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Life, Music & Culture
Photography By: Sean Michael Hower
Meet CHALA . . . a group of extremely talented Maui Musicians, led by writer, musician and producer Benjamin Cerda. Benjamin was born in South America Chile but raised in Northern California. Influenced by his musician parents, he couldn’t help but to pick up the guitar at an early age. Like all kids, Ben went through different phases of musical genres. Night after night listening to his parents different records, artist’s like The Bee Gee’s, The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, B.B King and of course his Mom’s favorite “Salsa”. After learning and studying all these styles for so many years, he finally came a cross an artist by the name of Bob Marley. A whole new door opened up for him, ‘Reggae’. As any reggae fan would, Ben discovered other bands like Steel Pulse and UB40. Mixing reggae with his rock, blues, and latin grooves was the beginning of a new style, that he likes to call ‘CHALA’.
At the age of eighteen, Ben moved to Maui Hawaii to build with his father. He immediately fell in love with the island, its love for reggae music and of course ‘Da Surf’. After the house was built, he decided to work and live on his own. Working as a waiter in a fine dining restaurant and playing music on the side, which lasted about two years. At this time, his South American roots had been calling him. It was time for a change, the thought of learning spanish, playing latin music and meeting the other half of his family was extremely inviting. So, he packed his bags, jumped on a plane and in 24 hours he landed in a foreign country that immediately felt like home. What he thought would be a three month trip, turned into seven years. Describing Chile in his own words “Chile is full of life, music and culture, surrounded by passion and love”. He thought he would never leave.
After building several houses with his father, snowboarding year round and playing live music on a frequent bases, his life got flipped around after one phone call. Ben’s mother was fighting cancer. There was only one thing to do, drop everything he was doing and move back to America to take care of her. Ben and his brother Sebastian wanted to give their mother the best. So, with know hesitation they brought her to Maui Hawaii. The whole move was a blessing in disguise. Bibi brought Ben back to Maui!
Since then Benjamin Cerda has been living on Maui and living the dream. For four years Benjamin played bass for The Alliez which played countless shows through out Hawaii, and two West Coast tours which included Reggae on the River twice. After playing and touring with several bands from both Maui and California, Ben decided to start his own project “CHALA”. Trying to find the right players was not easy, but in the beginning of 2013 Ben put together a five piece band that has clicked ever since. On lead vocals and guitars Ben Cerda, on bass guitar Kana Pikini, on keyboards and vocals Andrew Hubbard aka Dooby, on drums Jimmy Cui, on back up and lead vocals Yaya Evelyn. All of these musicians are very well known on the islands of Hawaii. At the same time, Chala has collaborated on and off stage, and in the studio with artists like Irie Dole, Jordan T, Lawaia, Lion Fiyah, Jeff Hornbeck, Becki D, Paul Bunaun, Hector Serrano, and Calvin Canha of Inna Vision. On and off stage Chala has an energy so positive and contagious, you can’t help but want to be apart of it.
In the winter of 2013, Chala recorded there first Single ‘DAWN PATROL’, which immediately attracted attention through out radio in Hawaii. Soon after that they released the single hit ‘NEW BEGINNINGS’ which stayed on radio rotation all of 2013. Soon after that, Chala released ‘CAN’T STOP SMILING’ which went straight to #1 requested song on Q103 Maui Radio. In March 2014, CHALA released their first full length album ‘WALK THIS WORLD’. The album is a mix of reggae, R&B, rock and folk. Since then, ‘WALK THIS WORLD’ has gotten world wide attention and continues to get play on radios in Hawaii, California and South America. In December of 2014, Chala’s lead man Ben Cerda went on a solo acoustic tour that started in Austin Texas and ended in San Diego California. In April of 2015, Chala released the new hit EP “PEACEFUL FARMER”, which included Hawaii’s #1- 420 song “Smokin Trees” featuring Irie Dole and Yaya Lioness. Since then, the EP has attracted worldwide distribution, and Chala promoted the new EP in May of 2015 with a four month tour through South America Chile and Argentina. Chala’s latest release in January of 2016, was the hit single “NO MORE FRICTION” featuring Lion Fiyah, has gotten play through out Hawaiian radio’s.
Chala is in the middle of recording their next full length album at Bassyard Studios on Maui. Stay tuned for further dates and locations.
