When I was 15, I decided I wanted to be in a band. At the time, my “band-mates” and I were all hanging out in cow pastures a lot, so we called the band SUK, which is a nifty acronym for Scared Uv Kows.
The name was totally my idea, but unfortunately, I have zero musical talent. The rest of the band (all males) thought I could just be the tambourine girl. “Anyone can play the tambourine,” they said. “Just stand there and look good.”
The band didn’t make it—possibly because I can’t play the tambourine—but at times I still feel the urge to scrawl SUK on binders, notebooks and playground equipment.
Unified Soul is different. They’re still going strong after forming just nine months ago. Band members Tiare Johnson (lead vocals), Joshua Johnson (drums), Rico Manangan (guitar and vocals), Ben Sacapanio (bass), Keoki Agcaoili (keyboards), Wilson Rapozo (also keyboards) and Matt Lilulama (vocals and token “eye-candy”) deliver fresh vocals and a sound that makes getting up and dancing absolutely mandatory.
I’ve seen Unified Soul play a few times at Casanova in Makawao. Their music is not totally island, not really roots, not rock (although I’ve heard them perform a really good “Hotel California”) and not pop (they do smokin’ hot Prince covers, though).
“Pop Reggae?” is how Tiare Johnson described the band when I asked. “Every memorable band has their own sound. We’re getting there. We’re getting close to defining what that is.”
Johnson has amazing long, dark hair, multiple tattoos and an easy-going demeanor. She also puts out the barest whisper of the vibe that she will really mess you up if you hurt the people close to her. She speaks precisely, yet still appears humble and gracious.
The last time I saw Unified Soul perform was June 23, when they battled Natural Feeling and One Vibe and won the grand prize of a spot on KPOA’s Hot Hawaiian Nights. The show has featured some of Hawai‘i’s most talented musicians—Koauka, Maunalau, Raiatea Helm and Kapena.
Now I’ve seen Casanova crowded and packed, but never have I seen it so alive as when Unified Soul appeared. Take a club full of pressing-for-action locals, add awesome island music and a good deal of Heineken and you have one hell of a party.
Natural Feeling and One Vibe both played tight sets and the crowd clearly loved them. But Unified Soul just had a little bit more.
“I think that we’re unique because the females in Hawai‘i bands are always behind the scenes,” Johnson said. “You’ll hear different female vocals versus the female voice being featured. Something similar to our thing would be Hawaiian Style Band [which had a female lead], but there hasn’t been very many bands that feature the female voice since them.”
Not only is Unified Soul heading to Oahu at the end of the month to film Hot Hawaiian Nights, they’re one of the bands opening the Katchafire concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MACC) this weekend.
“We’re lucky that we have people that believe in us,” Johnson said. “Karey [Oura] from Island Soul Entertainment called and asked us if we wouldn’t mind playing at the SolJah Fest… And of course we don’t mind! It’s a dream to play up on that stage. It’s been something that we’ve wanted. It’s awesome when you have a passion and desire to do something and then the opportunity comes to you.”
For more info contact Joshua Johnson at 357-1496. MTW