Aaradhna, Sammy J finish tour in Hawaii
BY STEFANIE NAKASONE / firstname.lastname@example.org
Move over, Lorde. Two other Kiwis are making some noise stateside.
Aaradhna, “New Zealand’s queen of soul,” and rising island reggae singer Sammy J have been selling out venues on a concert tour across the western United States over the past month, and are closing out their U.S. tour with a pair of shows in Hawaii this weekend.
While she may be more unfamiliar to American audiences than the aforementioned teen sensation, Aaradhna has a beauty all her own, from her exotic Samoan-Indian features to her soulful music, a mix of old-school R&B and doo-wop.
“The music that I make is a lot of personal stuff, things that I’ve been through,” she said from Los Angeles on Tuesday. “It’s just honest music.”
Aaradhna’s latest album, 2012′s “Treble & Reverb,” earned her four awards at last year’s New Zealand Music Awards, including album of the year and best female solo artist.
Friday’s show at the Fix Sports Lounge and Nightclub and Saturday’s show on Maui will be the Hawaii debut for Aaradhna, who at 30 has already been through some tough times in the music industry and come out better for it.
The eldest of five children, Aaradhna grew up in a busy household — one that was always filled with music.
Her father, who was born in India (the name Aaradhna is of Indian origin), would sing at many Indian celebrations, such as Diwali,
and birthday parties. Her Samoan mother wrote her own gospel songs and performed them in church.
“Music was pretty much alive at home,” Aaradhna said. “They’d make sure that we’d be soaked in it — both cultures.”
It wasn’t until she was around 10 years old that Aaradhna began listening to English-language music. As she developed as a singer, she was influenced by many artists, from 1990s R&B giants like SWV, Monica, Lauryn Hill and Boyz II Men, to classic performers like Sam Cooke and The Beatles.
Her love of R&B was at the forefront of her debut album “I Love You.” Released in 2006, the record was certified gold in New Zealand. Her music started to draw comparisons to another soul/R&B singer topping the charts at the time: Amy Winehouse.
Like all musicians, Aaradhna had her share of critics. She said her inability to deal with that and some personal issues caused her to go into a depression. While she did release an album in 2008, Aaradhna said she was essentially on a break shortly after the release of “I Love You” until 2011.
“I kind of just didn’t know where I was at at the time,” she said, adding that during these down years, she began listening to doo-wop music and continued to write songs. “I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, I’ll just quit music,’ to not do it again.
“Back when I was younger, I was really sensitive. I couldn’t take criticism easy. It kind of put me off of wanting to do it. I got hurt pretty easily, so I had to step back a little bit and find the passion again to want to do it, just grow a thicker skin.”
HER NEWFOUND motivation, confidence and fight is evident in “Treble & Reverb,” with songs like the hit single “Wake Up,” a kicky anthem that implores to “stop wasting time.”
The singer’s emotions are particularly bare in the track “Sit with a Slouch.” The song is Aaradhna’s kiss-off to “haters” who have criticized her music and her look. (“They say she was pregnant, they say she was fat,” one verse starts.) She ends the song by emphatically proclaiming, “This is my life.”
On a lighter note, the album also includes a song called “Lorena Bobbitt.” The tongue-in-cheek song about a woman wanting to take extreme revenge on her cheating lover wasn’t inspired by a personal experience –
“I didn’t chop anyone’s …” Aaradhna said, laughing — but by the singer’s love of crime stories.
“I just love reading up on people who have interesting stories, and Lorena Bobbitt was someone I thought would be interesting to write about,” she said. “And so I took some of her story and mixed in the topic of cheating. … It’s the psycho anthem.”
LIKE AARADHNA, Sammy J was heavily inspired by soul music.
“It’s still reggae, but I come from a strong soul background,” he said of the comparison between his music and that of Hawaii’s island-reggae singers.
“I love all the vocals and the beautiful melodies of soul, and I also love reggae, so my music is that happy medium.”
Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Sammy J is relatively new to the music scene. The 28-year-old up-and-comer — who describes himself as “Just another Gap Tooth Maori who loves to sing” on his Twitter profile — released his debut EP, “Prelude,” last year and is already expecting his second EP to drop in the next couple of months.
The title of that new record?
“Good question, I don’t know yet,” he said with a laugh. “I think I’m going to self-title this one mainly because I’m sort of going through a few changes — every artist goes through changes within music.
“The first EP was me (being) very new to the music industry. … The reason it’s called ‘Prelude’ is because it’s like the first, a pre-introduction of what’s to come. A lot of those songs, I wrote them in high school and saved them. And so this time ’round, I’ve been on the road a lot and I’ve had a lot of time to experiment more with what I like. It’s more of me and more of what I love.”
As he did on his first record, Sammy J worked with Hawaii producer Noah Cronin, a former member of Kolohe Kai. The first single off the new record, “No Sleep,” was scheduled to be released this week.
Sammy J last performed in Hawaii in August, at Gordon Biersch at Aloha Tower Marketplace for the launch of his debut EP. His experience there makes him excited for this week’s shows.
“It was insane, I loved it,” he said. “It was heaps of fun, crazy crowd. Hawaii, man, they’re crazy. I love it.”