For one of his next creative projects, Willie K is drawing inspiration from the groundbreaking endeavors of The Who and Pink Floyd, to devise his own rock opera.
"I'm working on my own personal 'Tommy,' my own personal 'Dark Side of The Moon,' " the prodigiously talented artist reports. "I've been performing it on Tuesday nights with my band at Casanova. It's like the biggest hit there, to watch Willie K go on the other side of the planet. People just go nuts, they go crazy. It's a 45 to 50 minute piece, and we've been giving them about 20 minutes."
As to a theme for this work in progress, Willie continues: "I want to call it 'Wake Up And Close Your Eyes,' because you want to enjoy life, but you don't want to talk about the things you've seen, you want to be selective."
Besides focusing on composing a rock opera, Willie has been busy with a variety of ventures. Before he heads to Japan for some gigs, he will perform for the first time with the Maui Pops Orchestra at a Christmas concert on Saturday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The show will include guests Pauline Wilson of Seawind fame, and broadcaster Emme Tomimbang as emcee.
"It's going to be different, just Willie K and the band and the orchestra, no Kahaialii family," he explains. "It will be a lot more Christmassy than most of the Christmas shows I've done, and we'll throw in some popular opera songs."
Able to pretty much ace any kind of music from soulful Hawaiian to incendiary rock, Willie has recently been dazzling audiences with his extraordinary ability to render opera arias. On Oahu in November, he joined the Hawaii Youth Symphony at a fundraising concert, where in tribute to Luciana Pavarotti, dressed up in a tux, he unleashed a jaw-dropping "Nessun Dorma."
* Willie K performs a Christmas concert with the Maui Pops Orchestra on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $12, $35, $45, and $55 plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
The Willie K Band plays Casanova on Dec. 29 and three Tuesdays in January.
"I've always been a fan," he says of his love for opera. "It's just that it's been tucked away in a closet in my head for years. Mario Lanza did a movie about Caruso, and I remember watching it when I was about 9 years. Ever since then I've loved (the aria) 'Vesti La Giubba.' "
As for album projects, Willie is completing production on a live Lima Wela CD, that channels the fiery acoustic guitar power of Joe Cano, Avi Ronen and the guitar virtuoso. "We're trying to finish the project by the end of this month, because I'm going to Japan," he notes.
And he's just finished recording a pop CD for the European market, signed to Universal Records in England.
"I did that in Germany, a pop project playing ukulele and singing Hall and Oates' 'Sara Smile,' U2's 'With or Without You,' Annie Lennox's 'Sweet Dreams,' and the standard 'Fly Me to the Moon,' " he says. "And I gave them four Hawaiian songs like 'Waimanalo Blues,' 'Kokee' by Dennis Kamakahi, and the 'Hawaiian Cowboy.' It's coming out next year. They want to promote Willie K over there."
So any news about an U.S. release?
"I don't want it to come out over here," he responds laughing. "I don't want to have to sing those songs over here."
In the summer, Willie was hired by promoter Marek Lieberberg to tour German stadiums opening for the U.K. soul/pop band Simply Red. The arrangement was so successful the Maui entertainer will tour again with the group next year.
"I was asked to go on a world tour with them next November," he explains. "They also want me to tour with ZZ Top, Mark Knopfler and Sammy Hagar."
Wondering how German audiences (who are notorious for booing opening acts off stage) might respond to a Hawaiian entertainer, Willie hit on moving them by singing Iz's version of "Over the Rainbow."
"My first gig was in Leipzig and I didn't know what to do," he reveals. "It went well, I didn't get booed off the stage, which Germans are famous for. The next gig was in Cologne and I went to the back of the stage and had a moment of prayer, and it hit me, the way to make people recognize who I am and where and I come from was playing Iz's 'Over the Rainbow.' So I went on stage and did a little ukulele jazz instrumental, and then I did 'Over the Rainbow.' From then on, no matter what I did, wherever I went, I had a standing ovation in every stadium I played. And I'm playing in front of 20,000 to 40,000 people, just myself. It was crazy."
A show at a stadium in Berlin was particularly memorable.
"I had a standing ovation and a manager runs down screaming to Marek that it was the first time in the history of Germany that the supporting act didn't get booed off stage, but got a standing ovation," he marvels. "I came down and Marek says, 'You've just done something no one has ever done.' "
Willie will soon loom larger than life on the big screen appearing in the forthcoming romantic comedy "You May Not Kiss the Bride," playing a Tahitian chief. Picked up by Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company, the movie stars Dave Annable, Mena Suvari, Rob Schneider, "American Idol" finalist Katharine McPhee, British actor Vinnie Jones and "Wayne's World" star and Hawaiian Grammy winner Tia Carrere. "I'm getting front credits too, starring Willie K," he says laughing.
And surprise, he will embark on a movie project with Barefoot Natives' buddy Eric Gilliom. "We're doing a movie next year," he says. "It's not the Barefoot Natives, but it is Eric Gilliom and Willie K on the screen. The script's being written right now, and it looks like it's a go."
Willie also appeared on screen in the brilliant music/consciousness documentary "1 Giant Leap - What About Me," which was shown at the Maui Film Festival and should see a U.S. DVD release next year. He opened the film playing slack key with Led Kaapana, and was part of a riveting section featuring k.d. lang, Bela Fleck and legendary Police drummer Stewart Copeland.
Interviewed before the Maui screening the film's co-producer/director Duncan Bridgeman noted: "Led makes a great opening to the movie, and Willie and k.d. singing together is a real treat."
So we have a world music doc, a comedy feature, a sort of Barefoot Natives movie, a Lima Wela CD, a European pop CD, and a rock opera all in the works. Sounds like a major renaissance for our amazing Willie K.
"I just wanted to see what would happen if I never said no," he concludes.
Among the Maui Film Festival's "First Light Screenings" in Castle Theater at the MACC, "I Bring What I Love" spotlights one of Africa's superstars, Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour. Probably best known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel on the album "So," and the song "Shaking the Tree," N'dour has also collaborated with Bono and Neneh Cherry among others.
Several years in the making, this fascinating film follows N'Dour as he releases the Grammy-winning album "Egypt," a lyrical celebration of Senegal's Muslim mystical culture of Sufism, which prompted religious conservatives in his homeland to declare it blasphemous.
A riveting performer with the power to move audiences world-wide, N'Dour even gets Irish fans to quit drinking in a Dublin pub so he can perform.
Screens at 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday.
Oscar winning director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") returns to the world of musicals with an adaptation of the Tony-winning "Nine," centered on the life of a flamboyant Italian film director (Fellini) played by the always amazing Daniel Day-Lewis.
"Sophisticated, sexy and stylishly decked out, Rob Marshall's tightly focused film impresses and amuses," praised Variety. It also stars Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and Judi Dench.
Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
And if you wonder what various folks including musicians Ringo Starr, Seal and Sir Bob Geldof think about the concept of the divine, check out "Oh My God. "God is love," assures the former Beatle.
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.