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Islands’ stars shone brightly in 2016

By Wayne Harada, Special to the Honolulu Star Advertiser

It’s time for the 2016 Waynie Awards, this column’s annual retrospective of the past year:

>> Entertainer of the Year: A posthumous nod to Jimmy Borges, the jazz giant who died May 30 at age 80. He lived his last year with distinction and honor, earning multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards en route to the pearly gates. Borges shared his bravery by living his nal moments his way: without life-extending chemotherapy and radiation. It wasn’t easy but it was inspiring. My only regret is that he didn’t survive long enough to receive this honor. …

>> Voice of the Year: Auli‘i Cravalho, the Kamehameha Schools student who provided the voice of “Moana,” a Paci c princess, in Disney’s fall blockbuster animated lm. She brought a feisty and enthusiastic element to the role of the unconventional Disney wayfarer eager to carry out the tradition of her people. In the process, she got to sing songs composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the year’s hottest showbiz entity (“Hamilton”), and held her own opposite People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Dwayne Johnson, as Maui the demigod. …

>> Male Singer: Willie K, the Maui super trouper who became a regular at Blue Note Hawaii. He does it all, from Hawaiian to blues to jazz to opera. Doesn’t get any better. …

>> Female Singer: Melveen Leed also elevated her vocal pro le with Blue Note gigs, making her the year’s top wahine.

>> Next Year’s Star: Blayne Asing, the 2016 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards’ Most Promising Artist, who sings, strums guitar and composes music with heartfelt precision.

>> Group: Streetlight Cadence has had an incredible December. The lads — Jonathon Franklin on violin, Jesse Shiroma on accordion and percussion, Brian Webb on cello and Chaz Umamoto on guitar and ukulele — have bounced from promising artists to stars on the cusp of greatness. They used to perform for free on Kalakaua Avenue, so they were delighted that their Blue Note December debut was a paid gig, one of several major pre-Christmas shows including the Ben and Maila Christmas concert at Ala Moana Hotel, the Hawai‘i Bowl halftime show, a show at the Hapuna Prince and two holiday shows at the Hawaii Prince Hotel (including Jay Larrin’s). At year’s end their “Home for the Holidays Live” CD was No. 19 on Billboard’s Heatseekers charts and No. 2 on the Heatseekers Paci c lists. National fame is next. …

>> Comedian: Frank De Lima is tireless and topical. With comedy clubs and CD sales on the wane, he creates his own buzz with parodies that tap the populace’s interests. He paid homage to Marcus Mariota, Black Friday/Cyber Monday and West Oahu orange-coning tra c woes. For the Yuletide his three tutu on The Cab jingles became a sextet with three gents, all ably portrayed and sung by De Lima. Delightful! …

>> Best Charitable Show: Country superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s one-night, two-show booking expanded to four concerts at Blaisdell Arena, all with a remarkable $69 admission to bene t the charities and missions at Pearl Harbor. And don’t forget, they vowed to return. …

On the Scene with Marco Olivari

By John Berger for the Honolulu Star Advertiser

At the time he was general manager of the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, Marco Olivari was honeymooning in Waikiki when he learned the company would be opening a club in Honolulu.

Soon afterward he was named G.M. of Blue Note Hawaii at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. In the year since its soft opening in December 2015, Olivari, 46, has established the room as Honolulu’s foremost jazz venue and an intimate concert stage for big-name rock, pop, soul, blues, gospel and reggae artists, as well as for Hawaii entertainers.

Blue Note Hawaii celebrates its o@cial anniversary on Jan. 17.

JOHN BERGER: Congratulations on Year One. What do you see for Year Two?

MARCO OLIVARI: We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to bring in all our usual players like Kenny G and Chris Botti, but the wealth of (Hawaii-based) talent has been such a pleasure. I think now that we’ve already built up so many new relationships with local Hawaii musicians, and now that a lot of the international musicians have been here and seen the room, I think the next year is just going to be that much stronger.

JB: Were there any surprises for you business-wise?

MO: I was surprised that some artists were so eager to come to Hawaii, and others kind of reluctant to. And it has been really fascinating to see which artists in particular, what genres in particular, are really embraced here. Some of the real heady jazz was a little bit less so, but reggae — I didn’t guess it would do so well here — but all of the reggae shows have been incredible.

JB: Which entertainer from the past year stands out?

MO: Dee Dee Bridgewater is such a unique performer who’s so incredibly versatile. I just love Monty Alexander and hold him in such high regard musically and personally, and having Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer was something we don’t do too often in New York. I’ll mention Willie K as well because he can perform anything from traditional Hawaiian to completely authentic blues.

JB: How has Hawaii lived up to your expectations as a place to live and work?

MO: Hawaii and Hawaiians have just absolutely blown me away with their hospitality. The (New York) museums I miss, but I’m not really a Broadway guy; I’ve been to the Statue of Liberty, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf. I’ve tried it in New York, I’ve tried it in San Francisco conditions, so learning to surf in Waikiki has really been amazing.

JB: Tell me something about yourself that might surprise people.

