Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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No Mixed Feelings

By Shelby Nalepa

Australian native, New Zealand-bred soulful singer Sammy Johnson and Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter Anuhea Jenkins are bringing their blend of Polynesian reggae to Pensacola Tuesday.

The two are co-headlining the Mixed Feelings Tour, which will be Johnson’s first visit to the Eastern U.S.

Living in Auckland, N.Z., Johnson worked as a social worker before finding his passion in music and moving to the states to pursue it further.

“I loved doing social work,” Johnson said. “The kids were really fun and it was great work.”

Johnson’s mother is Australian and his father is Maori, hailing from Ngati Raukawa, Waikato, N.Z.

“I actually moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago and really, it was because I knew that I would have more opportunities out there,” Johnson said.

“I was living in Long Beach but I just recently moved to Hollywood.”

Performing under her name Anuhea, Jenkins, whose full name is Rylee Anuheake’alaokalokelani Jenkins, was born in Maui and is a self-taught guitarist and songwriter. She released her debut album in 2009 and has shared the stage with Bruno Mars, Babyface, Jack Johnson, Al Green, FloRida, Ziggy Marley and Pepper throughout her career as a top Hawaiian female artist. Blending elements of pop and island reggae, her new album “Follow Me” will be out this month, which will feature a collaboration with Johnson called ‘Mixed Feelings.’

Music has been in Jenkins’ family for generations. Her father is from the North Shore of Oahu in the surfing culture of Haleiwa. Jenkins’ aunt, Nalani Choy, is a founding member of one of the most popular Hawaiian female groups Na Leo Pilimehana. Jenkins’ mother, an Oregon native, comes from a musical family as well, as her father is a popular country guitarist.

Johnson also has a strong musical background. He said that he’s been singing his whole life and that all of his siblings are musical in some sense.

“We all sing or play instruments,” he said. “I’ve always been a huge fan of reggae, but R&B is my passion. R&B and soul music has always had an influence on my sound and my vibe.”

Positivity is also an important aspect in his music, which combines his Polynesian roots with his love for modern jazz and R&B artists like D’Angelo, Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill. Being of Maori descent, which is the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, Johnson said that singing is an important part of his culture.

“Back home, everyone is a ‘lead singer in a group’ if that makes sense,” he said. “We’re all very strong singers and not in a competitive way. We don’t know how to give anything less than ourselves when we sing.”

Johnson said that his first passion was writing songs for other artists. His first gig in a band was as a backing vocalist.

“I was singing background vocals for a friend, and then I posted some YouTube videos of me singing and it kind of just took off from there,” he said.

A Hawaiian-based producer contacted Johnson after seeing his YouTube videos, and he went on to release his self-titled EP in 2014, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Reggae Charts. Accompanying him on tour are musicians Gabriel Miller on guitar, Samuel Ikeda on bass and Elias English on drums.

“I’ve actually never been to the East Coast, so everything on this run is new to me, but that’s also what makes it really exciting too,” he said.

Johnson said that he is about to release a new single soon called ‘Sleepwalker’ and is also working on his next album, which should drop early 2018.

SAMMY JOHNSON
WHAT: Mixed Feelings Tour with Sammy Johnson and Anuhea featuring Mahi
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $15
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com