Few reggae bands are as nostalgic and modern as Maui’s own Malino. This four-piece outfit rose during the early 2000’s, a time when Hawaii’s music scene was dominated by the superstars of the ‘90s and thus, wide open for a generational takeover. Malino’s debut in 2004 put them on the map in a big way, playing gigs and headlining shows state-wide, their debut album making them an overnight sensation. Their sophomore effort, From the Start, though released in 2015, feels every bit as rhythmic and melodic as anything in the reggae scene currently. As the title suggests, From the Start is an ode to where Malino started as musicians, and a marker for where they want to be as local legends.
The title song kicks off From the Start in a wholly vibrant way. Bass thumping and horns blaring, Malino gives you a feel for their sweet irie vibes. I can feel the bass and treble in my chest. They certainly make you feel it. It’s impossible not to surrender to the rhythm, vocals chiming: Got you groovin’ on a natural high/So just embrace it ‘cause it feels right.
“Yearnin” has an undeniable hook. For first time listeners, this might be the song that’ll get you addicted to Malino, bass turned to 11 and vocal harmonies utterly enchanting in their cadence. The rolling repetition of the track’s title might trick you into thinking you already know the song, Malino beckoning you to sing along. Lead singer Vince Saures, bassist Drigo Casio, and guitarist Kapono Cordero-Hoopai might have the vocals covered, but another voice wouldn’t hurt to throw in the mix.
Malino amps up the tempo with “Hawaiian Man.” Each member of the band shares vocal duties and the lyrical handoff is seamless. They all operate in the same smooth tenor, which is what makes their harmonies so addicting. “Hawaiian Man” is perhaps the catchiest rallying song you will ever hear. Now we have to fight for our right/Hawaiian people unite. The chorus solidifies this togetherness among the band sung in soulful unison.
“Echoes” charts the anxieties and insecurities that ring back and forth in our headspace. A curious subject to turn into a cruise anthem. Malino, nonetheless, pulls it off. The track’s effect is undeniably clever, utilizing the many voices of the band’s members to capture the conscious repetition of voices stuck in one’s head, albeit more sonically.
Malino slows things down with “In Need,” a track slightly more R&B-inflected, but retains the reggae-vibe with wobbly keys that emit the feeling of waves. Malino loosely translates from Hawaiian as “calm, quiet as the sea”, which makes “In Need” the most Malino song on From the Start. Careful listening to this near water; you might feel yourself drowning in the melody.
Malino’s rhythmic wonder bears resemblance to fellow Maui sensation, Ekolu. Any Maui band will be compared to the Valley Isle’s pride and joy, but it’s only because Ekolu set the template. Which is what makes Malino so astonishing in how they’ve managed to distinguish themselves since they first started. Both bands may hail from Maui, but no one confuses the two. Everybody knows Ekolu, and everybody knows Malino.
If you can believe it, Malino came to formation while they were in 8th grade. Whereas most middle schoolers in Hawaii were playing with pogs, marbles, or knee-deep in Pokémon obsessions, Vince, Drigo, Kapono, and drummer Allen Priest Jr. wanted nothing more than to perform and entertain. They got what they wanted and performed at their own 8th grade luau.
This early ambition saw through to the making and recording of their debut album, 2004’s Always Be Mine, them at just 16-years of age. The title song alone took Hawaii by storm, the same way Kolohe Kai’s “Ehu Girl” years later would captivate an entire high school generation. The prospect of hitting it big so young inspired a wave of musicians. Malino was seen as mythic in that way, that a group of friends jamming in a room could one day become superstars on the local radio stations. I, too, had a reverence for them as they played at my 6th grade assembly where they honored their stomping grounds. Everyone, from elementary to high school, knew the words to “Always Be Mine,” a song off an album that itself would be covered by aspiring local artists. From school assemblies to graduation parties and community festivals, Malino etched a name in Maui’s cultural conscience. With From the Start, it’s clear more than ever that they’re here to stay.
“Can’t Get Enough” is a spiritual sequel of sorts to “Always Be Mine,” a sunshine melody of a song that resurges past themes of love, codependence, and commitment. Malino aren’t anything if not committed to their island roots.
Accented horns make a triumphant return in “You’re so Beautiful,” a track that feels on the verge of being pure jazz or all-out rock. They maintain their fusion of genre, but this doesn’t stop a guitar solo from erupting out of the fore. Reggae doesn’t hinder artists so much as it sets them free rhythmically, and Malino unleashes duly.
“Since I Met You” is gospel-inspired, all members falling in line for the song’s call and response melodies. Soon as I met you, my life has never been the same/Soon as I met you, thank God he’s the one to blame. Theirs is a religion of love and affection, and it’s hard not to give yourself over to their charming musical embrace.
“Mokuniki” might be the penultimate song on From the Start, but it’s no less animating. Thrumming horns, keys, bass grooving; if you’re not up and dancing by the time Vince starts singing then you might be from the town in Footloose. “Mokuniki” is the completion of the album’s sentiments of long-lasting romance with a wedding declaration as its chorus: I wanna love you the rest of my life/Make you smile when you wear your frown. Singing about love was their hit-maker and the topic clearly generates more and more singles for them. You know what they say, if it ain’t broke…
Malino sets aside the last song on the album to pay tribute to their faith and heritage. “Jesus, Just the Mention of Your Name” features a lone ukulele, bass, and the harmonies of all members in starry-eyed unison. The second verse of the track is in all Hawaiian, altogether a subtle and enchanting cocktail that’ll have you swaying beneath the constellations of the night sky. It’s the perfect closer to a brisk album full of energy that doesn’t let it all go to waste and instead beckons you to savor it.
Whether you’re an artist, a student, or just listening to the radio, Maui takes care of its own. That’s what we call island pride. Malino has a lot to be proud about, a career that has taken care of them just as well as they’ve taken care of entertaining us. They are forever symbolic of the creative dream, of finding a passion early on, finding an audience, and hitting it big – a time that seems so distant. Few bands have risen since then. Even fewer have lasted. Another summer might be at an end, but for Malino – only 2 albums in – perhaps they’re just getting started.
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.