UPDATE: Congratulations to Daniel and Tia on winning the 2009 Best Hawaiian Album Grammy! UPDATE: Daniel Ho is back in the Bay Area on Saturday, November 1, at Stanford University’s Campbell Recital Hall. Show starts at 8 p.m. Admission is $20 general and $5 student.“Three-time Grammy winner Daniel Ho joined by lead members of the award-winning smooth jazz band Kilauea (Randy Drake [drums] and Steve Billman [bass]). Daniel shares his dynamic fusion of Hawaiian aesthetic, smooth jazz, and alternative folk.” http://music.stanford.edu/Events/calendar.html
My first experience with Daniel Ho’s musical talents was in April when I was in the audience at the taping of the AZN Asian Excellence Awards at UCLA.
Tia Carrere was among the performers at the awards show, singing “He Aloha Mele” off the Grammy-nominated album Hawaiiana. Sharing the stage with Tia was this Asian brother playing a mean acoustic guitar. I only realized when I interviewed Daniel for this article that he was the guitarist that night.
It’s not that I didn’t know who Daniel was. I knew his name from when he was with the Top 10 Billboard jazz group Kilauea in the ’90s. But I learned through prepping for this column what a versatile and accomplished artist and entrepreneur he was: winner of three Grammys as a producer and featured slack key guitarist in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category and a singer/songwriter, arranger, composer, engineer and record company owner in addition to his many other hats.
I spoke with Daniel by phone a few hours before he was set to play with the legendary group Makaha Sons in Stratham, New Hampshire. We talked about his local background, living in Los Angeles, his success in the unforgiving music industry and the role the Internet plays in his creative enterprises.
But like most local folks, we started the conversation with hometowns and high schools.
Chinese American Daniel Ho grew up in Kaimuki, a neighborhood of Honolulu. “I lived on 3rd Avenue, right by St. Louis Drive Inn,” he said, referencing one of the best bento joints on the island. “And I went to St. Louis and St. Patricks.” (The all-boy St. Louis School is best known for their powerhouse football team.)
It was during their high school years that Daniel and Tia Carrere met and developed their first musical partnership. “We performed at Brown Bags to Stardom back then and sort of stayed in touch throughout the years.” Brown Bags is the largest high school talent competition in Hawai’i.
Tia and Daniel reconnected after many years to work on Hawaiiana, an album of classic Hawaiian music produced under Daniel’s record label, Daniel Ho Creations.
“We recorded Hawaiiana together, creating a very simple personal album,” said Daniel. “There was definitely musical chemistry (between us) when we recorded this album.”
Artistic chemistry and positive reviews of Hawaiiana led Daniel and Tia to second album, ‘Ikena, a new album that The Honolulu Advertiser’s Wayne Harada already called a likely Grammy contender.
“It’s neat that Tia and I went our separate ways and then came back together. What she’s learned as an actress has given her an ability to present songs more deeply in a sense,” said Daniel. “We both bring different things to the table now after all these years.”
Joining Tia and Daniel on ‘Ikena is poet/lyricist Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman, who wrote the Hawaiian lyrics for Daniel’s original music.
“Daniel had a sudden desire to create new songs that might make their way into the hands of musicians and hula dancers,” wrote Amy in the album’s liner notes. “For all three of us, our challenge was not only how we might do right by Hawaiian music, but indeed how we might contribute to its continued growth.”
‘Ikena reminds me of Kalapana’s Many Classic Moments, a contemporary Hawaiian music album I played so often that the cassette tape got warped. It’s not that the albums are musically similar (they’re very different), but it’s one of those albums that you can listen to over and over, making it a good addition to your road trip music library.
Several tracks stood out for me. The excellent rendition of the classic “Ku’u Ipo My Darling,” the bluesy “Na ‘Ikena Like ‘Ole,” and “The Spam Song,” which was inspired by a visit by Amy to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn.
‘Ikena and two other Daniel Ho Creations albums, The Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar and Honehone i ka Poli, have been presented for consideration for Grammy nominations in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category.
You don’t have to wait long to hear Daniel Ho perform tracks from ‘Ikena. He’ll be headlining the Spirit of Japantown Festival (spiritofjapantownfestival.com) in San Jose on Sat., Oct. 4, at 5 p.m. The festival runs in San Jose Japantown, 5th Street and Jackson Street, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Daniel will be joined by former Kilauea bandmates Randy Drake on drums and Steve Billman on bass.
Visit www.DanielHo.com to hear track samples from ‘Ikena and his other albums. You can also find his music on iTunes and Rhapsody.
— Keith Kamisugi
An extended version of this article is still in the works: Daniel talks about life in LA as a local boy and Hawaiian music artist, his August marriage to Lydia Miyashiro and how the Internet has helped fuel his success. Keith Kamisugi and Kyle Tatsumoto are the Two Japanee Bruddahs.