It’s hard out there for reggae bands in Hawaii. Some want to jam and make records, others want fame and fortune. Others – true to old school reggae fashion – just want to spread the genre’s influence. There is perhaps no greater hurdle for Hawaiian music artists than the vast Pacific that stands in the way of mainstream success. Such is where we find The Green, having broken through that barrier thanks to the diligence and dedication poured into Marching Orders. Their passion for reggae is all over their latest album, a love so sonically-infused that it’s impossible not to surrender to its influence.
Marching Orders starts out dub-heavy with its title track featuring an assist from dancehall reggae artist Busy Signal. You knock me down and I get back up on my feet/Forward till my mission’s complete. A song about soldiering on, which is practically their motto. The Green’s self-titled debut album, released in 2010, spent a record 69 weeks on the Billboard Reggae Charts. Don’t go calling them a one-hit wonder. They are all about the long game.
Caleb Keolanui is the group’s lead vocalist, but he shares vocal duties with 3 fellow bandmates. This varying of distinct timbre and tenors is what makes The Green so compelling as a band. “I Will” showcases the smoothness of this vocal handoff.
“All I Need” is the album’s first major single, a song bearing a subtle trap beat and bubbly synthesizers evoking the track’s romantic mood. Keolanui goes solo on this one, belting out his love for his wife and daughter. The song is very personally written: We gotta daughter plus one more, a baby boy on the way/Promise to love you and to be there till the end of my day. Being in a band is its own voyage. Time spent touring is time spent away from their families, yet Keolanui sings of a love greater than the distance between them. He may not know it, but he’s crafted the perfect anniversary song.
“Good Feeling” is a killer jazz-reggae fusion, reggae’s unmistakable jive paired with a howling saxophone highlighting The Green’s genre-blending ambitions. Jazz had influenced legendary Hawaiian music artist Gabby Pahinui, its free-flowing melody liberating the traditional flow of song structure. It continues to liberate them here in a song awash with thumping grooves and harmonies.
There’s no mistaking what “Going Up” is all about with a chorus chanting, We just get high/Oh so high, oh so high. Originally titled, “Weed Song,” its lyrical substance is otherwise felt in the song’s haze and atmosphere.
What starts out as indigenous inevitably gives way to a Friday night hype-track in “Feel So Cool.” Even if you don’t have a ’69 Chevelle as the song references, it emits plenty of existential cool for those epic weekend cruises.
“Mama Roots” charts their love for reggae harkening back to where it started for them: Bob Marley’s on the stereo/And I love it, how this music gets me in the mood. A spiritual ode featuring renowned reggae sensation J Boog. This is the kind of credibility that The Green has built up for themselves, where any respected reggae artist can come in with a verse or two like it’s no big deal.
Oahu-born and bred, The Green have given themselves an extraordinary mission: spread their love of reggae unto others. It might seem objectively easy, but it takes years of effort to branch out beyond the islands. With bands like MAGIC! hitting it big overnight, The Green bears the challenge of distinguishing themselves in a mainstream culture that should have room for them but doesn’t. Perhaps that was why they shelved Marching Orders for a time, to take time to retool, rethink, and double down on their passion. It was that impulse to soldier on that saw to Marching Orders debuting at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Charts, holding on for 18 weeks straight and regaining the top spot twice. Success doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a marathon, and The Green deserves this victory lap.
They are living the dream and “The Garden” heralds this surreal moment in time. A lush vibe replete with ‘80s dream-like guitar-picking, the song expresses a sentiment in the band’s very name, that the grass is always greener on the other side.
“Foolish Love” is a Justin Timberlake-esque lover’s quarrel with sprawling choruses to spare: ‘Cause you keep telling me your life could be much better/But what’s that supposed to mean, like I’m the only one here to blame. Such is the sprawling nature of love’s expression. The honeymoon phase is bound to end; only during those melancholy strolls beneath the stars do we really feel like we’re in it.
Caleb Kaleonui and guitarist JP Kennedy’s very own uncle, Danny Kennedy of The Mana’o Company lends his vocals to continue the album’s meditations on love. When we speak of love, how does it feel/Does it come from the heart, or even feel real? We may wring our hands for hours pondering about love, but music has a way of capturing its ever-fleeting form in the time capsule of song.
Marching Orders makes room to cover The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” reggae-style. Kaleonui’s soulful tenor is a worthy successor to Jack White’s raw vocals. It’s spunky, hard-hitting, and all-around groovy courtesy of bassist Brad Watanabe. In a song that originally had no bass-line, Watanabe inserts the groove like a vital element.
“You’ve Been Crying” cuts particularly deep, a lively and otherwise catchy song about the pain we all try to mask with a smile. It’s our eyes that betray us: It’s written in your eyes/I can see it on your face. That they can craft a sad happy-go-lucky song is a testament to their artistry.
“My Rights” is a rocking anthem exercising their right to smoke all day without pushback from authorities. The political side/sequel to “Going Up,” The Green isn’t shy about calling out abuses of power and taking a stance. Their name, after all, signifies allegiance to a certain legalized drug.
The Green brings it all home with “Maui Ninja,” sporting doo-woop vocals and a tranquil, dreamy mood evoking the night sky – a proper image to cap off an expansive album whilst hinting at bigger things to come.
If The Green’s Billboard-topping success is any indication, they’ve certainly made it. Yet, it seems they’re not keen on basking in their victory. They’ve given themselves new marching orders entirely – to win over audiences one show at a time on tour. Success, after all, is only how we measure it. Perhaps we should follow The Green’s lead because as they’ve proven, there’s no use sulking or staggering in defeat. Soldiering on is the best thing any of us can do.
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.