The current queen of island reggae is currently Anuhea. Fittingly so, I got the chance to interview her on the "Queens of the Island" Tour with her tour mate, Etana from the island of Jamaica.
Anuhea hit the scene with a number of tracks that took the islands and the mainstream by storm. Her voice, her ukulele, her words; all are in perfect harmony (no pun intended). Her track, "Big Deal," still remains an anthem for many women (and men) who are dating and want that other person exactly know what they could be missing and/or what they have to do to keep them. Fast forward to her current tracks and she grabs you with her stories of love and being loved.
She's older now. She's in love. She has a beautiful child. I asked her how these life changes will influence her work. She's here to tell you just that.
Thank you for doing this interview Anuhea! Can you tell us about Anuhea; your cultural background, your inspirations both musical and growing up?
My inspirations growing up were definitely centered around island music and specifically my Aunty Nalani Choy who is my dad's sister was in the group Na Leo Pili Nehana (shortened to Na Leo). They were the most popular and successful female trio of all time. Since one of them was my aunty, it was always inspiring to have her be a role model to me in that sense. My dad also listened to a lot of like Color Me Bad, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson...you know a lot of the popular artists of that time. My mom listened to country and so I have also as an influence. So as I was growing up it was what my parents listened to and of course my aunty's music that remains an inspiration.
I always had a passion for music even when I was in high school but I was always into something. For instance I played a lion in a school play which is weird right?!? I was also trying to do as many talent shows and musicals as I could. I've always had a passion for that kind of fun stuff.
I was always into the fun of things. I would do talent shows and musicals for the fun of it so for my singing I also didn't take it seriously like ever. My best friend all throughout high school and even now is Kimie, and she was the one who was the singer. So just like any sibling relationships, singing was Kimie's thing. She was my sister and that was her thing and I of course had my own thing, you know?!? Those were some of the things that kept me from pursuing music and plus I didn't really think I was good at it. But then once I got to college and I continued to write songs on my own about what I was going through, I realized that music was also my passion and that I could pursue it. I mean I would write before but I wrote even more later. I would write about boys and break ups and my emotions. I would even play cover songs by looking it up on the internet. That's really how I started to learn how to play guitar.
Then one day I realized I had a repertoire of songs and it was all tied to my influences and inspirations. From my aunty to my best friend to what my parents listened to led to what I do now today.
Tell us about your first experience/s getting on the mic in front of people in Hawaii? How about outside of Hawaii? Where was the craziest and most awesome performance you've ever performed at?
In 2005, I left Chapman University where I was studying film production on a partial scholarship. I loved film but I was paying for it more and I wasn't really into it so - boom - I decided to go back home after my second year. I got back home and started working in a coffee shop in Lahaina, Maui. I worked there for a while, then got promoted to manager, and then I started playing music at the shop. It was a brand new place so they needed to get some more business in at night. I started jamming once a week and yea, that's where it all started for me. I put together all my life experiences into my song writing and that repertoire I used when I was able to play it at the coffee shop or onto MySpace and then YouTube. Like my first breakup - I write a bunch of songs. When I did a backpacking odyssey in Australia - I write a bunch of songs. I had a pretty good repertoire and I played it where I could play it. So from the coffee shop it started for me going public.
Answering "outside of Hawaii" is a hard question. My most memorable was inside of Hawaii at the Kokua festival with my idol Jack Johnson but since you ask about outside I have to think about it more. It would definitely have to be one of the festivals.
Ok. So when I was like 7 months pregnant, I played at a festival outside of San Francisco. It was a great opportunity for me but like I said I was pregnant. It had been booked a year prior and didn't know that I was going to get pregnant when it was festival time. It was very much a twist of events. I thought I was going to have my whole band rocking and like I thought I was going to kicks its ass but I ended up just doing the set acoustic. So I was up there with my acoustic guitar which was like a foot away from my body since I was pregnant. Yet it was my most memorable and I think also when I did Cali Roots Festival in like 2012.
How has Hawaii influenced your music?
Living in Hawaii has definitely influenced my music. I try to put the language of the islands as much as possible for instance in "Perfect Day" which is trilingual. I try to talk about the scenery, you know like the sky, the moon, the clouds, the mountains, and our little island. I play the Ukulele, in songs like "Simple Love Song." I have a new song called, "Island Inside Me" that talks about no matter where I go in the world, the island will always be with me. I try to always put that island vibe in my music.
SO when was it when you felt like you finally got discovered?
I feel like I'm still not "discovered." I mean I don't know. What exactly is the threshold of how you feel like you've made it or not? Who knows right?!? I've always been a really hard working person. I just wasn't scared to throw myself out there once I decided to. I had no shame in my game. I played onto the public access recording opportunity and I used it as a place to learn right?!? They gave me a couple hours and I jammed with my friends. They gave me the recording and burned it onto a CD. I spliced it up into tracks using my home computer. Then I put those tracks onto MySpace and that's how I met my manager, Warren.
At the time, I was living in San Francisco trying to find myself and just took whatever opportunities came my way. I would throw myself out there wherever I could and then I met the right person to help me get to where I want to be. Luckily, Warren had the connection with my Aunty Nalani. Because Warren had a connection and a relationship with my blood Aunty, I knew I could trust him. That was an issue for me and especially for other young musicians from Hawaii. We always have that feeling of "Aloha" and so that could be easily taken advantage of. Warren was good and was definitely trustworthy and that's why we work together today. At the time, I didn't even tell my Aunty that I was a musician before this because I was too shy and didn't think I was going to get so serious. Once I told her, she and Warren helped me lots and helped fund my first album.
