New CD release shares ‘medicinal musical mojo’

Maui’s Tempa & Naor cut new music and raise money for motor neuron disease

The CD release party for Tempa (right) & Naor’s “Ember’s Fire,” will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Coffee Attic. The show is sold out. To pre-order or download a CD, or donate to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, visit their website at www.tempaandnaor.com. Photo courtesy the artist

Over the years, Maui’s musicians have produced impressive albums which bear comparison to national acts in terms of quality, accomplishment and vision.

The latest notable discovery, the husband and wife team of Tempa & Naor, just released the marvelous “Ember’s Fire,” which they will debut at a benefit concert on Saturday at the Maui Coffee Attic.

With “Ember’s Fire,” this duo has crafted a powerful, compelling, all-original work touching on themes of transformation, love, loss and release, in a style they call “medicinal musical mojo.”

Tempa Singer and Israeli-born Naor Nave have been creating music together for around 10 years. This husband-and-wife duo also performs as part of the Soul Kitchen band.

“We love the way Soul Kitchen has turned out, and we write and do our duo thing,” Tempa explains. “There are a lot of Soul Kitchen members on the album. This album came into being like a concept album –with feelings of loss and sadness, but [also] transformation. We named it for our niece Ember, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and can’t eat or breathe or walk on her own. She’s an amazing human being. We wanted the album release to be a benefit for SMA, and my sister suggested the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, which helps families.”

Ogmundur Thor Johannesson will perform a free concert at Makawao Union Church on Saturday. Photo courtesy E&FA

With more than 30 years of professional experience, Tempa has shared the stage with artists such as B.B. King, Mavis Staples, Koko Taylor and Jeff Beck.

Growing up on an Israeli kibbutz, Naor has played music most of his life, and even made it to the final of Israel’s version of “America’s Got Talent.”

“I had my own touring band in Colorado and we met, and I ended up touring in Israel for a while,” Tempa recalls. “We started writing together before I came to Maui at the end of 2011; as soon as we got to Maui, our writing had a particular flow that worked.”

Among highlights on the album, the especially moving “Kiss Me,” finds Tempa gratefully singing: “You called me home/ Shared your space/ Melted the heartache away/ With a smile/ Loving me, all the while.”

It’s so beautiful and touching one could imagine major artists lining up to record it.

“For me, it represents finding love at the right time in your life,” she says. “Sometimes the right time is not when you’re younger, and not when you think it is.”

Another standout, the haunting “Remember,” sees her reflecting and yearning for a cherished time when, “My sun found your moon.”

Again, it’s so striking, it would not be a stretch to see an artist such as Bonnie Raitt or even Taylor Swift covering the song.

“It was written for my son,” she explains. “I lost one of my sons. I have three children, and I lost my 17-year-old son. Some people might associate it with a love song, but it’s actually for him. I would love an artist to grab any of these songs and make them famous. We love performing, but in our hearts we’re songwriters. I had terrible stage fright when I first started in music, I couldn’t even look at an audience for two years. I really had to work hard on it. I’m comfortable now.”

The lively, country-flavored “Never Meant To Be a Love Song,” where Tempa has “seen the end (of a relationship) at the beginning,” is another original, which could get picked up nationally, especially by a Nashville artist.

“It’s about, ‘I should have known better, but I went ahead and did it anyway,’ “ she says. “It has a little attitude. It’s a woman-empowerment song. I did it, but I know we were never meant to be. Somebody said they could hear Taylor Swift doing it — and maybe she could turn it into a pop song.”

Driven by a harmonica and steel guitar, “Wyoming Highway” is one track that is place specific, recalling the wide open spaces of the mountain state, where she “can’t find a station on my radio.” (It includes a little plug for Mana’o Radio as we hear the dial turned.)

“I wrote it with a friend many years ago [while] touring,” she says. “I think of it as a Nanci Griffith, Americana-type of feel.”

