Killing’Em With Love

The members of JookBox City not only know how to turn out catchy reggae and R&B tunes, they understand how to turn the other cheek as well

When the four members of reggae/R&B group JookBox City unveil the video of their song Wishing Well this weekend in Chinatown, it will be worth noting that the inspiration to this upbeat composition currently garnering heavy radio airplay did not begin under the happiest of circumstances.


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Taking the high road in life are JookBox City members Aaron Friedman, Kahnma K, Rawnie Lovely and Amos Zollo | Photo courtesy JookBox City

In fact, the situation – involving irate neighbors and the threat of eviction from a rental unit – was downright nasty. But kudos to these independent artists for hitting the restraint button on their personal jukeboxes and then refocusing their energies on writing a poignant composition – one born “not out of spite or anger,” as band frontman Rawnie Lovely puts it, but out of love.

“Essentially, the idea for the song came to us when we had neighbors who were very spiteful to us, and wanted us removed from our home,” Lovely explains. “But we decided we were going to look at the situation at a different level and just move on. It sounds clich√©, but we were determined to turn the other cheek.”

All of which proves these JookBoxers not only know how to beat you down with infectious riddims, hooks and melodies, but also slay you with kind words as well. Indeed, death by reggae never felt so good.

“The line in the song to ‘kill them with love’ basically says it all,” adds bassist Aaron Friedman. “Maybe the neighbors will soon realize the error of their ways.”

If so, these neighbors may just be a part of the throng of fans expected at Saturday evening’s celebration, which kicks off at 9 at Bar 35 (35 N. Hotel St.). Undoubtedly, JookBox City will have the place jumping from the get-go, with an intimate set of original material followed by the video debut at midnight. The band will then put a bow on the night by playing a second set of “break-up medleys” from Beyonce, Rhianna and Toni Braxton, mix-tape club favorites from artists such as Justin Timberlake and Prince, and possibly Lovely’s remix of Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man, a staple on local radio stations for the past month.

“I definitely think our music selections are unique,” Friedman tells me. “Rather than play the same songs most reggae bands cover, we try to pick familiar songs from a particular time period and present them in JookBox’s unique reggae way.”

Beyond the release of Wishing Well, the band (formed late last year and featuring the spastic dancing and keyboard stylings of group founder Lovely, the smooth rhymes of vocalist Kahnma K, and the foundational beats of Friedman on bass and Amos Zollo on drums) plans to drop another single, currently titled The Kind of Here I Am, on the public next month.

“It’s a statement of commitment, of dedication I have for another,” says Lovely about the meaning behind the song.

Here’s what else Lovely and Friedman told Musical Notes:

MN: Do you have enough material for a full-length album? When might fans expect such a release from the band?

RL: Essentially, we do. I wrote a lot of the material before JookBox City came together. Now, it’s just a matter of revamping some of the songs for the current lineup.

AF: It really depends on how fast things move with the recording process. But I would hope we’d have something out before the end of the year.

MN: Will the album feature sounds that include ska, dancehall, rock, funk, reggae and R&B?

AF: Most definitely. When we came up with the name of the band, for example, it was with the idea that if you walked into a bar and found a jukebox there, you’d also find a variety of songs on it, too. That’s how we are. Having said that, we continue our exploration for that one signature sound.

RL: For me, it’s difficult to stay in just one genre, so there always will be variety to our sound. After all, we’re all made up of an eclectic array of influences.

MN: Other than drummer Amos Zollo, the rest of the band was born and raised outside of Hawaii: Kahnma in Liberia, Aaron in California and you, Rawnie, in North Carolina. Can you talk about what it is that you find so appealing about these Islands?

RL: When I first moved here six years ago, I was a white boy looking for a bit of culture. I was playing luaus in Waianae and Makaha with a group called Bamboo Band, and that experience forced me to be a part of the local culture. I wasn’t used to that, because for most of my life I was always moving all over the place. But once I settled here, I found a sense of community and I knew I belonged.

Small-kine Notes:

This week, classical Hawaiian guitarist Ian O’Sullivan

releases his first body of work called Born and Raised, an album featuring original music as well as compositions from local artists such as Byron Yasui and Jeff Peterson. A graduate of Kamehameha Schools and the first local student to receive a master’s degree in classical guitar from Yale School of Music, O’Sullivan calls the 14-track CD “a new genre of music.” To learn more, visit … Speaking of Kamehameha graduates, Elias Kauhane Jr. has released a compilation of traditional Hawaiian mele with his CD Kauhane. The recording, which includes the talents of local entertainers Kawika Kahiapo, Sonny Lim and Rupert Tripp Jr., is really worth a listen.