Island Mele: ‘Mr. Chang’ makes impressive return post-Kupa’aina
Kevin Chang made a significant contribution to the Hawaiian music scene with his band, Kuap’aina. Now he’s back, 15 years later, as a solo artist.
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“BOXERS AND BOOTLEGGERS”
Mr. Chang (Mr. Chang Music)
Kevin Chang made a significant contribution to the Hawaiian music genre of mele ku‘e (songs of resistance) when his group, Kupa‘aina, introduced itself with an album titled “Simple Island People” in 2004. The album also contained several songs that combined Afro-Caribbean rhythms with Hawaiian lyrics in imaginative ways, but Kupa‘aina’s music never got the commercial attention it deserved and the group faded away from the public spotlight.
“Boxers and Bootleggers” marks Chang’s return 15 years later as Mr. Chang, a solo recording artist.
Six originals reveal his interest in subjects ranging from the magic of true love to the violent milieu of street life.
Chang opens with “Brown Skin Girl,” a tropical love song ideally suited for play on Hawaii’s island-music radio stations.
He shows his romantic side a second time with “Harbor Song,” in which the singer politely tells a woman that he’d like to “spend some time in the air you breathe,” and again with “Red Rose Petals,” a song that describes the love of a lifetime. “Sometimes,” a song propelled by an irresistible percussion track, expresses similar feelings but in whimsical terms.
“Humility” and “Nursery Rhymes & Fairy Tales,” are at other ends of the spectrum.
The former is either an insult song (“I will always be smarter that you,” Chang sings tauntingly) or an oblique portrait of a conceited jerk who finally realizes that people who are “butt ugly” give him someone to feel superior to.
With “Nursery Rhymes & Fairy Tales,” Chang evokes memories of 2 Live Crew’s classic “Naughty Nursery Rhymes” as he spins tales of familiar fictional characters ensnared in drugs, porn, death and debauchery.
Chang critiques contemporary society with the aptly titled “Wasteland” and shares spiritual sentiments in English, Hawaiian and Spanish with “The Lights.”
Chang’s choices of work by other writers are also eclectic. Tom Waits’ caustic classic “Chocolate Jesus” is one good choice. “Hawai‘i Aloha” — lyrics by Lorenzo Lyons set to a melody composed by James McGranahan — is another. It’s been more than 130 years since Lyons wrote the lyrics for the song that has become one of the great anthems of modern Hawaiian nationalism. Chang does a beautiful job with both.
The CD, economically packaged in cardboard, provides buyers only the most necessary information — song titles, composer credits, production credits and contact information. Chang provides much more information on the website; the background information includes the significance of the title. A visit there is highly recommended.