By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Many musicians can recall their first guitar, their first keyboard, their first drum kit.
But for Hawaii’s reggae singer Kolohe Kai, coming to the Showbox SoDo on Sept. 17, music goes all the way back to preschool days.
“My most important memories growing up were of watching my dad play guitar and sing with my uncles and aunties,” remembered the singer, known as Roman de Peralta in civilian life. “I remember trying to play along with my drum set made up of juice cans, water bottles, and my chopsticks as drumsticks.
“I used to love listening to Hawaii Reggae Bands like Ekolu and Fiji, along with R&B legends, Boyz II Men. Those influences inspired my writing and singing style. Watching one of Michael Jackson’s concert DVDs in 2007, was the first time I dreamed of being a performer, and I told myself one day I’m gonna do this for my dream job. Little did I know a little over a year later, I’d be signed to a record label.”
De Peralta comes from a mixed family, featuring Filipino, Hawaiian, and Caucasian bloodlines.
He credited his multiracial heritage for opening his heart as a singer and songwriter, helping him to see thoughts and emotions from different perspectives. Filipino and Pacific Islander communities, he emphasized, want to see people succeed and turn out in droves, both in person and online.
As for his stage name, he explained, “Kolohe means ‘Rascal’ and Kai means ‘Ocean’ or ‘Saltwater.’ As a kid, I was always a rascal playing pranks or having fun in some mischievous way. That was what my family would call me, ‘Kolohe.’
“Eventually when selecting a band name, ‘Kai’ was offered as an option to add to ‘Kolohe,’ by my ukulele player at the time. ‘Kolohe Kai’ fits my style as a surfer and songwriter so genuinely. I’m so grateful to represent playfulness, along with my love for the ocean.”
The original band members met circa 2007, in a high school class devoted to Polynesian music. They polished their chops at local talent shows, before following the singer when he inked his first record deal at age 17.
Since then, the band, with good friends going in and out of the lineup, has gone around the world playing their Hawaiian-inflected reggae tunes.
“The best international show we ever played was One Love Fest 2017 in New Zealand,” he recalled. “We headlined an event of 30,000 people. Other bands at this festival were artists like Fiji, Rebel SoulJahz, The Green, Steel Pulse, and Six60. Unmistakably the most powerful event I’d ever experienced.
“[Our] oddest story ever would be attempting to crowd surf 30,000 people at One Love Fest 2019, and falling off the inner tube twice. That was embarrassing.”
The new album “Hazel Eyes” consists mostly of older songs, handpicked by Kolohe Kai based on both their relevance to his life these days, and the relevance of each song’s message. He wrote “I Think You’re Beautiful,” for example, as an anti-bullying gambit.
He also threw in a rare cover version, Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
“It is by far my favorite Stevie Wonder song and I hope I did it justice. We wanted to incorporate a mix of island sounds in it to bring a different and unique light to this masterpiece of a composition. Stevie is my dad’s favorite artist and I just always loved his music.”
Asked about future plans, he invoked the spirit of “aloha,” which means hello and goodbye in Hawaiian, but which native Hawaiians also use to mean friendly, welcoming, and warm.
“The band and I will continue to take our aloha, to places around the world, whether that be in New Zealand and Australia in February of next year or hopefully to the Philippines sometime next year.”
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.