Makin Thru the Breakthru is the first solo album of Kanoa Kukaua, better known as Kanoa of the band Gomega. I thought it safe to presume that popping the CD into my player would bring a flood of the all too familiar reggae beat which seems to dominate the repertoire of most local musicians. But I was wrong.
Don’t get me wrong—I think reggae’s great. But I find the bulk of the local music I’ve heard to be amateurish and formulaic, focusing on the entirely unoriginal topics of partying, lush island women and shallow promises of a true and all-conquering love.
But Kanoa’s Makin Thru the Breakthru, I was pleasantly surprised to find, is a refreshing album containing a montage of sounds from a variety of musical genres laced with intelligent, relatable lyrics. The artist himself describes it as a “soul album with hints of pop and a touch of reggae.”
When I met with Kanoa and Ipo Kahele, his manager, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that they are kind and gracious people. Kanoa’s humility was evident by his eagerness to thank those who have helped and inspired him throughout this musical process.
Kanoa said that “Gomega,” the name of his band, which formed in 1999, means “to go big.” He said it reflects his desire for the band to take on “a bigger entity” in their musical endeavors.
He also expressed frustration at being “pigeonholed” by the expectations of listeners and critics. He said, with some care, that he’s “a student of music” and that he “respects music too much not to go there”—exploring musical possibilities.
“To me, the album is a memoir of my life,” Kanoa said.
The song “Breakthru” expresses Kanoa’s determination to make it. He said he got the idea for the title after having his palm read while apprenticing as a tattoo artist. The palm reader told him that success was on its way, but that he had to be patient and “make it through the breakthrough.”
Everything from the artwork on the cover to the music and lyrics are a reflection of his life. Indeed, Kanoa poses in six different get-ups on the album cover, representing the many facets of his identity. What’s more, he does this against the backdrop of Pu‘unene Meat Market and the sugar mill, which he said represents “the working man.” The places also hold special significance to Kanoa, as his family lived and worked in Pu‘unene.
Tracks like “True,” “Loving You,” “Let Go” and “Pick up the Pieces” are genuine and heartfelt; others, like “Don’t Stop” and “After the Tone” are more playful and fun. Each song stands out with a distinctive sound and message, but doesn’t compromise the album’s overall cohesion.
Success is an extremely relative term, but this new album makes it hard to think Kanoa didn’t make it through the breakthrough a long time ago. MTW