HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Call it cliche, but it’s true: Music runs through Josh Tatofi’s veins.
His father is acclaimed musician Tivaini Tatofi.
And his dad and uncle, Teimoni, were among the original members of the band Kapena, an award-winning Hawaiian reggae band known for its unique style of Hawaiian music.
Today, it’s Josh Tatofi who’s on stage ― and in a big way.
Still in his 20s, Tatofi has multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards under his belt, including Male Vocalist of the Year. In 2018, he was nominated for a Grammy.
As part of an ongoing digital series, Hawaii News Now is profiling musicians making a big impact in the Hawaiian music scene. Got a suggestion for a profile. Email us.
Tatofi likes to say that he didn’t just grow up around music, he grew up playing music ― with relatives and family friends, and their kids, too.
In fact, one of his closest childhood friends was named after a band: Kapena De Lima, the son of Kapena’s band leader Kelly Boy De Lima.
“You know our dads set us up really,” Josh Tatofi told Hawaii News Now before a recent performance in Waikiki.
“We kind of got thrown into the fire of the music industry, and we thought everyone’s dad was a rock star."
By his early teens, Tatofi was performing regularly on stage with Kapena De Lima. And by 19 years old, he’d recorded an album with the Maui group ‘Ekolu.
De Lima and Tatofi established a great working relationship with one another, producing local hit after local hit.
“I hope to make a video soon of how me and Kapena work because it’s almost unbelievable,” Tatofi said.
“I go in with a song, he looks at me, he goes ‘yup.’ He jumps onto the piano, I jump onto the bass, and we kind of just run through it.”
As he grew as a musician, Tatofi started taking chances on stage and developing his own unique style, combining his take on R&B soul with Hawaiian music.
His sound was different but familiar. And it earned him a nickname: “The Luther Vandross of Hawaii.”
“I didn’t know that I was sounding different or adding the Luther Vandross that a lot of people say that I add,” Tatofi said.
“I feel like we all hold a lane as far as style of Hawaiian music. But all in all, it’s all Hawaiian, and I think that’s the most important part.”
Emblematic of his new style: “Pua Kiele," a soulful and moving love ballad that was Tatofi’s first Hawaiian language single.
The song, which quickly became a hit in the islands (especially among hula halau), is featured in Tatofi’s first full-length Hawaiian album by the same name.
“I knew when I entered Hawaiian music, I didn’t want to enter it unless I had something to give to it,” said Tatofi.
That all-or-nothing mentality is something Tatofi brings to all of his music.
His personal motto: Do what you love to do ― and do it well.
“This is all we know ― so playing music is just something that we don’t look at as a job, matter a fact we don’t think we’ve ever had a real one,” Tatofi said.
“I feel like creating good music is the least we can do.”