If any group can be exclusively dubbed Maui’s pride and joy, it’s Ekolu. No other reggae band is synonymous with the local music scene. They practically put Maui on the map, paving the way for bands like Malino to rise in due time. Their roots are in the Valley Isle, but Ekolu’s influence extends across Hawaii. At any given moment, their songs are jamming on the radio or awaiting airplay by way of request. If music is something you feel, then Hawaii has been feelin’ Ekolu music since they broke out onto the scene in ‘99. They’ve charted 7 albums in their musical journey so far, but for visitors or anyone new to Hawaiian reggae, this Ekolu’s Greatest Hits compilation is a smooth introduction to one of Hawaii’s most respected bands.
1. Down In The Valley
Ekolu began as a three-piece outfit, “ekolu” being the Hawaiian word for three. Their first single, “Down In the Valley” not only references the island they grew up in, but shows how it goes down in the Maui music scene.
2. Stuck On You
The late ’90s were somewhat of a mournful period in Hawaii. Braddah Iz, a Hawaiian music legend, passed away in ’97. Local musicians dared not to eclipse him, but Ekolu found clever ways to channel his influence. Iz was known for his soulful covers (“Starting All Over Again,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) and Ekolu did one of their own with an alluring rendition of Lionel Richie’s, “Stuck on You.” The medley is a fruitful metaphor for the band’s artistry, moving the needle forward by dutifully acknowledging those who came before.
3. Just Like That
Their following single, “Just Like That” is a sweet harmony of ascending and descending guitars, a unison of sound that establishes their rhythmic Ekolu-music identity just so.
4. Just One Night
“Just One Night” is the moonlight anthem for a romantic stroll on the beach: I wanna be there with you when the sun goes down/and be there right beside you when you turn around. It’s not a plea for a one-night stand so much as it is for a shot at love, lead singer Lukela Kealia bellowing, baby all I need from you is just one night. Kealia’s voice is the perfect mood-setter, wielding an utterly enchanting voice that beckons you to sing along.
5. Shores Of Waiehu
“Shores Of Waiehu” is perhaps their most famous track, an affectionate ode to a humble town along Maui’s northern coast. Kealia is backed by members Makapu Ho’opii and Akoni Dellomes. Their synchronized harmonies turn their hometown of Waiehu into the most romantic locale in all of Hawaii.
6. If I Was Your Man
“If I Was Your Man,” continues their string of love-themed songs. Audiences may recall a similarly-titled Bruno Mars single. In all deference to Bruno, Ekolu was here first.
“Honestly” is their most affecting track, ditching the reggae-jive for a quiet acoustic melody and the perfect wedding vow: Through your bad times, your saddest times/I’ll help you see it through. Maui is a recurring motif in their songwriting, as are themes of love. Ekolu can’t help but speak about love, and we, in turn, can’t help but fall in love with Hawaii.
The sky’s pretty much the limit for Ekolu, though they’d prefer to stay as close to the ground as possible. Kealia, Ho’opii, and Dellomes met while enrolled in the same slack-key guitar class in high school. The ins and outs of rehearsal gave them an artistic shorthand. Together they performed in the school’s “Brown Bags” talent competition where they famously lost to a group of ballerina dancers. The experience didn’t discourage them in any way. In fact, the anecdote is all you’d need to know about three talented and otherwise humbled musicians who’d prefer to be known as average local guys.
8. Back To The Valley
Ekolu stays true to their roots. “Back to the Valley,” is an expansion of their sound, adding keyboards into the mix. Ekolu knows all about the Valley Isle, its ups and downs, ebbs and flows. What’s surprising is how they’re able to render Maui as a vibe, a pure state of mind to get lost in.
9. You Are My Sensation
“You Are My Sensation” is further proof of how infectious their sound is: And when I look in your eyes, I get lost in a dream. It’s impossible not to surrender to Ekolu’s fever dream.
10. What She Really Needs
“What She Really Needs” is the perfect antidote to any blue spell and sees to the growth of Ekolu’s outfit of guitars and keyboards to a full-blown horn section.
11. Ekolu Music
“Ekolu Music” is the heralding of this newly-reformed era. We’ve been playing it from the start/Can you feel it? We certainly have, Kealia reminding us, you know we’re doing it just for you. Ekolu knows they would never be where they are now without their loyal fanbase. They never forget where they came from.
12. Ekolu “She’s Music To Me”
“She’s Music to Me” is the end of a trilogy of love singles that began with “Just One Night” and “Shores of Waiehu.” Their muse is certainly lucky, but we’re the ones truly being spoiled with a take-your-pick selection of grooves.
This may be a Greatest Hits compilation, but Ekolu is hardly in the Greatest Hits-era of their career. This collection charts songs off their first 4 albums. They have since put out 3 additional LPs and are showing no signs of slowing down. Ekolu’s Greatest Hits is the perfect introduction to one of the most beloved bands currently rocking the scene. If you’re looking for a pure taste of Maui or want to take a little bit of Maui home with you, Ekolu music is the way to go.
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.