Friday, October 25, 2002

Élan (back row, left) and Jason Lent of Afterthought Entertainment achieved one of their goals: working with Forté. The members of Forté are, from left, Marlene Baldueza, Gissele Tejada, Kristina Babaran and Joanne Banda.

The men
behind Forté

By John Berger

Four years ago, Jason Lent and élan were unknown songwriters and record producers with big goals in mind: Develop Lent's vocal group DisGuyz, become successful songwriters, operate a successful record label and produce other acts.

One of the acts they dreamed of working with was Forté.

"Forté was pretty big back then, and we thought it would be so cool if we wrote a song that they would record," Lent said. He and élan actually wrote the female vocal group a song but felt that, as unknowns, they didn't have the credentials or connections to get a hearing from the group's management.

A lot has happened since then. DisGuyz is one of the top pop vocal groups in Hawaii. The record label, Afterthought Entertainment, has a small but growing catalog. And Lent and élan have indeed established themselves as writers and record producers.

"(Jason) grew up singing choir. I grew up listening to jazz, classical and punk music. When we put our thoughts together, it created a dynamic thing -- it's commercial, but it has influence from every aspect of music," élan said.

And their biggest project to date is "Montage," the long-awaited third album by Forté, which was released in September. Lent and élan wrote all the songs, did the arrangements (including credible treatments of three pop chart remakes), and then neatly inserted the group into the mixes. It was an impressive demonstration of the guys' ability to create a polished, full-length album that is, by far, a career best for Forté as well.

BEFOREHAND, while Lent's a cappella group DisGuyz was tightening up its act by working two shows a night, six days a week at the Yes! showroom in Waikiki, Lent and élan were working on their songwriting and recording studio skills. Their first professional writing project came when co-producer and mentor Frances Kirk (working with Tony Ruvivar) asked them to write for DisGuyz' debut single and subsequent album. From there the two of them were on their way.

Meanwhile, Forté's highly touted record deal with Darryl Hill's Cinnamon Red label ended after sales of the group's second album, "Changes," apparently fell well short of the numbers generated by their self-titled 1997 debut album. Forté manager Nancy Bernal took note of the new up-and-coming duo and the Afterthought Entertainment organization and worked out a deal in which the next album, to be produced by Lent and élan, would be a more accurate reflection of a maturing vocal group.

The duo hung out with "the girls" to get to know them better and then write songs that reflected the quartet's feelings about life, love and men. ("We even went shopping with them," élan said.) The result was an album combining the smooth Afterthought sound with lyrics and arrangements prepared especially to showcase the voices and personalities of Forté.

"Montage" is also part of a larger campaign to reinvent Forté as an assured vocal act with the depth and drive necessary to follow in the footsteps of previous pop acts from Hawaii -- i.e., the New Generation, Tenderoni, the Hi-Town DJs and Hoku -- and get signed by a national record label.

Lent, élan, and the group -- Kristina "Kay" Babaran, Marlene Baldueza, Joanne "Jo" Banda and Gissele "Gee" Tejada -- say the young women are ready to go for it, even if it means leaving the islands and putting personal relationships on hold (only Baldueza is committed through her engagement to her longtime boyfriend).

They celebrate the first fruits of their productive partnership with a CD release party at the Hawaiian Hut tomorrow night. Other Afterthought artists and their friends also are scheduled to perform.

And that song that Lent and élan wrote for Forté back then? It was "In Love Again," and it's on the album.

"They thought it was pretty cool that we'd written 'In Love Again' for them back then," Lent says.

CD Party

Featuring Forté with DisGuyz, Glenn Medeiros, Tani Lynn and Ina'ole

Where: Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel

When: 8:15 p.m. tomorrow (all ages until 11 p.m., 18 and over from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.)

Tickets: $5, $7 at the door

Call: 947-5736

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