When you’re in Hawaii, you’re likely to stumble across a musical gem. Whether you’re sitting at a local coffee shop, dining at a restaurant, or driving down the coast with the volume on high, you’ll find yourself jamming to rhythm of the islands one way or another. Hawaii boasts all kinds of artists and every island is more than happy to provide a spotlight for local talent. It’s what allowed Maui-born singer Anuhea to find her passion in music, a passion that has paved the way for mainstream success. Three albums in, there’s no denying her resolve or her love for Hawaii. Her newest album, Follow Me, is a passionate love letter to the islands, one so catchy it’ll reel in fans and newcomers alike.
The album opener, “We Make It Look Easy,” begins with an acoustic melody that surrenders to a pop vibe. It’s enough to put a smile on your face as the lyrics chart a song about being hopelessly in love. Can you feel it? Anuhea sings in the lead up to an all-out dance of a chorus. Her previous albums veered comfortably in reggae – the genre pick of Hawaiian music. Anuhea makes the transition to pop look indeed easy with an accessible single for anyone new to her music. Longtime fans have nothing to worry about. Both “Like the Way It Feels” and “Riddles” dabble in familiar reggae-folk territory, songs that easily give off summertime beach feels. Even if you’ve never been to Hawaii, Anuhea will have you daydreaming about the islands all the same.
“Right Now” is the kind of DJ head-bobbing tune made for a night out, while “I Won’t Settle” shows off Anuhea’s spectacular vocal range reminiscent of Alicia Keys’s R&B spunk. The following track, “Hands Up,” similarly recalls the electronic moves and grooves of Lady Gaga. A new sound has given Anuhea a new set of tools and a lot more artists to reference and channel. Midway through the album, “Right Back Where I Started” is an emotional ballad about a love that ends but refuses to let go. Part of Anuhea’s magic is that she can take something as serious as a break-up and still make it a song worth dancing to in the rain. Even Hawaii has its rainy days.
For Anuhea, all of this began with an acoustic guitar – an origin story akin to the great Henry Kapono. She’s self-taught. The one thing that came naturally: her songwriting. She’s had a knack for telling stories through the gift of song, whether it’s falling in love, falling apart, even cruising at the beach with good company. She’s always had an interest in melding her songwriting with modern influences. Follow Me is a culmination of her ambitions going all the way back to her days jamming in coffee shops and performing covers of the latest hits. She’s still jamming. She’s just got more room to play.
That’s what’s so reassuring about Anuhea. Even as she expands her repertoire, it’s not an excuse to ditch her island roots in favor of beats and electronica, but to incorporate such with ukuleles and find a harmony. “X-Lover” channels the frustration and acceptance of a broken relationship with, as always, a little bit of soul. Breaking up never sounded so powerful. “Don’t Want Your Money” is an homage to 90s funk very much like Bruno Mars, whom also hails from Hawaii.
“Who Knew” is a radio-friendly anthem for the newly single. The song reconciles the complicated melodies of love and woe with Anuhea proclaiming, it’s time to let you go. Afterwards, she examines the dark skies of letting go in “How Not to Hurt You” and expresses her own regrets in the relationship. Love, after all, is a two-way street. Yet, Anuhea’s shimmering vocals, accompanied by a sunny guitar melody, will have you thinking summer is right around the corner.
The album’s title track, “Follow Me,” beckons you to follow her lead if you haven’t made your way to the dancefloor already. “Walls” is her most uplifting track and a satisfying release of emotion: I no longer need to suffer/I am finally at peace. It’s destined to be her next big single, though in an album full of them it’s take your pick. Follow Me ends with a throwback to her reggae roots. Reggae had a resurgence in the mainstream thanks to MAGIC’s chart-topping single, “Rude.” Anuhea shows the boys how it’s done with album closer, “Mixed Feelings,” a track so vibrant and catchy that local artists are getting their covers ready as we speak. Not a bad way for Anuhea to come full circle.
Music has been a labor of love for Anuhea and Follow Me is exactly that. Her love for music began with reggae, a love that has grown to include genres like pop, soul, and R&B. No matter what musical journey Anuhea embarks on, it’ll always have passion riding underneath. If you’re looking for a portrait of Hawaii in all of its cloudy and sunny days, Follow Me is a lovely island reverie to lose yourself in. Whether you live on the islands or planning a Hawaii vacation, Anuhea’s Follow Me is a wonderful musical companion to bring along for the ride.
Adrian Manuel is a freelance writer. He’s published articles on Thought Catalog, written a flash piece for A Quiet Courage, and submitted feature essays for The Good Men Project and Mamalode. He also runs an entertainment news blog where he reports on film, television, and music. He lives in Maui.