MANA MEANS MUSIC
Here comes RawSun
"Who is RawSun?"
That was the question late last year as a Honolulu public relations firm announced the arrival of the reggae hip-hop artist and the release of his new album, "Rated R," on the independent Hard Eight Records.
An additional question should've been "Where is RawSun from?" Was he a product of the Hawaii recording industry?
"The Budweiser Winter Island Music Festival" features Fiji, Ho'onu'a, RawSun, B.E.T., One Groove, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Sistah Robi Kahakalau, and others
» Place: Waikiki Shell
» Time: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $17 to $25
» Call: 591-2211 or online at ticketmaster.com
It turned out that RawSun has visited Hawaii but is not a resident. He wrote and tracked his album in a series of mainland studios. As our local artists struggle to crack the national market, RawSun has some valuable insights to share.
As he explained by phone from somewhere in California, "Me and my brother waited a lot of years, and passed on a lot of opportunities to put out albums, because we just didn't feel it was right and we didn't want to put out anything we weren't proud of. ... We've been shopping the major labels through a couple of different management companies, spent some time with Digital Underground ... and finally, in the last year, got this record together and the opportunity to put it out."
There's a hint of a Jamaican accent in his voice, but unlike the many Jawaiian singers who affect the Caribbean island vocal lilt, RawSun came by his naturally. He was raised by his father, Jahsun, and grew up in Jamaica, hanging out with his father's band, Strictly Roots. He picked up a pair of drumsticks at the age of 2 and was performing at 11. He joined Strictly Roots at 14 but didn't "come out" as a vocalist until after his father died in 1998.
An album, "Generation," kept Jahsun's legacy alive and brought RawSun to Hawaii.
"It was mostly a Jamaican band at that time ... and the record was a reggae album. It didn't really have a large market around the world but, for some reason, Hawaii loved it and it became a big hit out there around '99 or 2000. So I signed with Sony Music International and they brought me and my band to Hawaii. ... I met Fiji and all the different groups and pretty much everybody embraced it. ... Since then, I've had a pretty large fan base out there."
In 2001, there came a parting of the ways between RawSun and his father's musicians. They were reggae purists approaching middle age while RawSun and his younger brother, keyboardist/record producer Don Juan Cartel, were moving towards a sound that was "more hip-hop, more radio, more kind of mainstream stuff -- a little bit out of what the roots Jamaican band was doing. Me and my brother signed our first record deal right about that time down in Los Angeles."
THE DUO spent several years working in L.A., doing studio work for other artists while laying the foundation for their own project. Fiji was featured on three tracks on "Rated R," as well as being one of several secondary writer/producers. In the last few months, RawSun, Don Juan and the band have been promoting the album every chance they get, and the hard work is paying off.
"We're doing about 4,000 copies a week, which is really big for an independent. We set out with Warner Bros. watching us and Interscope interested in us, and we set out knowing that if we moved between 30- and 50,000 units, that all the major labels would come and start making offers. We thought that number would come at the end of the summer and as it's looking right now we might get those numbers before we even get into summer. We're definitely ahead of schedule."
Although "Rated R" is far removed from the roots reggae he played with his father, RawSun remains in touch, via the antique Ethiopian coin he wears as a personal talisman.
"My father's group had a lot of Ethiopian fans over the years. (One of his friends) was a distant relative of Selassie I ... and my father had been there for him over the years, so he presented the coin to my father. My father wore it for his whole life, from the mid-'70s until he passed on (in 1998) and I've worn it since then. It's (Emperor) Menelik II (on one side) and the Lion of Judah (on the other)."
With luck, "Rated R" will land RawSun that deal with a major label, maybe in time while doing the 2006 Reggae Sunfest in Jamaica in July.
"It's going to be my first performance in Jamaica. For the last three years, they've been trying to get me to come down there, and I've wanted to, but I've got so much respect for the musicianship and the level that everyone's doing things in Jamaica (that) I really want it to be right and have the right material and the right band (and) have everything just be perfect to really make an impression. The time is right now."