By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Brownskin members from left, Michael, Lawrence,
Roni, Nito and Keo give a performance at Kawananakoa School.
Local talent contests are a start,By John Berger
but Brownskin knows it takes
heart and sweat to keep up
Special to the Star-Bulletin
MOST local musicians who play mainstream pop, rock, or urban music would define success as being signed by a national record label. Roni and Nito of Brownskin know from experience that being signed to a national deal is just another step on the way to possible national success.
As former members of New Generation -- a local pop group that was signed by Reprise in 1992 -- they've been there. Now, with Brownskin's self-titled debut album already a hit in Hawaii, they want to do it again and go all the way.
"We're giving our heart and soul to the project," Roni said earlier this week at his Hobo House on the Hill recording studio in central Honolulu. All five members of the group use single names -- Keo, Michael, and Roni's brother Lawrence, are the others.
Roni and Nito had just cleaned up after a four-hour dance rehearsal and returned to Hobo House to work on new material with Roni's co-composer, Ronnie Esteban.
By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Michael, of Brownskin, takes time to give the crowd at
Kawananakoa an anti-smoking message.
"We practice four hours a day nonstop, then we get vocal practice (and) we keep writing songs," Roni said. "Everybody wants to be a star, but it's not about that, it's about hard work. You have to be willing to spend so much time perfecting what you do that you'll probably lose your girlfriend -- or, if you're a girl, your boy friend -- if you really want to make it."
"There's thousands and thousands of records being released nationally every year but there's only so many slots for the radio. You have to have the song, the look that the label can market, and then you have to be able to back it up when you go on stage."
Brownskin will share the stage with Mya, Ginuwine, Blaque, and several other national acts Sunday when I-94 presents "Brownbags to Stardom XIX" at Blaisdell Arena. The winner in the audio category of the annual high school talent contest will be able to make a demo recording in conjunction with I-94. Roni wishes them well.
"There's a lot of kids out there who want to record and be stars, but it's not about being a 'star' for me. It's about doing what I love doing. I love making music, I love dancing and I love performing. It's about doing what we enjoy and representing Hawaii.
It's been 10 years since Roni (pronounced Ronnie) and Nito were enlisted by Matt Young as founding members of the Bad Boys Club, BBC for short. The original quintet -- Roni, Nito, Maestro, Freddy Von Paraz, and Clinton -- hit big with local teen girls here. BBC became The New Generation.
Young took the group to Los Angeles and negotiated a deal with Reprise Records. Clinton had been replaced by Brandon Silva by the time Reprise released TNG's self-titled national debut album in 1992. The album didn't hit, the group ended its affiliation with Young and broke up.
Nito recalls The New Generation as "a real learning experience."
"This time around we know what to do and what not to do. We're doing everything ourselves and it's more like us."
Nito remained in Los Angeles for several years after TNG broke up. He worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, TLC, Martin Lawrence, The Backstreet Boys and Dru Hill, and was one of the dancing martial arts stuntmen for the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."
"Living up there and working with those people made me understand the business side and how things are done on a professional level. I love what I do, but you need that (business) knowledge too," he adds.
Roni spent some time testing his business skills in the nightclub business before he decided to get back into the creative end of the music business. He opened the Hobo House studio and then organized a local urban-pop "boy band" around his brother, Lawrence. The group was Faceless -- Lawrence, Roni, Michael and Rick.
Roni asked Nito to take some time off from his work in L.A. and return home to choreograph Faceless to mainland standards. Nito became the fifth member of the group and stayed on when Faceless evolved into Brownskin.
Faceless was a big hit with local teens last year. Brownskin has built on that success with the release of its self-titled debut album last month.
Roni oversees the music and vocal arrangements with Esteban as Hobo Kid Entertainment. The other members of the group all contribute material. Nito does the choreography but accepts input from the others.
"I use everybody's strengths to come out with something different. Not what 'N Sync does or what Backstreet Boys do or anybody else. A lot of martial arts, flips and different types of dancing," Nito explains.
Roni adds that unlike the "boy bands" currently topping the pop charts, Brownskin is a self-contained production team.
"One of the things that I am most proud of it that unlike Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync or 98 Degrees we actually do all our own music. We work with other people but we are actually self-packaged."
In measuring other local performers' potential, Roni speaks approvingly of DisGuyz, the young group performing at the Polynesian Palace, and says that Yasmeen Sulieman has a good voice. He adds that some other highly touted young acts don't seem to understand what it takes to even have a shot at national success.
Local pop hopefuls can hold themselves back if they and their management are not aware of what they need to improve in their material, presentation, and overall skills.
"If they want to stay in Hawaii, well, whatever makes you happy, but if they really want to go national, that's another story," Roni said.
"We respect groups like Backstreet Boys, and we study what it is that makes them successful so we can make ourselves better, but when we open for national groups here it inspires us to be ever better," Nito adds.
"We want them to ask 'Who are those guys?' "
What: Groups and individuals from local private and public high schools compete for a chance to make a demo recording. Also featuring Brownskin, Mya, Ginuwine and Blaque
BROWNBAGS TO STARDOM XIX
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $29 for arena level and loges; $15 for upper levels
Here are some tips from Roni and Nito:
So you wanna be a recording artist?
1. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of the record business.
2. Never be content with "good enough for Hawaii." Keep on working until you're as good as anybody in the world.
3. Be able to accept criticism and learn from it.
4. If you're just in it for the money you're in the wrong business.
5. Never give up.
6. Don't wait for someone to do it all for you.
7. Record companies will notice a sound, but you also need to have a look or concept they can market and be able to back it up on stage.
8. Study what makes a song a hit but don't just copy someone else. They've already beaten you there.
9. "Luck" is when you work hard and prepare so that when the opportunity is there you can make the most of it.
10. Don't burn bridges.
Click for online
calendars and events.