It's not often that record labels are formed purely to release the music of one artist but that's what happened after movie star Matthew McConaughey discovered the conscious reggae of Mishka.
"I started the record company because of Mishka, it all happened in five minutes," McConaughey revealed in a MySpace video. "I'm not really looking for other acts."
Thus the popular actor has been recently appearing on TV shows like "Jimmy Kimmel Live" proudly praising the young artist's music and encouraging reggae fans to check out the new CD, "Above The Bones," released in early April.
"It's really cool, all I can do is give thanks," says Mishka about his good fortune. "I spent years trying to get people to help me distribute my music. It's not an easy road at all especially the way the music industry is now. I started back in 1999 in England, and I was signed to a label there, and then the label crashed and I had to start back from scratch. Then Mathew showed up, 'I love your music, can I help you get it out to the people?' He started the label on my behalf, which is a huge honor."
The new record results from a nine-year passion the actor has had for Mishka's music. Back in 1999 McConaughey was partying in Jamaica when he first heard the musician's self-titled debut album. Immediately transfixed he began a lengthy odyssey to meet the artist.
Mishka was surprised to discover McConaughey was a fan of his music. "My wife was reading People magazine and they asked him who his favorite artist was and he said Mishka," he reports. "It was a tiny blurb. He had heard my first album shortly after it came out."
After they finally met, McConaughey formed Just Keep Livin' records. He included two of Mishka's songs on the soundtrack of his "Surfer Dude" movie, and released "Above The Bones," which promptly landed at No. 1 on Billboard's reggae chart.
"It surprised me," says Mishka. "I wasn't expecting anything like that. It's nice to have the recognition."
With prominent assistance from guitarist Darryl Thompson, who has played with Sly & Robbie, Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru, Mishka creates enticing music firmly embedded in roots reggae with a folky ambience. It's seductively smooth and soulful, conscious and heartfelt, insightful and empowering, and one song was composed on Maui.
"I started 'Long Road' on Maui," he explains. "I lived there in 1994 for about four months. I was in Paia one night and this lyric came to mind, a vision of reincarnation and I could see past and future lives, a really long road."
It was inevitable that Mishka would be drawn to playing reggae, as he spent most of his early life on a boat in the Caribbean, sailing from island to island with his seafaring parents and older sisters.
"Growing up, Bob Marley is played everywhere in the Caribbean and then Burning Spear had a profound effect on me," he recalls. "I was about 14 and somebody gave me a Burning Spear tape and it hit me so deep, it was mesmerizing. At that point I got into all kinds of reggae. I was in love with the music. I spent a lot of my teenage years wind surfing and I would just be singing these songs over and over. But I think I drove my family insane. They weren't really big reggae fans, and I played it as loud as I could."
A haunting, timeless quality pervades many of the tracks on "Above The Bones," enhanced by the striking, aching quality of Mishka's voice. One of the standout compositions, the title song co-composed by Mishka's wife, honors our ancestors and their struggles.
"It started out as a poem she wrote a few years ago basically writing about the hardships and suffering that people went through in terms of slavery and also the genocide and different things that have happened over the course of history and how as we're living our lives today, we're carrying the weight of our ancestors," he explains. "How do we rise above that and free the souls and memories of those people?"
Other songs like "Higher Heights" and "Third Eye Vision" offer encouragement and hope to resist oppressive forces, while "Peace and Love" questions material obsession, posting love and peace as the ultimate value.
"I was visiting Canada and someone was telling me about some special combination of coffee, a mocha late with a twist of this and that, and that's the ultimate combination," he says. "I went home and the thought came, the sweetest combination is peace and love."
Heading to Maui to play the Hard Rock Caf, Mishka hopes his music will generate, "a sense of inner peace. I hope it can do the same thing that Burning Spear did for me, to relax the body and mind enough to feel at peace with life and everything. That's what good music does. It would be great if I could be counted in the category of good music.
* Mishka performs at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Lahaina's Hard Rock Caf. Tickets are $20.
The Brothers Cazimero make their annual visit to Maui with a post-May Day concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. The show also includes the hula artistry of Leina'ala Heine and the Brothers Cazimero Dancers.
Secure in a legacy unmatched by any other island artists, the Caz have released more than 35 albums and received numerous Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Performing together since helping spearhead the Hawaiian Renaissance in contemporary local music with Sunday Manoa in the 1970s, Robert and Roland Cazimero long ago established a reputation as pioneers of Hawaiian music. Their latest album, "Destiny," features magnificent interpretations of songs by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Manu Boyd, Keli'i Tau'a and Mekia Kealaka'i. The Brothers' CD "Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell," released in 2004, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
* The Brothers Cazimero perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the MACC's Castle Theater. Pre-show festivities begin at 5:30 pm with sales of fresh flower lei, Hawaiian arts and crafts, local-style food and a performance by a hula halau. Tickets are $30, $22, and $10 plus applicable fees, half-price for kids 12 and younger, available at the MACC?box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
The annual Maui Classical Music Festival returns to our island opening on Friday with a concert at the Makawao Union Church, featuring an ensemble of internationally known musicians and rising stars. Concerts will also be presented at historic churches in Makena and Hana. Among the acclaimed young musicians attending are 2008 Naumberg International Cello Competition winner David Requiro, and violinist Arnaud Sussmann, a protege of Itzhak Perlman.
Emerging as one of America's most promising young cellists, besides his prestigious Naumberg Competition win, David Requiro last year captured first prize in both the Irving M. Klein International and Washington International String Competitions.
French violinist Arnaud Sussmann won first prizes at the International Andrea Postacchini Competition in Fermo, Italy, and the Vatelot/Rampal International competition in Paris. Currently pursuing his studies with Itzhak Perlman, Sussmann plays a Franciscus Celoniatus violin made in Turin in 1732.
Festival directors, pianist Katherine Collier and violist Yizhak Schotten, return, along with pianist David Deveau, flutist Lorna McGhee, violist David Harding, violinist Diana Cohen, and classical guitarist David Leisner.
The Festival programs will include the Mendelssohn "Piano Trio in D Minor," the Schumann "Piano Quintet," and a "Basically Beethoven" evening with the "Piano Trio #1" and "Notturno for Violin, Guitar, and Viola."
* The Maui Classical Music Festival will be presented Friday at Makawao Union Church; Monday at Keawala'i Congregational Church in Makena; Wednesday at Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana; and May 8 at the Makawao Union Church. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Suggested donations are $25 adult and $10 student; for advanced ticket sales, call 878-2312.