Whenever I think about compliments, the best ones are always drug comparisons. What’s not to like about being compared to something that’s mind-altering and potentially addictive?
So, when someone described Brad Watanabe’s music as “Audio Herb,” I just had to try it out. Like a good session, Watanabe’s music leaves the listener feeling relaxed, comforted and feeling good.
As a gay reggae musician, Watanabe brings a fresh outlook to a nearly over-exposed music genre in Hawai‘i. Once devoted to Rasta culture, he diligently read the Bible and abstained from meat. But of course, many organized religions have their pitfalls, especially in regards to sexuality. Today, Watanabe says he doesn’t tie himself to just one religion or culture, preferring to learn from every culture and religion.
Like many musicians, Watanabe sings about topics like love and the struggles of the human experience. But there’s also an underlying message of being alone, even when surrounded by friends.
This is evident in his song “Meditation”—even when being persecuted, don’t allow others to tell you what to be. While Watanabe has succeeded through difficult times in his life, he acknowledges and thanks his band mates from Ooklah the Moc for their support.
Watanabe hails from Kailua, Oahu. You’ve probably heard and seen him before; in addition to Ooklah the Moc, he’s played and recorded with Paula Fuga, The Next Generation and Stir Crazy. He’s also freelanced with the Honolulu Symphony and the Long Island Symphony. And he’s played with reggae greats such as Mikey Dread, Pam Hall and Humble Flow.
The longhaired artist is certainly driven. Just 22, he’s been playing music for about 19 years. There’s an evident island-flavor to his music, and his influences range from traditional Hawaiian music to classical to roots reggae.
Upflow, released by Ninjafire Records, is Watanabe’s first solo record. Watanabe wows the listener with his artistry on vocals, bass, guitar and keyboard. The title, Upflow, is about staying positive and remaining easy-going. This is a welcome message in an era of instant gratification and negativity.
Lyrically, Upflow is beautiful. Rather than solely relying on catchy rhythms, Watanabe treats the listener to lyrical storytelling. Watanabe mixes spirituality, philosophy and universal elements of the human experience that will have you relating to at least one of the tracks.
The music actually calms me down so much I want to incorporate his lyrics into my everyday speak. I’m hoping that will make me seem mellow, yet still mysterious.
Sure, the idea looks good on paper, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that spouting pearls like, “I am alone in my own meditation, so don’t you come in here with depression” only works when you possess a melodic, crooning voice and not a slightly nasal one.
Even so, I’m still hoping to seduce some poor soul to the tune of “Loving Feeling,” quite possibly my favorite track on the record. Who wouldn’t think the line, “For tomorrow I may go away, so today I must be happy. And it’s you, who brings this to me, this loving feeling” is a great pick-up line? MTW