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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

Kai promises to stay true to themselves

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Members of the Asian quintet Kai include, from left, Leo, AC, Andrey, Errol and Johnny. The group realizes that racial barriers do exist but members don't plan on compromising who they are.

Kai 'The Promise' Concert

7 p.m. Saturday

Blaisdell Concert Hall

$25, $30; discounts for senior citizens, military (including dependents), Kupa'a Card holders, students with school IDs

591-2211, 526-4400

"No matter how far we strive to get to the top, we always sing from the bottom of our hearts."

That was the motto of Kai, the pop vocal crossover sensation that hit the charts with "Say You'll Stay."

Saccharine? Maybe.

Honest? Definitely.

"We're just friends who make music," said member Andrey Silva, 22 and already a music engineer at a studio in San Francisco, during a recent phone interview. "But we're here, thanks to our fans and our supporters who pushed us this far. We're here for them.

"But I think we all had different plans," he added.

No one in Kai is older than 24, although the band has been together since 1992. A national recording contract, a chart-climbing hit and concerts all over the country were only daydreams from classroom windows.

And being an all-male Asian quintet with an R&B flavor, the odds of mainstream success didn't look good in the beginning.

"It's tough to turn people's heads and let them know who we are," said 22-year-old Errol Viray. "There's pros and cons to being Asian American in this business. But it's a good thing being different."

Their voices, not their ethnic background, have helped them attain mainstream success. "Say You'll Stay" was the top-selling single in San Francisco and a Top 5 seller in Hawai'i. It peaked at No. 59 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart because of sales in both markets.

"That whole thing behind racial barriers, they do exist," said Silva, who is also part Portuguese. "It's just being Asian American. People don't feel comfortable with something they're not used to. We sing R&B, and if people have never seen us before, they think, 'What the hell is this?' In that sense, it's negative. But we also feel like there's many times we've been able to prove the Asian community has a lot of talent. And the end of the show, they forget the color lines. It's really cool that way."

They look up to other Asian American (especially Filipino American) entertainers and musicians, such as Lou Diamond Phillips and Rob Schneider, who are both part Filipino. They support other Asian acts, such as Interlude and Hawai'i's own FortÚ. They understand the importance of that kind of support and connection.

"Look at what most mainstream Americans are seeing now. Caucasian groups like 'N Sync, the Latin explosion with Ricky Martin," Viray said. "It'll take a long time for Asians to break out. But we've been making some noise. And hopefully, with all this, as long as we keep going, we can break all barriers. People can accept us for who we are."

That's their philosophy with concerts, especially when they play at college campuses where most people have never heard of them.

"We love being the underdogs and trying to prove ourselves," Silva said. "It's been that way forever. 'Cause being Asian and stuff, it's really hard for us."

They never compromise who they are. It's why they chose a name derived from Tagalog. ("Kai" is shorthand for "kaibigan," loosely translated to mean the combination of friendship and harmony.)

Five voices — that's what you'll get at Saturday's concert at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

"Our main thing on stage is to be ourselves," Viray said. "We want the crowd to be comfortable with us five on stage. That's all you're really going to see. Us being ourselves."