Inviting some favorite musicians to perform at the 2010 Kokua Festival at the Waikiki Shell, Jack Johnson was joined by blues legend Taj Mahal, reggae star Ziggy Marley, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and Maui's Anuhea Jenkins.
Impressing many with her soulful debut album, Anuhea was amazed that Johnson, whom she cites in her CD's liner notes as her biggest inspiration, picked her out of all of Hawaii's young artists.
"It was the funnest time of my life," she enthuses. "Not only did I get to share the stage with Jack Johnson, but he called me up to the sing 'Mud Football' with him. Earlier in his dressing room he asked, 'Do you know any of my songs?' Yeah, I know all of them. If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you my goal in life was to play with Jack Johnson."
Besides the duet with her dream musician, she also participated in a rousing grand finale with all the musicians regaling the crowd (as captured on YouTube) with Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."
"I was so amazed," she continues. "Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley's son and we're singing a Bob Marley song."
The Kokua gig marks another successful chapter in the life of this Maui-born musician, who was just nominated for two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for Most Promising Artist of the Year and Contemporary Album of the Year.
"I'm so honored," she says. "I've always watched the Hokus and I'm very excited to be nominated for most promising artist. I'll be performing live on the show (on May 30 on a bill that includes performances by Maui's Uluwehi Guerrero, Amy Hanaiali'i, and Hapa with Kenny Loggins) with a mash up of my songs 'Right Love, Wrong Time' and 'Big Deal.' "
Released last spring, "Anuhea" is one of the most impressive debut recordings released by a contemporary artist in Hawaii. Imagine an acoustic guitar-based local version of India Arie, with a bright, polished sound that's folky, funky and reggae flavored. And from the opening to closing song, this radio-friendly collection of all original, eminently catchy songs has already found appeal far beyond our islands.
"I didn't want to do the same thing as everyone," she explains. "I didn't make it with the intention of only rocking the Hawaii charts. We know there's somewhat of a formula here. I tried to have a couple of songs that could be radio hits here, and now 'Right Love, Wrong Time' is also getting radio success on the Mainland."
Guided by the WorldSound music company out of Seattle, like many aspiring young artists, Anuhea is totally digital and Web savvy. Similar to U.K. pop star Lily Allen who launched her career from MySpace, Anuhea has effectively employed social networking to reach out beyond Hawaii.
"We're trying to break out of the bubble without spending millions of dollars," she notes. "My iPhone has been my biggest tool. Even at the Kokua Fest I was saying keep in touch with me on Twitter and Facebook. There's so much music out there and the Internet is making it possible."
Last July she scored quite a coup featured as an iTunes "Discovery Download" (this free "Single of the Week" selection features an up-and-coming artist), and quite miraculously her music was pre-loaded on all demo units of iPads, iPhones and iPods in Apple stores across the nation.
"Luckily somebody liked my stuff," she notes. "That was amazing."
All this promotion helped her become, according to her management, the biggest selling artist out of Hawaii other than Jack Johnson and IZ over the past 12 months.
Not bad for a young lady from Makawao.
Born Rylee Anuheake'alaokalokelani Jenkins, she received her middle name from her great grandmother who envisioned it in a dream. A passion for music germinated during her years boarding at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu. Fluent in Hawaiian, she had previously attended the Hawaiian language immersion program at Paia Elementary School.
Self-taught on guitar, after graduation she attended film school in California for a year studying video production, and then resumed playing music. Spending time gigging in San Francisco, she recorded a track with Travis McCoy of the New York hip-hop band Gym Class Heroes. In 2006, she competed in the Miss Maui Scholarship Pageant, winning the Miss Congeniality trophy.
Along the way she received valuable guidance from her aunty, Nalani Choy of Na Leo fame.
"My aunty was always an inspiration," she says. "When I was a kid I was influenced by her music and seeing how a female can make it in this industry in Hawaii. It helped show me it was possible."
Since her album's release she has participated in an Armed Forces Entertainment tour of Japan and Guam and performed at the influential SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, last year. This year she completed a "Right Love" Mainland tour backed by the popular Oahu reggae band The Green, and recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., where greats like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins produced their seminal hits.
"We recorded a live set," she reports. "We might release it on iTunes. The energy and history of that place is amazing."
Judging by the strength of her debut CD, this rising star has a bright future ahead. Part of a new generation melding an island upbringing with contemporary influences, Anuhea seeks to empower people through music.
One of the album's songs, "Fly," which was prompted by a rough time in the Bay Area, drew inspiration from Paulo Coelho's modern classic "The Alchemist."
"Do you want to sink or fly," she sings, "I've been told the universe conspires to assist, In making dreams realities for those who deserve it, All things are for purpose they won't pass you by, Every knock you take is an opportunity."
"That's what I hope I was put on this earth for, to tell my story and help people and give validation and comfort," she says. "Music's a gift and there's an obligation with that to do something good for the world. I get to play music for my job and I need to do something good with that."
One of Maui's ubiquitous musicians, for more than three decades, Jimmy C has drummed in a variety of contexts from jazz to Hawaiian and rock. Jimmy recently released a new CD, "Reunion," that pays homage to a former time and place, his late '60s Philadelphia roots, where he played in a successful local band called The Effects.
This reunion focuses on songs they used to perform in the 1960s, plus some of Jimmy's jazzy favorites performed in a style reminiscent of classic pop crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.
"We had the opportunity to reunite," explains Jimmy. "The lead guitar player, Dennis Bourke, had a recording studio, so I took advantage of Dennis' prowess in the studio. We were hoping to relive our song list which is why we recorded (The Casino's doo-wop oldie) 'Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,' and the Elvis tune ("All Shook Up"). We wanted to get back to the fun as much as we could."
Recapturing the past the album includes a fun, jangly-guitar take on the Beatles' "Slow Down;" a cover of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," a hit for the The Buckinghams composed by the late, great Joe Zawinul; Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light," and they rock out on Dave Mason's classic "Only You Know and I Know."
"It's amazing what this band could have been if the Vietnam War had not done what it did," Jimmy continues. "It broke up the band and we were never able to gain the momentum back."
On the jazzier side, the CD ranges from the seductive bossa nova of Jobim's "Corcovado," to the standard "Satin Doll," which features some tasty Wes Montgomery-style guitar by Bourke. And then there's Barry White's soul hit "Never Gonna Give You Up," updated with a rap.
"As any singer, how can you ever try to reproduce Barry White's voice? But that was a fun thing I just wanted to do," he notes. "The added rap updated it really well."
The album closes with the beautiful ballad, "My One and Only Love," which has been covered by artists from Frank Sinatra to Sting on the soundtrack to "Leaving Los Vegas." Jimmy sings the standard accompanied solely by Mark Johnstone (of the Mick Fleetwood Blues band) on keyboards.
"The stuff I do I do because I love it and that's a great song," he says. "I'm a big admirer of songs that have stood the test of time."
Currently playing with the High Seas Dixieland Band, in recent years Jimmy has played with the Haiku Hillbillys, the Hula Honeys and Emma Veary. And as a DJ on Thursdays on Mana'o Radio from midnight to 6 a.m., he serenades Maui's night owls with the jazz music he loves.