On The Record: Roger Bong
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Roger Bong has a genuine affinity for homegrown, hard-to-find vintage tunes. Fueled by the opportunity to not only preserve classic sounds but to educate as well, his interest in perpetuating Hawaiian funk, rare groove and disco music comes from a fascination with both the music and history behind it.
“I feel like I’m constantly rediscovering this music,” he said. “You can connect with music of any kind, but for it to connect with where you’re from makes it even stronger.”
Sharing his choice cuts and old school discoveries has become a favorite activity for Bong, who said all types of music intrigue him, but it’s the local gems of yesteryear that inspire him to “connect with the essence of life.”
“There’s always something new to discover from the 1970s and ’80s,” he said. “And the quality of soul music from here is unique, it’s got a sound of innocence and tropical vibes you don’t find anywhere else.”
In Bong’s mind, nuggets of Hawaiian history and nostalgic times gone by are best expressed in musical form. That’s what makes sharing the significance of an era that featured artists like Lemuria, Gabe Baltazar, Kapono Beamer, Babadu, Loyal Garner and North Shore Appeal so special.
“I think it’s all the musical influences from the mainland came here, just like all the other things from the mainland came to the islands, and because the local musicians were so hungry to do something different or new, when they heard this music from the mainland they said, ‘Let’s do this, and let’s do it our way,’” said Bong.
He created a website, Aloha Got Soul, to share his findings with the world. The site features interviews, stories and photos that encompass Hawaii’s rich soul music era. Search for “Hawaiian Soul Music” on Google and his site appears at the top of the results.
“I feel like our current generation isn’t fully aware of the local soul music scene from back in the day,” said Bong. “A lot of that music hasn’t really been passed on to us — Kalapana and C&K for sure, but other music has been forgotten.”
BONG’S LATEST project is an all-Hawaiian, all-vinyl mix entitled “Soul Time In Hawaii.” The 65-minute mix of rare grooves is a collaboration project with London-based clothing company Weekends West. Plans call for an exclusive “Soul Time In Hawaii” T-shirt, based on Ohta San’s 1967 album cover by the same name, to be released as well.
Bardawil, A DJ and vinyl collector for more than 15 years, said he recognized the mutual passion for Hawaiian soul music was evident after discovering one of their shared favorites was “Hawaiian Breaks,” a mixtape by DJ Muro released in 2009. Bong and Bardawil have yet to actually meet in person; they began to correspond via e-mail last summer, when the two began trading ideas and tracks.
“I listened to a lot of Hawaiian records over and over, tried to feel out which tracks would fit the Weekends West brand, and then over the course of a few weeks got the tracklist in order,” Bong explained. “Out in London, Cedric went through a number of design ideas and revisions, T-shirt test printings, and getting the word out to other UK-based DJs in his network.”
“Soul Time In Hawaii” will be the second collaboration venture for the underground Hawaiian music historian. Last year Bong teamed up with popular clothing company Fitted Hawaii and created a mix dedicated to “Black Hawaiian Music” called “Hawaiian Salt.”
Bong said “digging” – the act of looking for rare vinyl records usually done at music and thrift stores, will always be the core of his music passions and sharing his discoveries will continue.
“Every record I purchase I buy because I enjoy it. There are some local records I don’t enjoy listening to so much, but it’s historical value is enough for me to keep it around.”
To celebrate “Soul Time in Hawaii,” Bong and Bardawil have set up dual release parties on March 22 at Bevy Bar in Honolulu as well as 7,000 miles and two oceans away in London. Doors open at Bevy, 661 Auahi St., at 4 p.m. and there is no cover charge.
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.