Samoa's THE KATINAS are an overnight CCM sensation, if you count "overnight" to mean years of dues paying. Tony Cummings reports.
It's interesting how British and American perceptions of music vary. In the States, the release of the self-titled album by Samoa's the Katinas has brought forth some swooning reviews in the USA with comparisons with Boyz II Men, Tony Toni Tone and Mint Condition. In Britain Jon Bellamy of Cross Rhythms was equally enthusiastic about the sparingly produced album but commented that the album was a welcome Christian version of Britain's hugely successful boy bands. However you perceive the catchy hooks, smooth harmonies and light R&B grooves of The Katinas' it's obvious that the Polynesian brothers are a class act.
In fact 'The Katinas', erroneously called the group's "debut" by a Nashville industry who've forgotten The Katina Boyz11991 album on Maranatha! Music's short-lived R&B/dance label Arcade, was one of the most eagerly awaited releases in recent times. The family group's brilliant onstage performances over the last two or three years with artists like BeBe And CeCe Winans, Andrae Crouch and Amy Grant primed industry observers for something very special and The Katinas' hasn't disappointed.
Sam, Joe, James, John and Jesse Katina grew up in Samoa, 2000 miles south of Hawaii. Since children, the Katinas travelled from one end of the country to the other performing at youth conventions, camps, high school and churches. The brothers moved to Washington State in 1988, originally to be with their mother as she battled with cancer. The song "Mama" is the members' tribute to their deceased mother and it was her death in the late '80s that may have been the catalyst for their greatest season of growth - as musicians and as a family. "We didn't realize how shallow our relationship with our dad was until mom passed away," says Joe, 29.
Returning from Vietnam, their father, Moses Katina, was alcoholic, abusive, hard, sometimes beating his wife and children. Despite the fact that he gave up alcohol and became a pastor, the Katina household was still a harsh one. As a "public" family, it was difficult to admit there was a problem. It proved to be more painful not to admit it. "We just thought it was normal to be scared of your dad," Joe says.
But the turning point came three years ago when the elder Katina was forced into a veterans rehabilitation programme. Days before the programme was complete, he called Sam, the eldest son, and asked him to gather the group together on speakerphone. "Our father proceeded to tell us his life story in Samoan," says Joe. "He said, 'When I went to Vietnam, I came back destroyed. I was a different human being. I'm ashamed of a lot of the things that I did in Vietnam and I realized this past eight weeks that I've never really dealt with that. For the last 27 years I've been pastoring and trying to" help people with their problems and there's been so much bitterness and anger and hate in my own life that I've never really given it to God.'
"He said, 'Boys, I've never told you,' and then he named us one by one and said, 'I am so proud of you.' That was the first time I had ever heard my dad say that he was proud of me. That was the first time."
Moses Katina went on to ask his sons' forgiveness and to explain that he had asked for forgiveness from their mother in a three-page letter he'd written and then read to her atop a mountain. He then burned the letter and said he felt sure she'd forgiven him. This was the fuel for the tune on the new album, "Writing This Letter". A year later he shared his story at a Nashville family conference, while Joe translated.
"That morning as I was translating," says Joe, "I was thinking to myself, This is a dream, this can't be true...'" Hearing my father (admit his shortcomings) in front of 2,000 people, I could barely stay on my feet."
And while healing has come, it has been slow and formidable, a struggle for each Katina to find himself outside of the family and their music. "It's been a real challenge to become more ourselves," says Sam, 32. "It's even been hard on my wife. I used to answer everything with, 'We're flying in at...' or 'We're at the airport, can you come and get us?' You know, when I was on the altar, I didn't say, 'We do.' I said, 'I do.'
"I don't mean this to sound arrogant at all," Joe adds, "but because we're all growing like this, discovering ourselves as individual people, I think nobody has really seen the Katinas yet." In other words, "Sauni ua matou taunu'u!" Jesse, 24, kicks in, "That sounds cocky." "Hey, man," says Joe, "I know the heart it's coming from, and I promise you, it's not cocky." Just Samoan.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.