Although Josh Tatofi’s show last Saturday was livestreamed, the real excitement was being a part of the energetic crowd that attended his concert at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort. Fans spontaneously busted out with “cheehoo!”, swayed their cellphone flashlights to “Danny’s Song,” and participated in an a capella version of “Brown Eyed Girl”, while Tatofi schooled them on the proper way to sing the “Sha-la-la, la-la, la-la, la-la, la-la tee-da” chorus.
Tatofi was joined on stage by his highly talented bandmates, guitarists Travis Kaka and Laupepa Letuli (“Pep”). Their harmonies on Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One,” and Gladys Knight’s “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” were breathtaking.
Since his debut as a solo musician in 2016, Tatofi won two Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards and received a Grammy nomination (2017) in the Best Regional Roots Album category. His velvety smooth tenor vocals have also earned him nicknames like “The Luther Vandross of Hawaii,” and Kamaʻāina magazine gave him the cover of their Fall issue with the heading “Josh Tatofi: Hawai’i’s King of Love Songs.” But the singer hasn’t let the success and accolades go to his head.
“That’s such a heavy title, and I always want to pay homage to the great people who have come before me,” Tatofi noted in our pre-show interview. “There are various highs I get with this career, and in the beginning, no one expected me to sing, or be of that caliber, but now, when you read all of these headlines, folks who don’t know me think, ‘This guy better be good.’”
About halfway through Saturday’s show, Tatofi recalled an encounter with Kumu Hula Auntie Aloha Dalire when he was singing island reggae songs in his teens. She encouraged him to expand his repertoire and sing Hawaiian music.
“I told her, ‘Oh, Kumu, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve gotta learn,’” Tatofi remembered. “She put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Boy, we can teach you all that stuff.’” A few weeks later, she passed away, and at the funeral, her daughters rushed Tatofi with their mother’s request – “Make sure that boy sings Hawaiian music!” After sharing this fond memory, Tatofi then dedicated his first Hawaiian language song, “Pua Kiele,” to the Dalire family.
In addition to his music, Tatofi aspires to be a cinematographer and one day make a film. “Music and visuals all come from the same part of a creative mind,” Tatofi explained. “When I write these songs, it’s a movie in my head. I always thought that’d be so cool, man, if I could actually show people visually what I hear and what I see.” The singer self-produced and directed his last two music videos.
“I feel like cinematography and making videos give me more fuel to create more music because it’s like a yin to the yang kind of deal.”
Besides music and movies, the 26-year-old entrepreneur has recently opened Tofi’s Coffee & Grinds, a food truck on Oahu located at the Polynesian Culture Center. “I teamed up with Kona Coffee, and my baby sister manages it. One of the signature dishes we serve is a corned-beef omelet panini that I developed. It’s pressed on sourdough bread with a little bit of mayo and American cheese.”
Tatofi hopes to drop a new single by the end of the year, but at this point, the direction or theme his next album will take is uncertain. In our interview, he said in the future he’d like to collaborate with another famous Hawaiian musician. “One of these days, I’m going to do an old-school throwback love song with Bruno Mars. I think that’ll be pretty wicked. But in the meantime, I feel like everyone’s inspiring me all the time. You know, people around me, directors, chefs, I mean, it could be anyone. I get inspired from a lot of people.”
Tatofi’s stunning 90-minute set was also a sigh of relief for the Kahilu Theatre who presented it after they had to cancel two recent shows due to the pandemic. With a promising line-up for the next two months, the future looks hopeful for the popular Waimea venue.
All photos by Steve Roby.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author, and editor of Big Island Music.
Concert date: 23/OCT/2021
Missed the show? Don’t despair. You still can catch the livestream concert and my interview on Kahilu.TV.