by Stu Dawrs
"None of us has the luxury of being unemployed musicians," says Kevin Chang with a laugh when asked why his band’s public appearances are mostly limited to what he terms "the underground luau circuit." No joke: Among Kupa ‘Aina’s regular line-up is a garbage truck driver (bassist Stanley Tibayan); a landscaper (guitarist Lau Aloua); a banker (drummer Anson Pang); an attorney (Chang, the band’s main singer, songwriter and ‘ukulele player); a lifeguard (multi-instrumentalist Keao Cockett); and a Hawaiian cultural consultant (chanter and slam poet Kalama Cabigon). Oh yeah, Pang and Tibayan are also busy being grandparents.
photo by Makani Ortogero
This, in part, also explains why it took eighteen months to record the band’s self-titled debut CD. A fusion of several different styles, Kupa ‘Aina is nearly impossible to categorize. On any given track, one might hear elements of traditional Hawaiian music, funk, jazz, rap or world-beat. Take, for instance, the song "Overload," which Chang describes as a "neo-traditional Hawaiian hip-hop ‘ukulele frenzy."
In addition to the regular band members, Kupa ‘Aina also features a wide array of guest artists. University of Hawai‘i professor Kanalu Young serves as a composer, while Hapa guitarist Barry Flanagan sits in on two tracks. Students from the Hawaiian language immersion school Halau Ku Mana wrote and perform two songs, Chang’s aikido teacher plays harmonica on another and a host of friends provide various background noises throughout.
"This album really was a community effort," says Chang. "What we wanted to do was capture all the different aspects of what Hawai‘i is: to show that we have authentic lives, that sometimes we struggle and that Hawai‘i is not just a coconut tree paradise."