When Roger Bong discovered DJ Muro’s Hawaiian Breaks digital album in 2010 featuring ’70s disco and funk music from a variety of Hawai‘i artists, he was instantly hooked. Some of the songs he recognized, but others were completely unknown. Muro was somewhat of a mystery himself, known as one of the “Kings of Diggin’” in the record-collecting world. His specialty was hip-hop, but his collection spanned all music, including an incredible assortment of ’70s Hawaiian funk that Muro compiled in a mixed album.
Bong set out to recreate the track list for the album, identifying individual song titles and artists for those, including himself, who may have stumbled upon the hour-long mix and were curious about who sang what. “It became this scavenger hunt I found myself on, along with a handful of other like-minded individuals who were looking to identify the songs,” says Bong, who, after a year of researching, listed his findings online in a new blog he called Aloha Got Soul. The website became a repository of sorts for other albums that Bong uncovered.
For Bong, who had a passion for music and writing, this new project was the perfect fit. At the time, Bong had just graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In high school at Mililani, he played guitar and drums, even writing a handful of original songs for a few indie bands he played in. Then one day, a friend brought his auntie’s record collection to Bong’s house to listen for samples to loop. Bong started buying records to sample, then ones that he simply enjoyed: soul, jazz, funk, R&B. “Four years later, when I first heard the Muro mix, it was a perfect combination of two things I loved: soulful music and Hawai‘i,” he recalls.
Today on the site, Bong continues sharing relatively unknown ’70s and ’80s Hawaiian soul, groove, and funk music from his expanding collection.He also features interviews with old-school local musicians like Steve Maii (who composed the 1983 song “Catching A Wave”), Robin Kimura (of the ’70s funk band Greenwood), and Norm Winter (of Radio Free Hawaii).
Five years in, Aloha Got Soul became more than a blog when Bong decided that rather than just write about great vinyl, he would make some himself. He reached out to fellow musician Mike Lundy, who had sung two of the tracks on Hawaiian Breaks. Bong had interviewed Lundy as part of a story for the blog in 2013, and reconnected with him about reissuing two of Lundy’s singles from The Rhythm of Life LP on 7-inch vinyl under the Aloha Got Soul record label—35 years after their original release. The two-song vinyl debuted earlier this year to fanfare at release parties in Honolulu, London, and Chicago. Collectors ranging from vinyl enthusiasts frequenting Hungry Ear Records in Mo‘ili‘ili to teenagers in London’s Peckham neighborhood scooped up copies from the limited run of 500. “Rog, I can’t believe this,” Bong recalls an incredulous Lundy telling him at the event. “We never had a release party back in 1980 when the LP came out. But now it’s official.” Buyers from places including Japan, Spain, France, Brazil, Taiwan, China, and Canada—where Bong says fans had heard about the music through Aloha Got Soul or through other sources—ordered the vinyl online. “It’s like the music is getting a second chance,” he says. In November, he plans to release all nine songs from Lundy’s The Rhythm of Life.
“Vinyl helps ensure that this music will be heard decades from now,” Bong explains. “It is literally a record of something, a physical document archiving a piece of sound … To listen, all you need is a needle to the groove.”