Uncle Don of Manao Radio called them “a puddle of love” during a recent radio performance. I couldn’t agree more.
I was with the band Lawa a few weeks ago just prior to a photo shoot they were doing for their upcoming album release, and had a chance to get to know them briefly.
Kahala, the lead singer—who, in true diva fashion, chooses not to use her last name—grew up here on Maui listening to and singing Hawaiian songs. Along with that, her voice is very reminiscent of Janis Joplin.
CJ Mackay, the rhythm guitarist, is a flamenco-style musician. His influence adds to the band’s sound by giving it a distinctly Latin flavor. Pete Sebastian’s lead and rhythm guitar work adds accents to their songs without ever over-crowding them with too many notes, or forced leads.
Adam Bowen’s fretless bass playing is funky and aggressive when the songs call for it, and smoothly understated when they don’t. Helio Valente’s percussion skills add a world-music slant, and are noticed most on the band’s mellower tunes.
Christopher Dennis’s drumming techniques are primarily jazz-based, although his drum kit is not conventional; he lacks a kick drum and instead has an arsenal of percussion instruments ranging from an egg shaker to chimes and a triangle.
It’s hard to pin Lawa into a musical category. With elements of world, Latin, jazz, blues and acoustic rock, fusion is the best description I can give you. They feature a few Hawaiian language songs, and some songs pertaining to life on the islands. Yet their sound is not defined by this aspect alone.
Sebastian met Mackay in 1998 while at work on a scuba diving boat. The two guitarists hit it off musically and personally, and have been jamming ever since. Seven years later, Mackay met Kahala at a backyard barbeque. Shortly after, Valente, a percussionist from Brazil, joined the group. This first incarnation of Lawa as a four-piece band played together for about six months.
Sebastian met Dennis long before he started playing drums with Lawa. At the time, Dennis was very content to play regular gigs with a jazz band he was in and had no interest in joining the newly established group.
But when one of Dennis’ gigs was cancelled, he got an invitation to jam with Lawa, which was rehearsing the same night. Reluctantly Dennis, having already packed his gear, showed up. After just one rehearsal, he “fell in love with the project” and quit the jazz band.
Bowen also happened to be at that rehearsal—also his first time jamming with the band—in a night the now six-piece says was “magic.”
The members of Lawa said that since the very start of the band, “every step along the way has been just magical.” In my opinion, having six people in a band does require a certain degree of magic, especially if you take the range of personalities and ages into account.
“There is no leader in this band,” Kahala said. “Everyone takes their turn, musically and personally.”
“We are like a family,” Sebastian added. His band mates agreed wholeheartedly. MTW