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:

Nalukai