Appearances can be deceptive. At first glance, the video of The Koi Boys' cover of Solomon Burke's Cry To Me looks like it could be from a movie. One almost expects it to cut away to show actors in an upmarket nightclub. Part of the reason is the cinema-like quality of the high-definition video, another factor is the effective lighting.
Then there are The Koi Boys themselves. The trio is immaculately groomed and dressed, their moves are choreographed, they exude old-fashioned charm, and their contrasting voices add to the luscious appeal of the in-the-pocket backing music. As can be seen in the video below, The Koi Boys have charisma to spare.
For all the slickness of the Cry to Me video, The Koi Boy's back story couldn't be further from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The New Zealand trio comes from the school of hard knocks. The group's Polynesian leader, Kevin Keepa, ran away from what he describes as a houseful of gangsters in his early teens. After joining a gang of street kids, he ended up in youth prison. On his release, he worked a series of dead-end jobs before he started singing as a street busker.
In the late 1980s Keepa joined forces with Danny Faifai. They formed a band that almost made it, but soon returned to what Keepa has described as dark times. Years later, in 2008, they met Nuz Ngatai, a younger singer, and decided to give it a go as a trio performing on Sunday’s at the Koi, an upmarket nightclub in Broadbeach, NZ. The band slowly built a following and started posting covers of classic Motown hits on Youtube. The video below is the pre-success trio performing at the Koi Club.
Eventually, in 2015 The Koi Boys were spotted by a talent scout for the Voice Australia. Keepa and Faifai were already in their mid 40s. On The Voice, the band immediately made an impact with their singing, their enthusiasm, and their unforced charisma. When they were eliminated before the finals, it provoked their fans to outrage on social media.
The Koi Boy's fans stuck with the band. Their live shows were well supported and their social media posts gained lots of hits. Such was the buzz around the band that they landed a record deal.
The Koi Boy's debut album, Meant to be, contains nine covers and three originals. The album kicks off with their powerful cover of Cry To Me. Cry to Me, Solomon Burke’s second single, was recorded in 1961 and released in 1962. Interestingly, it is said that the term “Soul Music” originated with Burke. Like so many other early soul singers, Burke was deeply rooted in his church, where he was a preacher. When his record company wanted to call his music R&B, Burke desisted as he felt that R&B had associations that were at odds with his religious life. "Soul" was the compromise that they reached.
Be that as it may, The Koi Boys album and their video of Cry To Me did well in Australia and New Zealand. This led to the Koi Boys – Ngahere Ngatai, Danny Faifai and Kevin Keepa – returning to reality television. In June 2019 the trio starred in their own docuseries on Māori Television.