Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, December 7, 2001

Members of the vocal group Reign are, clockwise from upper left, Afatia Thompson, Loa Faimealelei, Kuhio Yim, Tinifuloa Grey and Kale Chang.

Reign’s new tunes stay
true to old roots

Their tracks give island
music a fresh look

By John Berger

BECAUSE recycled ideas get so much play on Hawaii's "island music" radio stations, some might ask why Kale Chang took almost four years to perfect the original sound of Reign.

The answer is, Chang isn't in the recycling business. "We don't like to limit ourselves," he said during a recent interview.

Reign hit big last month with the release of its self-titled debut album. Produced by Chang and multitalented local studio guy Michael Grande, "Reign" introduces a local male vocal group that blends African-American and Polynesian musical traditions in fresh ways. The mix of smooth harmonies and soft rap is good to go straight to the national "urban" music charts, but there's a hint of Polynesian traditions in Chang's imaginative arrangements.

Chang and the others -- Loa Faimealelei, Tinifuloa Grey, Afatia Thompson and Kuhio Yim -- like love songs that are romantic but not sexually explicit. They're also proud to do songs that reflect their Christian faith. "Pono," one of several originals Chang contributed, asks why it seems that "people only pray when they have to."

Reign on stage

Where and when: 11 a.m. tomorrow at the University of Hawai'i-BYU game; 11 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Sam's Club; 9 p.m. to midnight Dec. 13 and Dec. 20 at Kapono's at Aloha Tower Marketplace; and 7:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 15 at Kahala Mall.

"I wrote that song when things weren't going too well as far as the recording process, and I prayed about it, and then I felt really guilty about only praying at that time. Every time we sing it, it's just a reminder to keep it real and keep our priorities straight," Chang said.

He and the others are planning to write most of the songs for the group's next album. "We also want to do some more culturally based songs in Samoan or Hawaiian," Chang said.

"The thing that's important to all of us is that no matter where we go, we bring where we came from with us. If we get so big that we are able to cross the Pacific and perform on the mainland and do it successfully, we want to show people that we still have our foundation in our Polynesian culture," Grey said.

"And we want to be a true representation of Hawaii," Faimealelei said. "A lot of local bands are trying to be somebody else, and that's good for six months, but we're looking for longevity. It keeps us interested in the music, too, if it's a little deeper."

Reign's roots go back to an earlier group -- Cool Reign -- that Chang formed when he and Faimealelei were University of Hawaii students looking to create a contemporary island a cappella sound. Chang and Yim knew each other from their shared interest in Hawaiian music. Grey was one of Chang's students at St. Louis; Grey ran into Faimealelei when he returned home from college.

"I don't tell them this often enough, but it's a blessing that our personalities work wonderfully together, and everybody brings in different influences. It's a constant learning experience," Chang said.

Grey's likes include jazz, oldies, Nat King Cole and R&B, but he's also getting into the Dave Matthews Band. Faimealelei likes gospel and the classic soul music of the 1960s, and reggae and rock. Yim also likes gospel, R&B and Polynesian music. Thompson likes Polynesian, gospel and the modern "urban" music of artists like Maxwell and Lauren Hill.

Chang's arranging skill brings all their influences together. One of his most notable pieces on the album is his imaginative reworking of "I Fell in Love with Honolulu" from hapa-haole into a modern "urban" vocal group format.

"We kind of put it on the R&B side, but not so much where the elders or the people of Hawaii would get offended by it," Yim said.

Chang also distinguishes himself with a rearrangement of "One World Is Enough"/"7th Wave" that puts two pop oldies into a brand-new vibe that's a little bit "urban," a little bit "world" and just a touch hapa-haole.

"A cappella singing is the purist form of music because there's nothing to hide behind. As an art form I enjoy taking part in that," said Chang, who got hooked on the form in high school after hearing the music of Take 6. "Part of it is cultural," Chang said of the shared a cappella tradition. "All of the Polynesian cultures -- Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Maori, from chanting to the Maori "hakka" to Hawaiian choral music -- all is a cappella."

Grey grew up singing a cappella in choir, but it wasn't until he got to high school, "in the Boyz II Men days" when guys would hang out harmonizing in bathrooms, that he began to enjoy it.

"Like the rest of the Samoan community, we were very religious, so I grew up singing in church. We always sang with no music. I didn't know what it was called -- I just called it 'singing with no music' -- but that's how I started," Faimealelei said.

Yim also got started in church choir. He was impressed by Cool Reign and admits that he saw that group's demise as an opportunity to work with Chang and Faimealelei.

Chang hopes that Reign will inspire younger musicians and vocalists to explore music as broadly and deeply as possible.

"My purpose is to show them, if you're a Hawaiian or Polynesian child growing up in Hawaii, there's more to music than Jawaiian or reggae if you put your heart and your mind to it. It's all about never being satisfied -- listen to different types of music. There's a lot of good music out there that doesn't get played on the radio."

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