With celebrated stars like The Rock, Jason Mamoa, Surfer Makua Rothman, MMA champions like Max Holloway, and Iam Tongi’s win on American Idol, there is no question that we are in love with the aloha spirit.
Culturally Hawaii is most known for many iconic places, people, Polynesian culture and most memorable, Hawaiian music. Classically identifiable by falsetto singing, slack key guitar and vibrant percussions, it is a mix of Hawaiian soundscapes that transport any listener to the islands. One of the most popular musicians to come from Hawaii was IZ (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole)?? who took the iconic soundscapes of Hawaiian music and turned it into mainstream pop music. With his Ukulele, the classic reggae up-strummed beat, the sweet cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” IZ was ushered into rock n’ roll history along with an RIAA platinum record. Hawaii’s music scene was catapulted to the forefront.
WATCH THE MUSIC VIDEO FOR “CELEBRATION” BELOW!
As IZ was coming up, globally reggae music hit its stride in the 70s with breakout acts like Bob Marley and the Wailers who brought the music of Jamaica to the islands. By the 80’s the newly minted state was inundated with western music inspiring the young upcoming musicians in Hawaii to blend the traditional with the new. This produced a prolific amount of talent including IZ and celebrated musicians like FIJI, Iration, HIRIE and Common Kings.
The musical blends range from rock, to Jazz, to folk and country with Hawaiian musicians being attributed to the introduction of the steel guitar to blues and country music. But more recently there has been a resurgence of reggae blends, and more specifically lovers rock. At the forefront of this sound is Common Kings. Their smooth blend of reggae, lovers rock, Polynesian soundscapes and R&B with pop sensibilities have created a timeless but catchy repertoire.
Since their 2011 debut, their songs have captivated the attention of the masses including pop superstars. Common Kings have toured with legends including Meghan Trainor, Fifth Harmony, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Slightly Stoopid, and CeeLo – to drop a few names. But it was the writing sessions with Meghan Trainor who catapulted the band into the pop realm. She penned standouts like “24/7,” “Sickness” and “Your Turn” off their 2013 debut Summer Anthems, and also was a feature and co-writer on “Before You Go” off their 2015 Hits & Mrs.
As their story goes, four college mates first met at a backyard barbeque 20-some years ago. Music was the common bond for these Pacific Islanders (all but one first-generation Americans) who have together transcended their Polynesian reggae roots to achieve pop crossover success. The four include Samoan-born Hawaiian lead singer Sasualei “Jr. King” Maliga and Hawaii-raised Samoan guitarist Taumata “Mata” Grey; Fiji-born bassist Ivan “Uncle Lui” Kirimaua, and L.A.-born Tongan drummer Jerome “Big Rome” Taito.
Common Kings have been releasing music on their own Island Empire/Mensch House Records label for more than a decade, with their full-length debut, 2017’s Lost in Paradise, nominated for a Grammy as Best Reggae Album, won that year by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. The long-awaited follow-up, aptly named CELEBRATION, is based on the past 10-plus years, “It’s a celebration of doing things our way,” adds Uncle Lui, whose backyard was where the band first met. “We’ve made a lot of things happen in an unconventional, unorthodox way. It’s a celebration of where we are today. We’re able to live in so many different musical worlds.”
On the new album, the band worked once again with the talented production duo The Audibles (Justin Bieber, Sam Smith, French Montana, Ty Dolla Sign, Lupe Fiasco, Mishon, Yelawolf, Zac Brown) who also co-wrote a handful of the songs. They also synced up with renowned producer Poo Bear (Justin Bieber) on “City of Champions,” and fellow Hawaii-based J. Boog for “Raggamuffin.” They tapped into their community of musicians to bring their album full circle and celebrate their pop and reggae roots.
With musical influences that include Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Jim Croce, Michael Jackson, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Gypsy Kings, Earth Wind and Fire, Bob Marley, Common Kings’ approach brings diverse people together for a good time. There’s also a strong connection with the post-punk ska scene that includes the likes of Sublime, Slightly Stoopid and OGs No Doubt.
It is Jr. King’s vocal range that truly distinguishes Common Kings. “He’s a master impersonator,” says Mata. “He can sing like anyone from Luther Vandross and Prince to Axl Rose and Mick Jagger.”
“We draw from many different kinds of music,” acknowledges Big Rome. “Growing up, I loved the rock-reggae feel. When I was in high school, I used to love 311, the way they fused the two.”
“We all have diverse musical backgrounds, and bring different elements,” says Uncle Lui, “Which we then fuse together, because Jr. can sing just about anything and everything. Our music has an edge but with a smooth polished overtone.”
“Our take on reggae is more feel-good, fun and loving, relaxed in that Hawaiian way,” says Jr. “We’re not a political band.”
And although they are not political they take the time to cultivate and care for their communities. They give time and donate to local schools and support the troops through various special performances and benefits as well as uplift fellow musicians, friends and family. This has resulted in a grassroots community and fan base that includes some of the most famous Hawaiians.
The newest breakout star to come from Hawaii is American Idol winner, Iam Tongi. His return to Oahu was crowned with a special performance at Turtle Bay with Common Kings along with locals Jack Johnson, John Cruz, Paula Fuga, and Kawika Kahiapo. And while they are in L.A. they check in regularly with fellow Hawaiians The Rock, Jason Mamoa, Surfer Makua Rothman, and MMA champion Max Holloway– all like Common Kings started from humble beginnings. All are the underdogs who have achieved amazing things and much like their name implies they are all common kings.
The new album CELEBRATION is just that for Common Kings…a way to toast more than a decade of musical excellence and have a real good time doing it.
JR adds, “It’s a culmination of our careers, jamming 20 years, raising families, living life and making music, all of it coming together and being able to share that with the world.”
So I can’t help to wonder with the rich history of the islands, their industry hustling, and amazing talent backing Common Kings, is this the record that finally brings the islands into the world’s living rooms and speakers? Especially after cultivating a massive fan base, headlining major tours all the while leading a grassroots movement will Common Kings, Polynesian music and culture finally get its long-overdue recognition?