For my second album I used Kickstarter. I understand that it's not the most viable way to fund an album like asking people to fund it and all but in the end it worked. I'm proof that it can work. I'm also going to use Kickstarter for my next album.
You're a great songwriter. Can you tell us about some of your favorite songs that you've written and what they mean to you?
I'll share with you two songs. I'll talk about one that is out already and one that is in the pipeline and may be on my next album.
The first one is from my first album called "Fly." I wrote it about the book the Alchemist. At the time I was reading a lot of self-help and manifest your own destiny type of books. You know the type books that teach you to "speak the life you want to live" books. That helped me see things as a musician. I am a singer. I am a musician. I am strong. It's those kind of things that the universe will conspire to make those dreams reality. So the Alchemist really inspired me and so I wrote "Fly" about it. If you read the lyrics you can totally see what I'm talking about.
The next song will by my new song, "Shoulders." Before I wrote a lot of songs about love, boys, and Hawaii, but this is one is about friendship. It's a song highly influenced by James Taylor's, "You've got a friend." It's a song about when you are down and troubled and nothing is going right and like in the James Taylor song, you can call my name. That's the idea behind "Shoulders."
"When all the seats are taken
You can sit with me
Even if the team is all full
We can start our own league"
You see I got bullied a bit when I was in middle school. I was a haole girl at a Hawaiian school. I was the one who would sit down at a table and then everyone would leave. I was the weird one. Remember how I said I was bit funny and strange, I think I definitely felt even more so at that time.
So this song is definitely my anthem to others like me back then. It's the song for those to know I got their back.
Along with the songwriting question, can you talk about what messages you want your music to send?
I want my overall message to be for my audience to feel good about yourself, love life and live it to the fullest.
Don't take yourself too seriously. I love to have fun and tease myself. I don't think that there is enough time in life to criticize other people and to get down on yourself. Life is beautiful and sometimes you get thrown a curve ball, it's how you handle it that really helps you create your character.
For example, I got pregnant during one of the biggest times in my career, during one of my biggest tours I've ever done thus far. I was working on this career and should not have been pregnant and I was telling myself, "What are you doing? You shouldn't be pregnant right now." That pregnancy could've been the end of my career. So I looked at it as a blessing and figured I have to make the best of it. So now my son already has been to New Zealand, Australia. He's been across the country. He's had a passport since he was 3 months old. I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't hard. It's hard. It's not easy. But you can make the best of it. Now I share that with him. I share what I love with who I love.
SO yeah, live life, feel good about yourself, try to give back, and don't forget where you come from.
Feel confident. Feel like a big deal. Feel higher than the clouds. And also feel humble enough to show your own insecurities.
You have a lot of young women who look to you as an inspiration now. You can speak for them through your music. If there are 3 things that you can tell them, what would that be?
It goes back to not taking yourself too seriously. I feel like once they start doing that then they starting putting pressure on themselves. You feel like you have to be too skinny or a certain way or to be better or be smarter. You don't have to be that way. Don't take yourself too seriously but at the same time do the best that you can.
Remember that family is over everything. It goes along with keep your roots. Stay grounded. Don't let yourself get "big headed" in this world. In Hawaiian culture that's the most important thing. Your family is everything.
Pursue and do what you love. Never give up. Stick to it. Don't settle and pave your path.
Hoh, that's like 15 different things. (laughter)
There is always a natural evolution in life. Life is funny that way. Can you tell us how your life has evolved and how your music evolved with it?
I think in middle school, high school, and after high school I was writing a lot about my emotions. I wasn't as clever as I am trying to be now. I think getting older helps with that. I didn't finish college but maybe in the college of life I'm realizing some things in my song writing. I'm trying to have my songs not only be good to listen to but also fun to read, like a poem. That's one way I'm challenging myself as a writer.
Most definitely I'm writing more about being a mom and being in love. Before I was kinda searching for love and now I think I'm exploring myself in that way through my music. Before I was trying to find myself and now I think I've found a new self.
How has your child and motherhood changed your music and what can we expect from the next album with those added inspirations to your life?
Well even though that song, "Shoulders" isn't about my son per se', it's the type of music and song that I want my son to know about me and about him. I want him to know I have his back no matter what. Songs of reassurance and songs for him are what I've been writing for him. Like I have this song called "Lullaby" for him. This is the new aspect of my life that I am definitely putting into my music.
It also is something for my audience. I want them to grow with me with these new chapters in my life.
Parenthood has definitely changed things. Like I probably would've never wrote a song like "Big Deal" now with what I have in my life. That song was about me being fun and young and innocent back then. Now I have newer things to explore.
What's next for Anuhea?
I'm going to be the best mother I can be while balancing this crazy career. It's hard to be a working mom and I'm so thankful that I'm able to have this.
What would you want to tell your fans?
Thank you everyone for the love and support to all the "Anu-jammers." It means the world to me that you love my music and that you support me through the ups and downs thus far. To the new fans, thanks for jumping on the party train. I'm going to be the funnest, coolest mom that you'll ever be a fan of. I have a lot of new stuff coming out soon and there should be a lot for everyone out there.