MO: I am an absolute, passionate, die-hard Ramones fan. … . I play bass and I love all forms of music, but I always played rock ’n’ roll. I had the bene@t of getting to play (New York rock club) CBGB numerous times, and I have a ’78 P bass (guitar) that Dee Dee Ramone signed for me.

When Davell met Willie: A collaborative home run

By Wayne Harada for the Honolulu Star Advertiser.


When New Orleans and New York favorite Davell Crawford teamed up with Hawaii native Willie K Monday night (Sept. 12) at the Blue Note Hawaii club, expectation and uncertainty were common denominators.

Crawford and Willie were willing participants in a theoretical match — what happens when each dude, highly popular and versatile in his respective domestic marketplace. They met only hours before taking the stage together, so much of what happened was impromptu — trying to find a common bound, attempting to mine each other’s strengths, searching for unity in the union.

Wow, what a collaboration! It worked? Perhaps the result was partly due to the unknown factor: how can two souls become one?

In the end, the combo deal was a certification of how music can yield commonality and define and link two diverse and creative spirits. It was a collective home run!

Both Davell and Willie are singers who are aware and imaginative entertainers; both include jazz as part of their impressive landscape; both work the house with and resourceful eyes and ears; both are equals in the art of improvisation, yet they make it all feel and unreel like a planned scenario.

All the while, they projected spirituality and energy of seismic proportions, which resonated with an audience that may have included first-timers at the opening gates, who become instant fans by the end of the final bow.

And so it was — on a memorable Monday chock-full of unforgettable footnotes:

Maui MusiciansDavell, 41, a designated Steinway artist, manipulated the keyboards with flash and fury, his nimble fingers dancing across the ivories with controlled frenzy. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s jazz and more — and his added powerful vocals provided fireworks and sizzle. No wonder he’s known as the Piano Prince of New Orleans in The Big Easy.

Willie, 55, is equal parts guitarist and ukulele strummer, with a pliable and potent voice that never disappoints and always astonishes. While he came equipped to dazzle mostly with his electric guitar, he didn’t have an ukulele handy, so moments before showtime, he ventured into the uke shop on the first floor of the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel and purchased a spanky newbie, breaking it in like he had previous communion. He rocked, he rolled, he threw in some localisms for good measure, receiving hurrahs and hoots of approval from his retinue of local fans. Assuredly, he’s everyone’s Uncle Willie with breezy theatrics.

Maui MusiciansObviously, the gig largely was a test of will and desire, of chance and experimentation, of sharing and comparing. If you think of the showroom as a blank canvas, Davell and Willie added the tone, the textures and the hues with idiosyncratic maneuvers that resulted in a visual and aural portrait of their inner musical souls.

While there were more tunes not commonly on people’s playlists, like Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways,” which might have been attributable to geography. There was evidence upon evidence — while Davell resides in New Orleans but regularly works in New York, and he travels extensively to European ports. Hence, his scope may be international, so repertoire may not be a common denominator. But there were classics that were iconic when Davell uncorked George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” classic, “Summertime,” rendering a bluesy and soulful piece with undeniable insinuation of its Southern and operatic roots; Willie chimed in with guitar riffs, adding punctuation and framework to enhance the percolating mood. And — here’s where this became an expression of two jazz giants — there was an extended, expanded impromptu jam that went on seemingly forever, with scat singing in-between the alternating piano and guitar solos. This brand of enabling musicians to build upon a tune with style and imagination is characteristic of greatness in jazzdom; you don’t necessarily need lyrics to progress a storyline.

Frequently, Davell bellowed to his listeners: “Somebody say yeah!,” kind of a cue to make the musical ball roll and bounce. It felt almost like being in a Nawlins speakeasy rather than a Waikiki club, but no matter: the performance loved it all.

When Willie unpacked the obvious “Over the Rainbow,” with his trademark vocal dynamics, he put broad blue strokes in delivery. Midway into the song, when he realized he didn’t have his trusty instrument, he quipped: “I feel naked without my guitar.”

As a result of the Davell-Willie experiment, there will be more camaraderie and connections in the weeks and months ahead, pending scheduling issues. Willie wants to invite Crawford to sit in on one of his Maui gigs; Crawford is committing to confirm Willie for one a New Orleans bluesfest next year. The bottom line: they’ve found common ground and want to cultivate and grow the ties that will expand both appeal and adoration in each other’s home base.

Imua Garza, a local musician, had a late-in-the-show cameo, singing and strumming with spirited joy. It was a smooth debut for him, and perhaps he might earn his own Blue Note slot down the line. Imua, bro!

Not everything was perfection, however. The first of two shows had irritating moments: an errant microphone, with screeching and jolting feedback; and off-cue spotlight miscues that left Davell or Willie in temporary darkness or with shadows on their faces.

Willie K’s BBQ Blues Festival

By JON WOODHOUSE, For The Maui News

Billy Gibbons at Willie K's Blues FestWillie K’s first BBQ Blues Festival was one of the highlights of 2013, and it looks like the second annual event coming up on Jan. 11 will be even more memorable.

