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Unsung Heroes: Kalani Kulcha

Back in the early 80s, reggae was really starting to take root in America, and one of the hot spots for it was Southern California. This next artist we had the privilege to interview, Kalani Kulcha, hails from San Diego, and grew up watching his uncle play bass in a popular reggae band in the area called Shiloh, which later became Big Mountain. Inspired by this, Kalani started playing in bands himself, and wound up playing for many of the reggae legends, traveling and spreading Jah works from that time up until this day.

I met Kalani when I first got asked to play for “The Itals.” I studied his keyboard style to learn how to manage all the intricately placed parts. His love of the music and advice inspired me and many others he has met along his journey. Recently, I got to sit down with him and ask him some questions.

RF: What is your backstory and how you got into music?

When I was a kid, my grandfather would sit me down at this little kid organ with a bench and teach me songs. You know, like, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and all that. My dad is a classically trained pianist that plays jazz and blues. My mom played bass and sang in a high school band. I ended up playing alto sax in the school band, then got asked to play in the Honors band, then the All-District band.

RF: What are some early influences that inspired you?

Chuck Berry and Elvis as a kid. Then, once I heard reggae Bob Marley and all the Jamaican trios like The Mighty Diamonds, Foundation, Wailing Souls and The Itals, that really got me.

RF: How did you get into reggae music?

My grandmother had 8-track tapes of Bob Marley. My uncle and I took it from there.

RF: What was the name of your first band and other early projects you were a part of?

My first band I called “Da Kine” because my cousin had come back from Kauai and had bought me t-shirts that said it and I thought it was cool. After being asked to go on tour with Citizen-X, I came back to San Diego and started Hidden Kulcha. Hidden Kulcha ended up in the San Francisco Bay area as venues I met with Citizen-X invited me back. That’s when I started getting noticed by the Caribbean community there. I made lots of friends. Junglz Apart and Strictly Roots. Jahson used to let me sing a song on some big shows. I always loved him for that. He was an original. One on the first Americans to go to Jamaica and become Rasta. They were the heaviest reggae band in the SF Bay Area in the 80’s-90’s. Half American, half Jamaican band, all roots.

RF: Talk a little about music, and what drives you to devote such a big part of your energy towards recording and traveling around playing this music for people?

Reggae music is a family of like-minded people who usually put humanity first. The message is love, uniting is the goal. Sometimes we focus our energy on joining those bands who came before us because they have the business side further along than our own solo careers and it makes sense to pay our respects and support our elders. Traveling has been a huge part of my life, working with The Itals on keyboards/guitar. I started with them in 2001. Before that, I played with Eek-A-Mouse (guitar), Pablo Moses (guitar) and Foundation (bass) and The Meditations. I later ended up in the Easy Star All-Stars (guitar) and the English Beat (guitar) for a short time.

RF: Who are some of the artists you have helped produce?

I helped book Norris Man, Jah Mason and Lutan Fiya when they would come to California back in the day. But mostly, I’ve focused on being a live musician more than recording. As time permits, I will be in the studio more with artists in Las Vegas.

RF: What are some of the current projects you are working on?

I currently work with Mojo Reggae in Las Vegas and The Eazy from Maui.

RF: What is your message to the people and younger bands inspired by reggae?

I’d like to thank everyone who shares this passion for uplifting music. That is what we are here to do. Try to do what you love and say it in the music. There is only one kind of love that is for everyone. See with your heart before your eyes.

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Born in Coastal NC, Carl Blackmon grew up on Oak Island. He loved reggae from an early age and was able to connect and play keyboards for some of the greats in reggae, such as The Itals and Culture. Carl currently lives in Wilmington NC, with his fiancee and two children. He plays keyboards for Signal Fire and The Give Thanks Band.

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