Official Website: ChalaMusic.com
IRIE. You grew up having parents who were musicians. What was your childhood like being surrounded by all genres of music?
Chala. Yes, having a mother and father who both played music and dance was a blessing.
Their favorite music which was constantly playing on the record player, was The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire, The Bee Gees, James Taylor, and James Brown. Those artist were very popular at that time. The fact that my dad was from Chile and mom has roots from Spain, they also listened to all types of Latin music, from Bossa Nova to Salsa.
My father always playing his guitar was contagious. I remember when I was about 12 years of age, watching him play and sing made me smile and laugh all at the same time. I couldn’t figure out why I could not stop laughing. I came to the conclusion, that I wanted to play music! That year for my birthday he bought me an acoustic guitar. He began to give me lessons. At that age my patience was thin, and I got extremely discouraged. My dad made it look so easy, I thought. Boy was I wrong!
One day when he was giving me a lesson, I simply gave up. Put the guitar in the closet and told him I couldn’t do it. He told me that nothing that good comes easy, but he never pressured me to continue. After a year of that guitar being in my closet, I went to grab a jacket, and there it was, it was as if the guitar was starring at me. I grabbed it, sat down and started strumming. Something magical happened at that moment. I played the same chords he had taught me, and I couldn’t stop smiling. From that moment on, I’ve never stopped playing.
My mother played classical piano which was always very calming to me, it’s as if time would stop. She also became a professional Salsa dancer when I was 17. Watching her dance to those rhythms was very inspiring. When I was 19 she took me to a Salsateca in San Fransisco called Cesar’s Palace. I was blown away by the talent on the dance floor. Not only did the music move me, all I wanted to do is dance.
I am so thankful and blessed to have been surrounded by so many styles growing up.
IRIE. Can you share with us the story of how you got introduced to reggae music?
Chala. I was 13 when I first heard Reggae. UB40 was playing on the radio. I’ll never forget it! I immediately bought their album Labor Of Love. Shortly after that I discovered Bob Marley and The Wailers, Steel Pulse, and Jimmy Cliff. Since then I haven’t stopped playing and listening to reggae. Now, after living in Hawaii for over 20 years, reggae has become a lifestyle for me.
IRIE. The bass guitar is your choice of instrument. Why the bass guitar? Do you still have or remember your first bass guitar?
Chala. For as long as I can remember, the first thing I hear in a song is the bass. I didn’t start playing the bass until I was 30 years of age. I was playing guitar for a band called ‘Till The Cops Come’. One day I show up for rehearsal and our manager says, hey guys our bass player just quit. For some reason the whole band looks at me and says, can you play bass? I said no, I just bought this brand new Fender Twin guitar amp, I’m the guitar player. Long story short, I told them I would play bass just for that rehearsal. I remembered in music school that the lower notes of the guitar were the same as the bass. I put that in mind and ended up killing it that night on the bass. The band went nuts and insisted on me being the bass player. I guess I didn’t have much of a choice, but I’m happy I took the challenge. Playing bass, drums and guitar has made me a better player all around. I bought my first bass which was an Ibanez SR870. I loved that bass, but unfortunately that bass broke on the road. I now record with a Schecter Diamond Series Elite 4.
IRIE. Your first band as a musician was the Maui band, The Alliez. How did this opportunity come about?
Chala. The Alliez was formed in 2008, but before that we were called Till The Cops Come which was formed in 2004. Till The Cops Come was playing mostly house parties and some small venues on Maui. One day the band fell apart, and all that was left was me and the lead singer Jacob Abeytia. Jacob and I wanted to keep going, so we put together The Alliez in 2008. For 5 years we took The Alliez on a musical journey, from having hits on the radio’s to playing big festivals like Reggae On The River and Reggae Rising.
IRIE. In 2013, you managed to put together a core group of musicians that would become Chala! How did you guys all meet to make this happen?
Chala. Chala started with me recording a song called Dawn Patrol. At that time it was just me recording all the tracks. I had several songs written and was itching to record a new album. One day I get a call from the radio, Ben your song is now #1 on our Reggae chart. At that point I new I had to put together the right band. After performing on Maui all those years I knew a lot of talented musicians that were always looking for new projects. So I put together a mixture of the best musicians I could find. Jesse Smith on drums, Andrew Hubbard (aka Doobie) on keyboards, Dane Patao on bass, Becki D and Riley Edwards on back up vocals, Paul Bunuan on sax, Jeff Hornbeck on lead guitar, and Hector Serrano (aka Papi) on congas.