Featuring headliners Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top and Mississippi blues legend Robert “Wolfman” Belfour, along with some of our island’s finest musicians, the festival will be presented outdoors at Maui Tropical Plantation’s new Field of Dreams amphitheater.

ZZ Top’s Gibbons is one of the finest blues-rock guitarists to emerge from Texas. “Ever since I was a little kid and first heard Jimmy Reed’s ‘Honey, Don’t Let Me Go,’ the blues has been in my blood,” Gibbons told Music Radar. “I’ve definitely been an avid student of the genre my whole life.”

Receiving his first guitar as a Christmas present in 1963, Gibbons taught himself how to play, listening to records by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Little Richard. Before forming the “little ol’ band from Texas,” with Frank Beard and Dusty Hill, Gibbons played with the group The Moving Sidewalks, which opened for Jimi Hendrix on his first U.S. tour. Hendrix was so impressed with the Texan, he once hailed him as America’s best guitar player, and gave Gibbons his pink Stratocaster as a gift.

After forming in 1969, ZZ Top’s third album, “Tres Hombres,” earned the trio their first Top 10 hit. Sold-out concerts followed, and subsequent albums went on to cement the band’s popularity.

In June of last year, the band released the 10-disc box set, “ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990),” which traced their development from a raw blues club act to a groundbreaking, hit-making powerhouse.

• When: Concert begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 2014

• Where: In Waikapu, outdoors on new Field of Dreams at Maui Tropical Plantation.

• The lineup: Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Robert Belfour, the Tom Conway Band with bassist “Hutch” Hutchinson, the Bobby Ingram Band, the Mike Carroll Band, Kings of Spade, Lehua Kalima, RJ Kaneao, Willie K and other special guests.

• The cost: Tickets are $35 for 16 years and older, $10 for ages 10 to 15, and free for kids younger than 10. Proceeds benefit National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. Request Music Willie Kloset in Wailuku and Lahaina Custom Guitars are outlets. Or visit

When it comes to living icons of blues, Belfour is the real deal. Raised in Mississippi’s rural north, Belfour plays what he calls “Mississippi hill country music.”

A Variety magazine review of his concert at the House of Blues hailed him as “the first great blues discovery of this century.”

Born in 1940, Belfour had a sharecropper father, who played a resonator guitar in a style similar to Charlie Patton. When Belfour was 13, his father died, and he had to work to support his family. He got into blues by listening to some of the giants of the genre. He also learned different guitar tunings, including the “Spanish” open tuning variety, a popular option for slide guitar playing.

“I taught myself as a boy by ear,” Belfour explains. “I’d hear records they’d play on the radio. I kept going, and I just got to where any song they played on the radio, I knew the chords on the guitar. Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker inspired me more than any others.”

Sounding like some raw, rare unearthed treasure, his music is characterized by percussive, repetitive riffs, a droning syncopated driving beat, and overt African rhythms reminiscent of Malian guitarists such as Ali Farka Toure.

Willie K and Billy F. Gibbons

Willie K and Billy F. Gibbons serenade travelers at Kahului Airport.

Widely acclaimed in Europe as one of the original American roots blues players, he was first “discovered” by Dr. David Evans, a musicologist at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. “Dr. Evans first recorded me and it came out in Germany,” he continues. “He asked me, ‘How did I learn how to tune in Spanish?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, it just come to me.’ ”

Living since 1968 in Memphis, where he worked construction for 35 nearly years, Belfour only began playing publicly in the early 1980s. Encouraged by his wife, he began performing in one of the city’s parks and soon became a fixture in Beale Street’s blues clubs.

“I would just sit around at home playing,” he recalls. “I told my wife I ain’t playing for no money. But I finally made up my mind to do that, and I played in Handy Park on weekends. People would put money in the bucket.”

This extraordinary musician eventually came to the attention of a Mississippi record label, Fat Possum, which specializes in living music from this region. By 2002, Belfour had recorded his first domestic album, “What’s Wrong With You,” and its reception was so favorable that “Pushin’ My Luck” followed.

Both were widely acclaimed. PopMatters raved, “Belfour produces stunning blues laments fueled by his sophisticated and clear guitar chops.” And an Allmusic review of “Pushin’ My Luck” concluded, “this record is amazing.”

“People who have heard me have said they’ve never heard anybody play like that,” he notes.

Willie K is especially thrilled that Belfour will play his festival. “I listened to his songs and I said, ‘This is what a blues festival in Hawaii needs,’ ” Willie enthuses. “His style reminds me of Gabby Pahinui for Hawaiian music fans. We offered him a vacation on Maui for a week, but he said, ‘I can’t do vacations because I’ve got to do my gigs.’ He’s 74. He said, ‘I’ll play but I’ve got to leave the next day.’ That’s a blues man. It’s going to be a real-deal blues festival.”

Willie K’s BluesFest featured in Rolling Stone Magazine

Rolling Stone
Willie K’s Bluesfest was recently mentioned in a Rolling Stone magazine article (yes, THAT Rolling Stone Magazine…)

The article talks about a few certain members of music royalty that were at the BluesFest. You’ll have to click here to read the full article!