brought to be. I don’t believe in cutting down a tree to make stuff out of it. When I think of koa, I think of kupuna. They’re old. They’re one of the first things on this island. It has a spirit. Working with the koa, you can feel it—hard to explain.
For more on the design of traditional alaia boards learn here!
Product featured in this blog:
Lauren Kapono looks to the past to inform the future.
Hilo native and Native Hawaiian Lauren Kapono is all about the big picture. A chosen Keaholoa STEM Native Scholar with a degree in marine science from University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, Kapono has married her scientific understanding of our natural world with her penchant to create healthier communities in the Aloha State. As Hawai‘i Island program coordinator for Nā Maka o Papahānaumokuākea, a small non-profit organization on Hawai‘i Island that focuses on community health and wellness by supporting the overall cultural, spiritual, and physical health of Papahānaumokuākea, Kapono is using a natural resource management approach to unify the gap between science and people in native communities across Hawai‘i. We caught up with Lauren in an upcountry Hawai‘i Island forest to talk about work, life and aloha.
OluKai: You work for the betterment of the community. What does it mean to be a community member?
Lauren Kapono: For me, being a community member is to be the best you can be and bring the best of yourself forward, not for the betterment of just yourself and your family, which is very important, but to be accountable to your whole community, the people that helped raised you, that told you stories, that helped feed you.
How do you live that in your daily life?
I try to prepare myself with the tools that are available to me. Being a student I have a lot of opportunity and resources. I hope to learn what I can from outside places and apply that to my work. Ultimately, I just want to be a good community member myself. I want to make myself strong and resilient, and have as much knowledge from different lifestyles that are here in Hawai‘i and present it to my community. I want to be a resource and tool for them and I feel like school has an opportunity to become those things.
So, in addition to your work at the non-profit, you’re going back to school?
Yes. I’ll be going back to grad school with the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Sciences Graduate Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, continuing the ‘opihi surveys that we do right here in the ahupua‘a of Kaʻupulehu, looking at the harvesting applications that have just been put on that place making it a no-take zone. We’re looking at the no-take rest area versus the can-take area and seeing how that environmental, habitat, and social pressures affect that ecosystem.
How do you translate the knowledge of ahupua‘a land management systems to the way we live in our modern society?
I definitely feel like from the mountains to the ocean is still very much connected and we, as people in this area, are still part of this ahupua‘a system too. For us, it’s our trees, it’s the ocean, it’s this mist that surrounds me. Taking care of every aspect from the mountains to the ocean is our kuleana [responsibility].
I’m sure you’re ecstatic about the recent movement to reforest upcountry ranch land on Hawai‘i Island and the benefits that healthy forests provide coastal environments.
I don’t get the opportunity to come up mauka because I’m at the ocean a lot. I think it’s wonderful. I agree with the fact that if you take care of the uplands, the ocean and the makai area will follow suit. Outplanting is a very important restoration tactic. It helps control the soil and keeps it together, limiting erosion and the degredation of land. Just put your hands down and work and through that you can really become connected with your surroundings and your kupuna around you.
People new to Hawai‘i and Hawaiian culture probably think of aloha simply as a greeting, but what does aloha really mean?
Aloha means many things. It’s just that butterfly feeling in your na‘au, in your gut, that you just want to be happy and share that light with everyone around you. It’s being selfless and helping people that cannot help themselves, and encouraging and lifting people up. All of that is aloha, all of that is ‘āina, all of that is who we are as a people. Aloha is everywhere. It may be hard to find sometimes, but you just have to look for the good in the bad. That’s all it is. That’s aloha.
Product featured in this journal:
On an island, what happens in the mountains can have an effect on the sea, a concept Native Hawaiians have always been privy to, and why traditionally, a system of roles and responsibilities (kuleana) were implemented in order to keep the balance within the fragile island ecosystems. While many years of development and modernization may have disrupted that harmony, the original customs and traditions have not been lost. For instance, the koa tree—known as the protector of the forest and used to make voyaging canoes—was cut down haphazardly for generations, but is now being replanted. Following a group of Hilo locals, who have made it their life’s work to regenerate the ways of the past in each of their own unique ways, we watch how that kind of stewardship is revitalizing their ‘āina (land).