• Courtesy of Aloha Got Soul
  • Aloha Got Soul founder Roger Bong

Because I’ve worked in music media for more than a decade, I’ve seen so many reissue labels it’d make your ass hurt—and few types of music seem to inspire reissues like soul and funk. What I haven’t seen, though, is a reissue label devoted exclusively to soul and funk from Hawaii. In fact I doubt I could’ve done much more than guess if you’d asked me to describe the differences between soul and funk from Hawaii and soul and funk from the mainland.

But Aloha Got Soul, an outgrowth of a blog founded in 2010 by Honolulu-based DJ and record collector Roger Bong, is just such a label. Bong specializes in hard-to-find Hawaiian groove music from the 1970s and ’80s, and he’s formally launching the label with a seven-inch of two songs from Mike Lundy’s sought-after 1980 funk LP The Rhythm of Life. The single comes out Sat 1/31, and Aloha Got Soul celebrates with parties that night in Honolulu, London, and Chicago. The local event runs from 9 PM till close at Punch House.

“But why Chicago?” you may be thinking. (I certainly was.) I e-mailed Bong, and he explained that he has a coconspirator here—a record collector who performs as DJ Solson. Solson is spinning at Saturday’s party, in fact, which doubles as the kickoff for the local version of Bong’s monthly Honolulu DJ night, Soul Time. “He’s very passionate about this music,” says Bong. “He believes Soul Time could be beneficial to Chicago’s music community (especially in the winter!).”

The Rhythm of Life, which Lundy guesses was pressed in an edition of about 1,000 copies, has been out of print for decades—even the one reissue Bong knows about, a Japan-only CD release in the early 2000s, is tough to find. (One track is currently available on the 2011 compilation Americana: Rock Your Soul from London label BBE, or Barely Breaking Even.) Bong says original copies sell for $500 to $2,000, but he may be about to depress their value—he plans to reissue the entire album in November in an edition of 2,500.

With his blog and label, Bong hopes “to document a side of Hawaii’s contemporary musical past that hasn’t been documented much at all.” He says he’s had a hard time finding some of the records he’s interested in, and he lives in Hawaii—the task is next to impossible almost anywhere else. “When I first started in 2010,” he says, “the only info available online was in Japanese! I wanted to create a repository of information where others can learn about this music.”

I asked Bong what he felt distinguishes Hawaiian funk and soul from their counterparts elsewhere, and he referred to a 2014 mix called Soul Surfing by venerable UK DJ Patrick Forge. When Forge posted his mix online, he wrote, “Maybe there’s just something too beautiful in the tropical grooves, so much innocence and wonder!” Bong elaborates: “The main way it differs is in the relaxed, laid-back vibe. Hawaii’s lifestyle is very laid-back (‘hang loose,’ as the saying goes), and I feel that translates to the music.”

The phenomenon of the regional hit was perhaps more pronounced in Hawaii due to its isolation. “Today, a radio hit mostly blankets the entire country (and even the world),” says Bong, “but back then there were tunes that were popular only in Hawaii and didn’t chart on the Billboard Top 100.”

For Saturday’s Soul Time party, Solson will be joined on the decks by All Natural affiliate Al Bumz and Darryl Jones. The event will recur every month, though without the same focus on Hawaiian music—rare vinyl from other climes will creep in. There’s no cover. This weekend Solson will have a few copies of the Mike Lundy 45 to sell, and edits of its two songs—”The Rhythm of Life” and “Tropic Lightning”—are already up on Soundcloud.

Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid, and he’s also split two national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and one in in 2020 for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.