Multiple award winner Mark Yamanaka will perform with Kupaoa
It’s quite an extraordinary achievement that every time Mark Yamanaka releases a recording, it’s showered with praise from his peers at the Hoku awards. Beginning with his debut, “Lei Pua Kenikeni,” all three of his solo albums have won Album, Male Vocalist, and Song or Single of the Year.
“When I plan to release an album, it’s never to try and win awards, it’s to help commemorate my family and my friends and really put out the music that I love, so when it does garnish some awards, it feels amazing,” he says. “It’s really unexpected. I even go up against some of my heroes in the nominations and to come out on top is crazy to me.”
As usual, Yamanaka’s latest album, “Lei Lehua,” was a major winner at the 2019 Na Hoku Hanohano awards. He not only won Album of the Year (which he shared with producer Kellen Paik) and Male Vocalist of the Year, but also Island Music Album, Single of the Year for “Morning Drive,” and Song of the Year for “Lei Lehua,” co-composed by Lihau Paik.
He will perform with Kupaoa, comprising Kellen and Lihau Paik, on Friday in MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater.
A celebration of his hometown and his love for family, memorable songs on “Lei Lehua,” ranged from his gorgeous title composition and the evocative “Morning Drive,” dedicated to his wife, to a lovely cover of Dennis Kamakahi’s classic “Koke’e” and the popular gospel hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
“A lot of the originals really represent where I come from and my family,” he notes. “My daughter came up with the concept of utilizing the lehua as my third lei album. Dennis composed so many iconic songs and I ended up doing Koke’e.’ I remember seeing him the first time in person attending the Na Hoku Hanohano banquet when my first album came out, and we were walking in as he’s walking out and he goes, ‘hey Mark.’ I was so touched and amazed he knew my name.”
He also covered a song by acclaimed Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho, “Ka Rodeo O Waimea.” “I’ve been a part of his halau as a musician for more than 20 years,” he explains. “His style is so unique. Every album that I’ve released has a Johnny Lum Ho song.”
One of the songs most dear to his heart was composed for his grandmother. ” ‘Grandma’s Love’ I composed when she passed away,” he says. “It was actually for her memorial service. The night before I was asked to do a song and I couldn’t come up with a cover that was appropriate, so I wrote a song for her. It’s a tribute to my dad’s side of the family.”
Beginning playing music while attending intermediate school in Hilo, he started with the ukulele and later taught himself guitar. Soon after, he discovered a talent for falsetto.
“Falsetto was something that caught me ear prior to joining Johnny’s halau,” he recalls. “Johnny has such a unique falsetto style and I wanted to learn his style. I wanted to excel in it and sound good.”
Initially, he felt a little insecure as a non-Hawaiian singing in Hawaiian. “It was something I grew up going through,” he says. “I didn’t want to carry a ukulele around school, I was that shy and insecure. I made my friend carry my ukulele around. It took a while. Sometimes it still sits in the back of my mind, especially with the whole Hawaiian movement. I just want to make sure I’m doing the culture good and proper. The gratifying thing about receiving the awards is kind of like the green light, keep doing what you are doing.”
Yamanaka’s debut album, “Lei Pua Kenikeni,” featuring an assortment of Hawaiian standards and newly written Hawaiian songs, made him the big winner at the 2011 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
He was only the third artist in the history of the Hokus (after Keali’i Reichel and Willie K) to win Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and Most Promising Artist in the same year. He also won Song of the Year for “Kaleoonalani,” which he composed for his daughter.
Blessed with an exquisite falsetto, Yamanaka next released, “Lei Maile,” another spectacular collection of primarily Hawaiian language compositions with a few sung in English. Besides standards like “Hilahila ‘Ole ‘Ole” and “Kanaka Waiwai,” he featured three songs by his mentor Johnny Lum Ho.
Among his own original compositions, he included a lovely, romantic hapa haole number that paid homage to Maui. Reminiscent of classics from the ’40s and ’50s, “Maui Under Moonlight” was inspired by a trip in 2012.
Even though he has been so honored over the years, it was only recently that he began to accept that he had the power to move people with his music.
“I just had a conversation with my dad about starting recognizing the fact that what I do does affect people in an emotional way,” he says. “I have to be sensitive to that thought because people often come up to me or email me and say how my music moves them. Three albums later, now I’m starting to realize and accept it.”
When he’s not performing live, you can usually catch this acclaimed musician selling cars in Hilo, and if requested, maybe serenading lucky prospective customers with one of his own beloved songs, or maybe a hit by Luther Vandross.
“Every now and then they do,” he says laughing. “It’s kind of like a tradeoff, ‘if you sing me a song I’ll buy the car,’ or ‘if I buy a car will you throw in a CD.’ It’s fun. They ask for all kinds of songs.”
* Mark Yamanaka will perform with Kupaoa on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $30 and $40, with a 10 percent discount for MACC members and half-price for kids under 12 (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-6469, or go to www.mauiarts.org.
Congratulations to Maui musician Peter Kater who won his second New Age Grammy on Sunday for “Wings.” “It’s a great honor,” he announced at the ceremony. And Maui’s country icon Willie Nelson won Best Country Solo Performance for “Ride Me Back Home.” No such luck for Amy Hanaiali’i or Kimie Miner, who lost the Regional Roots category to the band Ranky Tanky, based in Charleston, S.C.
Renowned vocalist, composer and sound healer Gina Sala will perform at a “Some enCHANTing Evening” event at the Makawao Union Church on Sunday at 7 p.m.
With a repertoire that spans 23 languages, she has performed at the United Nations, the Pentagon, and the Capital, and served as the original principal singer for the Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” production in Las Vegas.
A headliner at Bhaki Fest and Shakti Festival, Yoga Journal praised her as a, “western kirtan singer who captures the sweet, silky essence of traditional Indian vocal traditions, singing with a tenderness that draws the listener deep into the heart of devotion.”
She will be accompanied by Daniel Paul on tabla and Don Lax on violin. Doors open at 6. Advance tickets are $25 available on line at www.eventbrite.com, or $35 cash only at the door.
Contemporary folk musician Diane Patterson plays Mandala Creations in Paia tonight at 7:30 with Al Torre on lead guitar and Hanzano Lidbrink on bass. Reviewing her latest album, FolkWords praised: ” ‘Open Road’ offers enough spiritual infusion to suggest it should be offered by medical practitioners for soul healing.” Admission is $15 and $20.
Coming up, acclaimed kumu hula Keali’i Reichel has reported that “Kukahi 2020” on Feb. 15 and 16 at MACC will be his last. After winning 38 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, receiving two Grammy nominations, Reichel and his Merrie Monarch-winning halau will bring their long running Kukahi performances to an end. Tickets are $12, $45, $65, and $85 (plus applicable fees) with a 10 percent discount for MACC members and half-price kids under 12 (excluding the $12 seats).