By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Michiko Yoshimoto shows off her record company’s
first album. She decided to go into the business after noting that
while many Japanese tourists liked local music,
few took albums home.

Treasures Renewed

Memories of isle music
inspire new recordings of some
classic melodies

By Jerry Tune

As a 20-year-old GI bride from Japan, Michiko Yoshimoto made her way through Honolulu airport in 1955 on the way to the mainland. The beauty of Hawaii brought her back 10 years later, and then she fell in love with Hawaiian music.

"The music was on 'Hawaii Calls' radio every day and it was so beautiful," she recalled.

But it wasn't until about six years ago that Yoshimoto began thinking seriously about recording those original Hawaiian melodies using prominent musicians and the latest technology.

Now TBC&M Records, a local company Yoshimoto formed last year, is doing just that. Its first release, "Hawaii's Golden Treasures" sold like hotcakes in January on television retailer QVC, which chose 20 products from Hawaii to showcase.

"We had 2,500 (compact discs) to sell and they were gone in 8-1/2 minutes," said Yoshimoto, 62, company president. "We also have back orders."

Yoshimoto's business plan was based on her observation that tourists from Japan didn't take back Hawaiian music as gifts, even though she knew they found the music beautiful.

"Two years ago, when I was at my home town gathering (in Miyagi Prefecture) the master of ceremonies said for everyone to stand up and sing 'Aloha 'Oe,' " Yoshimoto said. "Everyone knew the name of the song but not the words. They only could sing the words 'Aloha 'Oe.'"

When "Hawaii's Golden Treasures" was released last year, it came with lyrics. She also included a booklet explaining the origin of each selection and profiling the artists. It was written in both Japanese and English.

The compact disc has several famous Hawaiian musical artists performing 13 popular songs, including "The Hawaiian Wedding Song," "Aloha 'Oe," "Waikiki," "Hasegawa General Store," "Beyond the Reef," and "Sophisticated Hula."

Featured artists are Alan Akaka, George Paoa, Iwalani Kahalewai, Benny Kalama, Sonny Kamahele, Gary Aiko, Nina Keali'iwahamana and Ed Kenney.

It wasn't easy to get started, but Yoshimoto got some help from Tetsu Shimazu, who has produced many shows in Hawaii and Japan. He talked to Akaka, the steel guitar performer who also is chorale director for Kamehameha Schools.

Akaka contacted the performers, who came in to make the recordings over the last six months of 1995.

"I didn't want to do old recordings gathered from tapes," Yoshimoto said. But she soon found out it was very time consuming to put it all together with separate background recordings and the final mix to produce the compact disc. Often the recordings were done over two and three times to get just the right sound.

When her company officially started operations in March 1996, the compact disc was distributed by Microphone Music Co. into the Bishop Museum, gift shops and music stores.

When she started, Yoshimoto was already familiar with running a business, since her family has been operating three companies that service tourists -- taking baggage to the airport, with arrival briefings, and helping them get gifts to take back to Japan.

These companies -- TBC&E, TBC Interpak and Island Omiyage Hawaii Co.-- made entry into the recording business easier and sharpened her focus on what people really want and don't want.

She thought for a time about using the classic Hawaiian music for karaoke, but decided it wouldn't work that well.

Yoshimoto won't say how much has been invested in the music company, but she is making plans for two more compact discs, one late this year.

While the QVC experience showed how fast the music can be sold, local sales don't move as fast and face heavy competition, she said.

"But we have something different," she said. "It is not just one artist and each of them is so famous."

Yoshimoto still has fond memories of her first visit to Hawaii at the airport. "It was more relaxed then, and peaceful," she said. "There was free pineapple juice and music."

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