When you think of an ukulele band, you’d imagine the melodic sounds of traditional Hawaiian tunes. Kanekoa is not that band. Melding together Hawaiian, rock, reggae, folk, and blues, they’re described as a “Hawaiian Grateful Dead” and even won the 2017 Na Hoku Honohono Award for Best Reggae Album. With two ukes, a U•Bass, and a cajon, Kanekoa is changing the Hawaiian music game one album at a time.
Kaulana Kanekoa and Travis Rice met in high school and found a love of music together. They spent their days learning and playing in Reno until Kaulana moved back to Maui, Hawaii in 1996. Travis followed about a year later and the two continued playing music together. They met Vince Esquire that year, when he was only 14-years-old, after his parents asked if he could play guitar with them sometime. After hearing him play, he was welcomed with open arms into the Maui music community. They soon met Donald Lopez, or “Uncle Don,” through Vince’s father and he began playing bass for them regularly.
The band's style is unlike any other ukulele band. They’ve been creating original music together since the beginning and take inspiration from all types of genres and sounds. They believe using Kala ukulele and U•Basses has enabled them to lean into a more aggressive rock-n-roll sound. The Kala instruments have helped guide them through experimenting with different styles and sounds.
“With the Kala’s, we don’t have to worry about damaging instruments,” said Vince. “They’re just so quality.”
“As a U•Bass player,” said Uncle Don, “I’ve found that it requires a totally different technique to make the instrument sing right, to make it speak. If you try to play it like a regular bass, like an upright bass, it doesn’t work. But if you allow it to do its own thing, and learn its groove, my God. It’s amazing. It has changed the way I play for the better.”
Their most recent album, Sonic Fruit Volume IV, was released in December and was a labor of love. A collaboration of creativity from all four band members, they wanted to create something that was fun and “wacky,” just like they are. They created a fake radio station called KPUKA and featured commercials in-between songs.
“We made it like you’re cruising along in your Maui Cruiser checking out the island, but the only radio station you get is KPUKA, and the only music they play is ours,” said Uncle Don. “In-between the songs is someone messing with the dials but it just keeps coming back to us. The band just has a wacky humor, and we thought, why not, let’s just show who we really are.”
Since obtaining their own studio space, the band is able to dive into their creativity even more. Unlimited time unleashes unlimited creativity for the crew, so you can expect even more music with each members personality shining through. They plan on releasing a few covers soon and will start work on their next original project later in the year.
Kanekoa recently finished up a small West Coast tour and are back in Maui for now, but they’ll be returning to the Mainland for an extended summer tour. They plan on playing multiple festivals and great venues, so make sure to check their website and Facebook for announcements!