They occupied the small stage with an air of humility and reverence. Most of the members of heavily R&B-influenced reggae outfit Pac Vibe seemed unusually young to be playing at a bar on Lower Main in Wailuku. In fact, bass player and super-versatile vocalist Josh Tatofi, 17, had to have his dad (Tiva of the highly influential Kapena) sign a form so the he could legally play the gig. Yet despite it’s youth, the band has chops. The fact that they have support from a few of Hawaii’s musical heavyweights—Tiva and his brother, John, who has worked with the likes of Fiji, BET and Gomega—doesn’t hurt.
Pac Vibe got together only very recently, but everyone on stage has spent a lifetime playing. Their apparent comfort playing in this configuration is probably a result of their being members of a large musical family, one that got its first taste of musical performance in a church choir (all of Pac Vibe’s players belong to the Free Church of Tonga).
Tiva, who offers his charisma and impressive vocals on a few tunes during the band’s set, says that his family moved to Honolulu from Tonga in the late ’70s. He, his brother Teimoni and Kelly De Lima formed Kapena shortly thereafter. After representing Kaimuki High School in the state “Brown Bags to Stardom” competition, they went on to win a number of Na Hoku Hanohano awards, playing across the globe (South America, New Zealand, the Mainland, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa) and sharing the stage with the likes of blues legend B.B. King and classic reggae outfit UB40. Tiva says the pinnacle of his musical career was in 2001, when the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra played an arrangement of his composition.
Kapena disbanded in the early 2000s, though Tiva says the band gets together for a show now and then (including one this weekend at Oceans in Kihei, where Pac Vibe will open). De Lima still plays on Oahu. Teimoni runs a motel in Tonga. Tiva moved to Maui and had a brief hiatus. But at the nudging of other musicians—and with the help of Pac Vibe—Tiva is back on the scene.
While Tiva’s bass guitar and vocals add an electrifying element to the band’s set and entice people to come out of the woodwork and dance, Pac Vibe, reserved as its members appear, is able to stand on its own.
Their set is a blend of originals and covers, with a few Kapena songs thrown in (including “Baby Blue” and “Nobody’s Child”). Memorable originals include “Umbrella,” wherein calypso-inspired young female vocalist Kalisi takes the lead.
Like most bands with regular bar gigs they cover reggae standards like Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and top 40 bludgeons like Sean Kingston’s nauseatingly catchy “Beautiful Girls (Suicidal),” but Pac Vibe seems to enjoy putting their own stamp on even the most well-worn standards. Their version of “Redemption Song,” for example, breaks into a reggae groove after a series of somewhat discordant opening bars; a far cry from the Marley version’s acoustic, lullaby-like feel. They break the saccharin monotony of “Suicidal” by braiding it with strands of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.”
Everyone in the band provides vocals, which can make for some pretty ghostly harmonies, especially on the original tune, “Stranger.”
Their musical versatility is apparent, as they’re able to bounce between the Drifters and Bob Marley seamlessly. The ease with which they blend the hook from the heart-wrenching 1959 instrumental classic “Sleepwalker” into one of their original island grooves demonstrates this well.
Tiva says one the most important things that compels him to sit in with Pac Vibe is their focus, which tends to shy away from the tired topic of romantic relationships.
“The only way I’ll put my hundred percent into a group is if they send positive messages,” he says. MTW