IRIE. Who were some of the musical influences that inspired you in developing your Chala sound?
Chala. My style with Chala starts with my passion for Reggae. I have blended my reggae sound with a lot of the music that I grew up with. From Latin beats to Hip Hop and Rock. I’d have to say my biggest influences aren’t just famous artists like Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, and Santana, but the people around me that I’ve played with through the years. I love how everyone has their own styles and philosophies. I feed off of all of that.
IRIE. Can you share with us the meaning behind the name Chala?
Chala. Chala is one of the longest coastlines in South America, when you walk this beach, it’s as if it never ends. I wanted to create a band with a name that has no ending, and that everyone can share it. My message through Chala is too share and collaborate with the world.
IRIE. You lived in Chile, a place you say is “full of life, music, and culture, surrounded by passion and love”. Why does Chile resonate with you?
Chala. I was born in Santiago the capital of Chile. My father is from Chile, and my mother is from California. At a young age they brought me to California where I was raised. At age 13 my father took me on a three week vacation to Chile. When we arrived I felt a very strong energy, like a magnet pulling me to this place. I immediately fell in love with Chile. I remember crying when we had to leave.
In 1996 I was living happily on Maui, but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about Chile. I wanted to find my roots, learn Spanish, and be with my family that I hardly knew. So, I bought a one way ticket to Chile and ended up living there for 8 years. Working and playing music with locals there was amazing. I was so humbled by how some people lived with so little, but they were so happy and passionate about life. From dancing and playing music on the streets and in venues, building custom homes, and most of all making family changed my whole life.
IRIE. You have had tremendous success with Chala, releasing songs that have hit the airways such as ‘Dawn Patrol’, ‘New Beginnings’, ‘Can’t Stop Smiling’ which went straight to #1 in Hawaii, ‘Walk the World’ and ‘Peaceful Farmer’. Is there one song from you discography that is special to you as a musician?
Chala. This is probably the hardest question to answer, but a good one. They are all so special to me, but the one that sticks out the most, is Let It Rain. I originally recorded the first version with just me and my acoustic guitar, and John Zangrando on flute. I wrote it thinking about one thing, that we must always be thankful for everything that God has given us. Before I released it, I sent it to my dearest brother Sebastian. He called me after he had heard it. He told me that he was walking in the middle of the night listening to my song on his head phones. As he was walking to the store it began to rain hard. He said he was so moved by my song that he didn’t even feel the rain. He cried with joy and love for me. Those words will stick with me forever.
IRIE. You just wrapped up the Windy Road Tour, playing 8 shows in 10 days. Can you share with us the vibe you experience?
Chala. Ya, The Windy Road Tour was a huge success. Our first show was in San Jose, and did a huge loop throughout Northern California which ended right back in San Fransisco. Every show we did was electric, sharing music, dance and love, but most of all making FAMILY. In the second half of the tour we were on the road to our show in Garberville, and I got a call from Elijah Alaimo. He said, hey Bro I know your last night in California is Sunday, (which was our last and only night to rest before hopping on a plane the next day at 7am and returning to Maui), but would you guys like to open up for Gondwana at The Mezzanine? My answer was of course, yes! So we finished the tour on a very nice note. I want to personally thank Irie Mag, Jesse Smith, Gus Kendrick, Paul Kennelly, S/S Productions, Elijah Alaimo of The Music Box Show, Bigg Henn of The Cool Hand Cam Hour, and Cora Genetics, and all of California for making this tour so magical.
IRIE. You are currently working on a new album. What can we expect from Chala and is there a title for the album?
Chala. Yes, I am excited to announce we will be releasing the new Chala EP album titled “One And Only” on 11/28/18. The Ep is inspired by everlasting love, with a mixture of solid Reggae Rhythms and Latin Grooves.
IRIE. Is there anything you would like to say or share with the Irie Magazine audience?
Chala. Yes, I am deeply honored and thankful that I have the opportunity to share with you our message of peace, love, and unity. All my life I have dreamed of giving and sharing my love to the world, and now I am living that. Chala loves you, and we are all one FAMILY. Through good times and bad times, we can always turn to music and know that every little thing is gonna be alright!
Thank you Nicholas Da Silva and the whole Irie Mag family for all that you do!