Tower of Power
Hailed as one of the world’s greatest soul/funk bands, Tower of Power has been entertaining audiences for more than 40 years with the group’s exuberant music. First becoming a fixture on the San Francisco Bay Area music scene in the 1970s, their infectious hits include “What is Hip?,” “Don’t Change Horses,” “Soul Vaccination,” “So Very Hard to Go” and “Down to the Nightclub.”
Among their many fans they can count Elton John, Santana, Rod Stewart, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson, who have all invited TOP’s legendary horn section to contribute to their albums.
“Carlos Santana first called us around 1971 in the middle of the night,” recalls band co-founder Emilio Castillo. “He said, ‘We got this song, we think the horns will sound good.’ So we went to the studio and made some parts and said goodbye and he gave us some money. It turned into a whole ‘nother career.
“We’ve worked with a lot of people. I really liked the work with Elton John, Little Feat, and Huey Lewis and the News. And the track we did with Linda Ronstadt, ‘When Something is Wrong with My Baby,’ won a Grammy.”
Many artists have sampled their music including, most recently, Kanye West on his latest “The Life of Pablo” album.
“It used to be they (other artists) would just take it and we’d find out later,” he notes. “Fortunately there are laws about that stuff now.”
Prince sampled Tower’s “Squib Cakes” on his songs “Release It” and “Sleep Around,” and happened to mention in a Rolling Stone interview how he first made out with a girl to their song, which he memorialized in the tune “Schoolyard.”
“He loved the band and would come and see us play,” Castillo says. “He had asked us to come down and record with him.”
Originally known as the Motowns, saxophonists Castillo and co-founders saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka and bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia began playing San Francisco’s East Bay in the mid-’60s, building an enthusiastic following for their spirited music.
“I grew up in Detroit in the ’50s and when we moved to the Bay Area, I started playing music at 14,” Castillo says. “We got busted by the Alcohol Beverage Control for being underage. They sent a letter to all the clubs we performed at. So we didn’t have any gigs and were at the end of our rope. The only thing we had was an audition at the Fillmore Auditorium. We did the audition and (promoter) Bill Graham signed us and we got our first record deal.”
Weathering decades of shifting musical styles, the band focused on recording original soul/funk material up to 2009, when it celebrated its 40th anniversary by releasing a classics covers album, “The “Great American Soulbook.”
They naturally delivered a superb collection of songs by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Billy Paul and James Brown, with the album mixing hits like Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful,” with less familiar tunes like Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s “Loveland.” Among the guest stars adding to the album’s allure were Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame, Tom Jones and Joss Stone.
“We play a particular kind of music and there’s no one else playing it really,” says Castillo. “We’ve stayed true to that and we really enjoy it.”
The gypsy jazz band Gypsy Pacific will reunite for a special reunion concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea. The group, including Phil Benoit, Tom Conway, Marcus Johnson and Willy Wainwright, plus Angel Benoit on vocals, last performed together four years ago.
* Tickets are $20 at the door. For reservations, call 874-1131.
“Every school was a big-top circus tent and the pecking order went from acrobats to lion tamers from clowns to carnies,” declares Canadian spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan in his powerful anti-bullying poem “To This Day.” “All of these were miles ahead of who we were, we were freaks, lobster-claw boys and bearded ladies; oddities juggling depression and loneliness, playing solitaire, spin the bottle, trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal.”
An animated version of the poem has moved millions of kids around the world, with the YouTube video receiving more than 18 million views since its posting in 2013.
Describing Koyczan’s experience of being abandoned by his parents and bullied at school, where he was called Pork Chop, the poem first came to international attention when he read it at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
It’s had such a profound impact he gets deluges of mail, from both those bullied and the bullies themselves.
“I get anywhere from 25 to 40 letters a day through email, Twitter or social media,” Koyczan explains. “Not just from victims of bullying but a lot of times from bullies themselves who listened to what I did and have a total change of heart. It’s pretty heartbreaking to hear some of their stories too. They just want to share their experience, to talk to someone who makes them feel like they’re being listened to. Some of the letters are so raw they’re hard to get through.”
He has received rave reviews for his performances, with the Vancouver Sun praising, “Shane Koyczan is at the heart of a Category Five creative hurricane,” noting also how he “left attendees at the (2013) TED conference near tears.”
An award-winning poet, he sometimes collaborates with the band The Short Story Long, releasing recordings like “The Crickets Have Arthritis,” “A Pretty Decent Cape in My Closet,” and most recently, “Debris.” Reviewing the album, Canada’s Exclaim said, “As he dissects himself and his feelings, Koyczan goes so deep as to turn the personal into the universal, giving voice to truths, both beautiful and hideous, all humans feel somewhere in our bones.”
Grateful that he can inspire people, Koyczan says: “What’s been most rewarding for me is seeing people wake up to the fact that they are allowed to feel something. When people come to my shows, I really want them to know it’s a safe space for them to feel what they are going to feel. That’s how we heal.”
* Shane Koyczan will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $30, $25, $20 and $15 (with a $5 student discount available with valid ID). For more information, call the box office at 242-6969 or visit www.mauionstage.com.
The Maui Classical Music Festival will close its 35th anniversary concert series with a grand finale event Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater, with the audience seated on the stage around the musicians.
This concert features Dukas’ Villanelle for Horn and Piano, Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A, K. 305 and Brahms’ Sextet for Strings in B Flat, Op.18.
“I remember seeing a concert on TV at the Lincoln Center where the audience was sitting on the stage,” explains festival co-founder Katherine Collier. “I’ve had this dream of us being able to go back to the Castle Theater. I think it will be exciting for people to sit close to the musicians on the stage.
“We chose a program especially for that concert without an intermission. It includes a great horn piece by Dukas, and we’re bringing back one of our great horn players, William VerMeulen, who was principle horn of the Honolulu Symphony many years ago when we were first at Kapalua. He’s playing this great piece which is perfect for the opening of the final concert. Then we have a beautiful Mozart sonata, and we end with the Brahms’ sextet.”
* The Maui Classical Music Festival concert will be at 7 p.m. Friday at the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $75 (plus applicable fees), with seating limited to 150. For more information, call 242-7469.
As an acclaimed player of the Aboriginal didgeridoo, Stephen Kent has pioneered its use in contemporary music across the globe, collaborating with leading musicians like Brazil’s Airto Moreira, India’s Zakir Hussain, jazz legend Wayne Shorter, Doors drummer John Densmore and Habib Koite from Mali.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kent has been playing the didgeridoo for more than 30 years since he spent time in Australia. A multi-instrumentalist and member of the group Baraka Moon, as a solo performer he is a virtual one-man-band, layering sounds and grooves.
“When I really get into it, I feel like I’m tapping into some ancient, primal energy; and then if I apply my western left brain approach to it, I see it in terms of structuring layers of sound and texture. More than any other instrument I’m aware of, it is its own orchestra.”
* Stephen Kent will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Temple of Peace, 575 Haiku Road, in Haiku. Admission is $10 at the door.