February 29, 2016

With Songs of Hope and Healing, Hawaiian Music Publisher’s Mission Bears Fruit

By Jim Steinblatt

December 7th at Pearl Harbor – even 74 years after the surprise attack on the naval base that drew the US into World War II, the combination of that date and that place is fraught with sorrow.  In spite of the dark memories it conjures, it is now the date of an annual celebration of peace at Pearl Harbor. In 2015, the Honolulu Foundation commemorated a World Peace Music Concert aboard the USS Missouri, once a battleship but now a symbol of hope. Naturally, dignitaries were invited to speak at the ceremony. Nothing, however, was more effective at creating an atmosphere of hope and inspiration than powerful music – and songs of peace and love were heard at Pearl Harbor that day, thanks, in part to Hawaii-based ASCAP member Bobby Pileggi.

Songwriter and Robert Sterling Music New York Publishing/Aloha Music Group publisher Pileggi moved to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the late 1990s, attracted, like so many mainlanders, by Hawaii’s matchless beauty and climate.  Since that time, the former sideman and corporate disc jockey has emerged as a major creative force in the Hawaiian music industry. Playback recently spoke with Pileggi about his musical contributions to the “Peace in the Pacific” concert aboard the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor, but also about the Hawaiian music industry, his passionate belief in Hawaiian music’s power and his hopes for its growth.

What drew you, a New Yorker, to move so far from your roots and settle in a remote part of Hawaii?

It’s not like I chose Molokai...Molokai chose me! In the ‘90s I was a corporate disc jockey travelling around the world at about 250,000 miles a year; living in a suitcase, staying at 5-star luxury hotels and performing for Fortune 500 companies. On one particularly memorable gig I was fortunate enough to have flown to Maui to perform at an IBM conference backing up Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach. 

During the time of that event I got to explore the island of Maui and fell in love with the climate, the people and their music. That one visit was the spark that lit the fire and I kept coming back. Several years later, and it seems like yesterday, I found myself living in paradise on the island of Molokai (population 7,000) and writing hit songs for local recording artists.

You work with a large number of Hawaiian songwriters, musicians and singers. How do you meet them and what kinds of collaborations do you have with them?

I met just about all of our songwriters and clients thanks to ASCAP.  When I found out how publishing works, I felt it was my responsibility to start a mission of education and awareness on the islands. It was never done before. I came up with a mantra: ”Educate, Create and Perpetuate!” So, on my own dime and time, I flew to each island and met with local songwriters and recording artists and explained to them how publishing works as well as their rights as writers. In the past 15 years I have literally changed the publishing industry here in Hawaii and have created economic opportunity for local songwriters. Then after my experiences of being a hit songwriter and a successful music publisher in Hawaii had come to fruition, I next had earned the trust, the respect and the privilege to collaborate with other local songwriters including Patrick “Pati” Soi, Glenn Awong, Lukela Keala and an artist I feel could become the next Bruno Mars from Hawaii -- the very talented Taz Vegas.

The two songs of yours that were performed last December 7th -- "Another Rainbow" and "Brother for the People" -- how long ago were they composed and what were the circumstances behind them?

“Another Rainbow” was composed in 2012 and is very much connected to Japan and Hawaii. The lyrics came to me in a dream after the funeral of a very close friend and Hawaiian kahuna, Uncle Derek Ahsing. “Another Rainbow” was written as a song of hope, peace and awareness for those who needed light in their lives.  We wanted to create another “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the new millennium. Surprisingly enough, two years later, “Another Rainbow,” became a diplomatic anthem between Japan and Hawaii and was the featured song and theme in a two hour documentary released in Japan. “Another Rainbow” was a gift of aloha from Hawaii to Japan offering hope and light to the suffering people of the Fukushima/ Sendai tsunami devastation. It was the first time in my life that I was flown to another country and honored as a songwriter. It was a most humbling experience for me and helped elevate my reputation as a writer and publisher. 

“Another Rainbow” has since been translated into several languages: Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic and, most recently, into Hawaiian! The song is called “He Anuenue” performed by Taz Vegas featuring ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. This version is the “Song of Hawaii and Aloha.” “He Anuenue” will put Hawaii on the map; not only as a song of peace but a song that will encourage our Hawaiian youth to preserve their language through music.  We are also shopping this Hawaiian translation for the upcoming Disney movie, Moana, as a theme song.

“Brother for the People,” was composed in 2015. I wrote the lyrics and Taz Vegas wrote the melody. Again, we wanted to use the power of music to create peace in people’s lives.  We originally wrote “BFTP” for President Obama as a retirement theme song for the former Hawaiian resident. We meticulously researched the music he liked:  Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire and Richie Havens and then came up with a retro-sounding anthem of peace for the people. Let’s face it, the title and lyrics work -- Barack Obama is a “Brother for the People.” But then the song had transcended the original purpose.  “Brother For The People” is not only an anthem of peace, but it is a statement...If someone helps you out in the name of good, he or she is a "Brother (or Sister) For The People!" The song is dedicated to all of the people who have stood forward in the name of peace:  Martin Luther King, Bob Marley, Mahatma Gandhi, Haile Selassie and even the unfamed are all “Brothers For The People!” Now here is the real phenomenon to this song...In the history of song titles ever written there is NO OTHER title in the database of music titles, with the same name, “Brother for the People.”

Both songs were performed on the USS Missouri during the “Peace In The Pacific” concert this past December 7th at Pearl Harbor.  “Another Rainbow” was performed by Taz Vegas with a group of ukulele students from Illiahi Elementary School. The live performance of “Brother For The People” debuted on the Mighty Mo (a nickname for the USS Missouri). People from many nations attended and Taz received a standing ovation. As much as religion, different cultures and beliefs often separate people, music unites people and brings them back together again.

What is the significance of the World Peace Music Concert for the people of Hawaii?

The event held this past December 7th on the USS Missouri was a celebration of 70 years of peace between Hawaii and her “Sister in the Pacific,” Japan.  Instead of celebrating the victory of war, we commemorated the civility of peace. The people of Japan are most apologetic and the people of Hawaii are quite forgiving. War is not the answer to settling differences...It is my philosophy that music is a force, a power and a gift that can remind us of who we truly are...people...We may not agree on everything, but if we can communicate more with each other and understand our differences, we can make this world of ours a better place...and what better way to do this...than with music! I am very blessed to be living here in Hawaii and working with such talent in the world of music.

Do you think mainlanders are missing the boat on Hawaiian music?

Absolutely!  As a former New Yorker, I have been singlehandedly working here on the islands in the various fields of music for the past 15 years...writing, publishing, producing and financing music projects for local talent. I believe that Hawaii and her music really deserve more respect and recognition. You hear of the Latin Awards, the Country Awards, the Native American Awards, but you never hear of a ceremony on the mainland called the Hawaiian Music Awards! The question is why?

Let’s face it, when you ask people on the mainland to name a famous Hawaiian recording artist, 99% of the answers I hear are Don Ho! That was 50 years ago!  I honestly don’t see the Grammys giving Hawaii the love that they should. True, we are geographically handicapped as we are in a chain of tiny islands thousands of miles away, but we have a resource here that is still untapped.  My goal in life as a songwriter and a music publisher is to unearth this talent and create recognition for Hawaii by developing a Grammy Award Winning Pop Artist from a real Hawaiian.  I think I have found such an artist in Mr. Taz Vegas.  I am putting my songs, my time and my reputation into this extremely gifted individual.  My philosophy of life is: if you conceive, and you believe, you will achieve!