Few bands command attention. Even fewer command respect. Oahu’s reggae supergroup Ooklah The Moc grabs both in a way that makes them bona fide legends in the local music scene, their name a key marker for Hawaii’s roots reggae obsession. Ooklah The Moc revitalized the reggae subgenre with dynamic albums doubled down by commanding live performances across the Pacific. Their authoritative lyrics and bumping island rhythms spoke to the underdogs, the downtrodden, and the benevolent believer. Ooklah The Moc’s latest EP Every Posse serves as a reintroduction for the band following a 9-year absence. They’re back, rejuvenated, and primed to dominate a scene in need of their gravitas.
Ooklah The Moc hits the ground running with “Truth & Right”, a dub-heavy opener with punctuated horns welcoming listeners to their reggae gospel. The song is Jamaican-infused: Jah music cure the people/Jah works secure all the people. “Jah” is the Rastafarian name for God. Ooklah preaches both goodwill and good vibes with enchanting vibratos. (I must defend my sovereignty/As a blessed child of the almighty) Sermons aren’t usually this groove-worthy.
“Love Is Meant to Be Nice” is Ooklah’s most accessible song on the EP, a swaying ballad wherein each verse ponders love’s meaning. Blunt in lyrics (love means eternity), while understated in sound, bassist Ryan “Jah Gumby” Murakami provides a bumbling counter-melody. Bass guitar is often neglected in other genres. In reggae, a talented bassist is crucial. Bass isn’t just the rhythmic undercurrent holding the melody together; it is its own harmonic instrument, and Gumby makes it easy to get lost in the serenade.
Ooklah the Moc ‘Every Posse’ on iTunes | on Google Play
Ooklah The Moc boasts three vocalists on the roster. The vocal handoff can happen in any song, verse, or chorus. If you hadn’t noticed, you’ve heard each vocalist taking lead already. (Kali Navales on “Truth & Right,” Pokii Seto on “Love Is Meant to Be Nice.”) “Summer Sun” marks Micky Huihui’s turn at the mic, evoking soul, power, and fullness in her voice’s glisten. With an entire track just for her to shine, she damn near sets the album ablaze.
“Reggae Journey” is appropriately titled. Ooklah’s discography charts through Hawaii’s reggae obsessions: island, dancehall, dub – all of which Ooklah has dabbled in. Every Posse is a homecoming and an ode to their roots reggae origins, less about beach cruising a la bands like Kolohe Kai and Iration and more about social issues like struggle, poverty, oppression, and spiritual belief, reggae themes made pivotal by pioneer Bob Marley. Rastafarianism gave birth to reggae as an expression. There is no separating the two; it’s felt as one, which Navales notes on “Reggae Journey.” When we play reggae/We feel it in our veins. This affection for the genre is infused in Ooklah The Moc, which is why it’s no surprise that they’ve accrued such a dedicated following over the years whom recognize the band’s passion.
Ooklah The Moc made their debut in 2001 with Ites Massive, but it was 2004’s Rearrange Your Positive that shot them into the reggae stratosphere. The album’s leading single “Hellfire” is an enduring genre staple, a song that still enjoys radio-play and remains a popular choice song to cover by aspiring local bands. Roots reggae speaks across generations and Ooklah The Moc preaches the gospel of Jah with plenty of credibility to spare. They’ve been billed alongside Ziggy, Stephen, Ky-Mani, and Damian Marley at many reggae festivals across the Pacific. Ooklah The Moc’s previous album Vaults was released in 2008. Every Posse might be an EP, it’s still a showstopping showcase for their irie wonder and bombast.
“King” is all hands on deck. Ooklah boasts an ensemble of 8 talented musicians whom have remained firmly committed to the band for nearly two decades. Pokii Seto sings of the group’s resilience (We keep on pushing on/We keep on trodding on) with Navales and Huihui harmonizing. There’s plenty of room for Mike Cueva’s saxophone and Bernie Soriano’s horns to get in on the groove, along with Robert Daguio’s upbeat keys. The whole symphony gets in on the action.
Daguio keeps the irie thrumming in “Rocket Crucial,” an all-out head-bopping tune that’ll lure you to the dance floor. Navales invites every posse to unwind and throw your hands up, singing, Stresses of the day can bring things to a level/We all need a little time for decompression. Ooklah indeed rocks it crucial in time for Every Posse’s home stretch.
“Too Much Black Gold” is the dub-instrumental version of “Reggae Journey,” light on lyrics but heavy on sound. Cueva’s smooth sax and Soriano’s spiraling trumpet evoke a jazz-touch, while Gumby and guitarist Asher Philippart riff freely. It’s the kind of outro that leaves you wanting more, perfect for Every Posse’s promise for more from Ooklah The Moc in the future – hopefully sooner rather than later.
There may be no telling when to expect a full-length album from Ooklah The Moc, but it’s a sure bet that they’re not done by a long shot. Reggae affords plenty of room for experimentation and expression, which Ooklah has proved time and time again and have become bona fide roots legends in the process. Not bad for a band whose name hails from an ‘80s Saturday morning cartoon. Fires tend to fizzle before they go out. With the fullness and vivacity of Every Posse’s sound, Ooklah The Moc’s flame burns brighter than ever.
Ooklah the Moc ‘Every Posse’ on iTunes | on Google Play
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.