Known for her soulful rocking singing with Soul Kitchen, Tempa brings the album to a fitting close with the yearning, bluesy “Glass of the Blues,” where she is just accompanied by Naor’s skillful guitar playing.

“I’ve always been a blues and soul singer,” she notes. “We knew everybody was going to expect this album was going to be that — but it’s nothing like that. That song [“Glass of the Blues“] has a bluesy feel, and we were not going to put it on the album, but we found a version we had made in Kihei. It’s rough but emotive, and we have it as a bonus track at the end for blues fans.”

Some of the Maui musicians helping on the album include Vince Esquire on ukulele, bassist Danny M, Gypsy Pacific violinist Willy Wainright, Jerry Kovarsky and Joel Katz on keyboards and Yum Yum Beast’s Justin Morris on slide steel guitar.

Previously performing as a duo on Maui at various venues, they are being selective about future gigs.

“We’re going to do carefully spaced shows,” she says. “We’re going to release a single every month, and we’re already working on the next album. And, of course, Soul Kitchen plays at Mulligans every month and Casanova.”

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Grammy-nominated jazz pianist David Benoit will be joined by his guitarist brother Phil Benoit and Gypsy Pacific at 7 tonight at the Maui Coffee Attic in Wailuku.

A versatile artist, Benoit’s eclectic path has embraced straight-ahead jazz, classical music, pop, smooth jazz and R&B. As a composer and conductor, his credits include work with Leonard Bernstein, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Dresden Philharmonic.

His television and film credits include themes for “All My Children” and “Sisters,” and scores for “The Stars Fell on Henrietta,” “The Christmas Tree” and “Charlie Brown” specials.

Benoit has arranged and performed music for many popular pop and jazz artists from Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons and Kenny Loggins, to Michael Franks and Kenny Rankin.

Among his recordings, “Heroes” paid tribute to jazz piano icons like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck. Benoit most recently released “So Nice” with guitarist Marc Antoine. AllAboutJazz hailed it as a “marvelous meeting of like-minded musicians,” while Smooth Jazz praised it as “a musical cohesion of two virtuosos in a lyrical walking through the magic land of Latin jazz.”

Tickets are $50. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 250-9555 or visit www.mauicoffeeattic.com.

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This may be a first for Maui when Icelandic musician/guitarist Ogmundur Thor Johannesson performs a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Makawao Union Church. Presented by Ebb & Flow Arts, the concert features recent music from Iceland, as well as works by Astor Piazzolla, Toru Takenitsu, William Anderson and Johannesson.

Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Johannesson began learning classical guitar when he was 10. He went on to study classical guitar in Barcelona, Spain and later graduated from Salzburg Mozarteum University of Music in Austria.

“My father is a songwriter and guitar player,” he recalled in an interview. I would never forget the fascination I had for the sound and the instrument. The catalyst to play the classical guitar came when I heard my uncle play a record of classical guitarist John William’s greatest hits. The songs gave me goose bumps. That’s what kicked off my journey.” 

He has won a number of prestigious awards, including first place in the seventh Andres Segovia International Classical Guitar Competition held in Spain, and second place in the Agustin Barrios International Guitar Competition held in France.

Johannesson has performed at various music festivals and concerts including the Nordic Music Days in Reykjavik as well as concerts in Brazil, Israel, India, Britain, Austria and Russia.

Hailed as “an astonishing guitarist,” his recordings include “Ocean without Paths — Icelandic Music for Guitar.”

Ebb & Flow Arts will celebrate 20 years of presenting music during its 2018-2019 season. Seven events will be held on three islands, featuring 41 works by composers such as Elliott Carter, Maurice Ravel, John Cage and Isang Yun. There will be 14 Hawaii premieres and five world premieres. Performers will include pianist Adam Tendler, violinist Ignace Jang, performance artist Lee Walczuk, cellist Sung Chan Chang and guitarist Johannessen.

There will be a pre-concert discussion at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, call 876-1854 or visit www.ebbandflow arts.org.

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