Joshua, to most Europeans, Hawaii still equals the stereotypical image of the tropical vacation island; does that image need correcting?
Joshua Alo: "To me, Hawaii is still the most beautiful place on earth and I've travelled quite a bit, so that's saying something. But even in a place so close to paradise as Hawaii, the system is still only lurking around the corner. With Americanization moving ever forward, Honolulu is now a modern city; Hawaii is a far cry from what it used to be, but it's still a great place, with friendly people and lots of good vibes and to me of course, above all else, it's home."
As the 50th state, Hawaii officially is part of the United States, but how American do you as Hawaiians feel?
Joshua Alo: "Well, it's mostly when you go to pay for things, that you feel most American, or when you're watching television, for example. (laughs) Other than that we managed to uphold most of our own culture. The Hawaiian lifestyle is a lot more laid-back than the American one; most Hawaiians pace their way through life wearing sandals and shorts! (laughs) The more the islands assimilate, the more our pace of life changes, though."
Is there such a thing as an independence movement in Hawaii?
Joshua Alo: "There is, but it's very small and grassroots (the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement or ke ea Hawai'i, red.). For a small state like Hawaii to fight Washington is no easy feat and lots of laws and regulations are put in place to prevent from things getting out of hand. Luckily in the United States we still have freedom of speech, so the voices of the activists fighting to keep Hawaii in Hawaiian hands are still out there."
You're talking to me in English now, is that also the way Hawaiian people converse in daily life?
Joshua Alo: "We've got our own English accent with a lot of Hawaiian words thrown in. As far as full-blown Hawaiian is concerned, the language is slowly starting to make a comeback, partly because of the work of these activists we just talked about. One of their main focuses is trying to reintroduce Hawaiian culture in the American education system, and with some success, as things like the Hawaiian language and hula dancing are once again being taught in Hawaiian schools."
Have you never contemplated doing a song in Hawaiian?
Joshua Alo: "I've listened to a lot of Hawaiian music, as my father was a great amateur of the genre; at home we listened to people like Gabby Pahinui (Charles Philip 'Gabby' or 'Pops' Pahinui, April 22, 1921 - October 13, 1980, was a slack-key guitarist and singer of Hawaiian music, red.) Brothers Cazimero (Hawaiian musical duo made up of Robert Cazimero on bass and Roland Cazimero on twelve string guitar. Robert also plays piano as a solo musician. The Cazimeros got their start during the Hawaiian Renaissance with ukulele and slack-key guitarist Peter Moon's band, The Sunday Manoa, red.) all the time. I still love that music, but then reggae slipped into my life, and if you look at it, reggae is island music as well. There are still some Hawaiian influences in my music; I often use the ukulele for example, a typically Hawaiian instrument which fits in wonderfully well with the reggae rhythms I play."
How did you discover reggae music?
Joshua Alo: "Reggae is played on the radio a lot in Hawaii, so I guess I heard it there first, but it wasn't until I watched a documentary on the history of Jamaican Music that I really got a clear picture of the music and it's revolutionary character. Reggae is much more than music really; its inspiring lyrics combined with the pounding sound of the drum and the bass make it a force to be reckoned with. The more I educated myself about it the more it took hold."
As a roots reggae singer, how did you combine that passion with a career in the US military?
Joshua Alo: "I try to live my life without regrets and to be honest, my job as a postman for the US Army really opened my world. Growing up on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean my world was really rather small, but when I signed up and became a postman in the army; I got to travel the globe and was exposed to different cultures, languages and people. Eventually I also met my wife through my job, so I can only look at it as a blessing and I give thanks to God for the path he sent me on. And everywhere I went I took my guitar and ukulele with me. Also, as a postman I was never forced to carry a gun; I just delivered messages from back home to soldiers whose only means of communication was the military mail system, so it was a job I actually took great pride in."
How did you eventually end up in Belgium, of all places?
Joshua Alo: "Well, love, you know; my wife is from here and I've grown to consider Belgium my home away from home now. Brussels is the European capital, so it's also a very central place to live."
As an outsider, what's your perspective on the Belgian reggae scene?
Joshua Alo: "I think it can still grow a lot larger than it is now; the only thing it really lacks is the proper exposure. I'd like to see the opportunities for Belgian reggae artists expand; promoters shouldn't just focus on bringing international reggae artists here, which is great, but also spotlight local talent. I want to give a shout out to Jupiter & Ma Shi Faï and Sunrockers, we should see more bands like that out there."
Roots reggae has always been closely intertwined with the Rastafarian philosophy. What place does or doesn't that hold in your life and music?
Joshua Alo: "I have a lot of respect for the Rastafarian philosophy, but I'm a Christian myself. Just as the Rastafarians I try to incorporate my faith into my music and we both use the same Bible, so I guess it will never be all that different."