By DENA CASSELLA
Island Sun Weekly—
He grabs an old, three-string ukulele from the corner and attempts to tune it. His hands work quickly to remedy the echoing, off-pitch twangs.
“Everything started from the ukulele,” said Makua Rothman, cradling the instrument as if it was his own kin. It’s true: His skillful ability to pick and play that little instrument propelled him into a new realm. “Just like this, you know? Just sitting around and jamming: That’s how I got started. I still don’t know if there is a real way you’re supposed to write songs, I just kind of play and see what comes to me.”
Most know Rothman as a daring and decorated surfer—which he is—but fewer identify him as a musician. He has music seeping out of his bones. With crisp vocals and energetic instrumentals, his music is very much like his surfing—bold and inspiring.
“Music and surfing go hand in hand,” he said. “They are on the same frequency—they both need waves to work. In the Hawaiian culture, and the way that I grew it, it was always music and surfing.”
Rothman teamed up with the Mountain Apple Company and legendary composer/producer/surfer John “Feldy” Feldmann to create his debut album—‘Sound Wave.’ He and Feldy collaborated and produced the 12-track album within two weeks—with Rothman bringing forth each song’s notes and intentions, and Feldy helping him find words to his sound.
The album is lively. Each track tells its own unique story, while holding bright island tones and a strong essence of Hawaii. Rothman gathered inspiration from local legends like Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo`ole and Kapena, but his heart also beats for old-school classic by Ray Charles and the Beatles. “I’m more attracted to the music from before—to the greats—because I just feel like it had more soul,” he clarified. “It was just the kind of people they were and the time they were living.”
He scats out the first few notes from one of his new tracks called “Beautiful Life” and explains the song’s beginnings and creation—sitting in a park on Kauai with his friend, hashing out the lyrics for the chorus. He gently palms the body of uke to keep rhythm. The songs “Desperation Blues” and “Lean on Me” speak to more difficult times in Rothman’s life, telling uke-accompanied stories with sharp, echoing strums. Sound Wave is a beautiful culmination of Rothman’s homegrown background: twisting pop and soft rock melodies around deeply rooted reggae beats and Hawaiian-style rhythms.
Dreaming big was one of Rothman’s goals for this album. He poured his soul and energy into these tracks in hopes Sound Wave would go global. “If I didn’t think that way then I probably wouldn’t have done this album. Why not go and shoot for the stars—if you’re shooting at anything else you might as well put your gun away,” he laughed, still coaxing delicate tones from the ukulele strings with instinctive, light-handled strokes.
He wanted his music to spread and venture across oceans and cultures. “I don’t know what it is about it, Hawaii has some of the greatest musicians and some of the greatest song I’ve ever heard, but for some reason they don’t go anywhere. It’s hard to get our musical talent out beyond the reef,” Rothman said.
Adding in collected sounds from his travels as a professional surfer, many of Rothman’s songs feature foreign elements that help him escape the confinement of that familiar Jawaiian resonance. The outcome: A hit album that anyone can appreciate.
Rothman’s hopes for his music were realized last month when his album debuted at number one on the Billboard Reggae Chart as well as number one on the iTunes World Chart and iTunes Reggae Chart within a day of its Internet release. He is a natural. Charging the international music scene as effortlessly and with such joy as he does while chasing waves on Oahu’s North Shore.
“Just another way for me to express myself,” he said. “I do it on the water. I do it through surfing. Nowadays, in these times, there is a lot of unrest. I use my music as a vehicle to voice my own opinion and spread Aloha. I’m just an easygoing guy, just trying to Aloha everybody. I really want to be an ambassador for the Hawaiian people. I want my music to remind people of how special Hawaii is and how blessed we are to live here. ”
Sound Wave is currently available for purchase on iTunes while the CD will be available to the public on February 4, 2014.