By Chelsea Jarrell
They’re the boys from Waipahu, on the island of Oahu who realized they had an affinity to harmonize. Full, overlapping voices as compatible as the tightly wound friendships on stage and behind the scenes.
So what does it take for a reggae band to be a success on this island? Is it the pairing of seven Bob Marley birthday shots at Nancy’s, and lick at the dart board?
“It’s the bond everyone brings. I think we have a head up on other groups because we are all from the same town,” said Rebel Souljahz vocalist Tunez Moananu. “We’re just a bunch of rebellious souljahz. That is the way we live, not caring what people think. We recently covered Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” and right off the bat people are like, wha? But I’m telling you, it did good brah.”
Bassist Shay Marcel recognizes the group’s hit song “Nothing to Hide” as the beginning of something special, which launched in 2008 then went on to win Best Reggae Album of the Year at the Na Hoko Hanohano awards in 2009.
“It really does just take one hit song for people to recognize how good you are,” says Marcel. “Traveling has become a big part of it. Our next trip will be to headline the Northwest Roots Festival in Washington, then Oregon, California, then back home.”
Radio station hits like single “Ms. Beautiful” and “Gotta Know Your Name” from the most recent album Souljahz for Life (2013) have pushed the Souljahz to the top of the reggae scene. Showing off those buttery hums and poppy beats every year as headliner at Honolulu reggae expose, Majah Rajah—this year being no exception. It’s an exciting celebration of reggae artists to shower the people with music in unison. (Not to mention some pretty styling after-parties.)
“With the boys, it’s that passion that we share,” says Moananu. I don’t even have to tell them how I feel, they know how I feel, You see where we’re from isn’t exactly the land of opportunity but people at home are really proud of us.“
We asked if Bubba or any of the Souljahz had done any crowd surfing to celebrate their success and the answer was not quite yet. “Nobody likes the fat boy look,” Moananu said. ”There was a time where we were pushing 300 pounds.”
Maybe that luck will change this summer and we’ll get to see the Souljahz fly through the crowd as the group has slimmed down to the size of a solo sashimi roll since their beginning days. Until then, we’ll just have to get by listening to the sweet island jams coming from the stage.