Newcomers Pure Heart are
ready to brave a whole new world
after winning 4 Hoku awards
2 is first rateBy Burl Burlingame
THE day before the Na Hoku Hanohano awards ceremony, the three cheerful lads of Pure Heart were sitting around in the guitarist's father's Hawaii Kai living room, exclaiming excitedly that they were thrilled just to get this far.
"Oh, I hope we do win a Hoku!" said Jon Yamasato, whose father Sheldon is the band's manager. "I'm stoked that we even got nominated!"
Not only nominated -- Pure Heart won Sunday night in every category it was competing in, that is, Most Promising Artist, Best Island Contemporary Album and Album of the Year as voted by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists; and Entertainer of the Year, as voted by the public. Not bad for a recording they made essentially as a musical business card.
"Once we were able to give out the CD, we started getting good gigs!" said Jake Shimabukuro, whose fiery ukulele mastery pushes the group in jazzy directions. "It opened a lot of doors for us, doors we didn't expect to be opened."
"Doors we didn't know were there in the first place!" laughed Lopaka Colon, who contributes artful percussion and -- of all things -- bird calls. "And once we had the CD out, I discovered relatives I never knew I had!"
The group's members are all in their early 20s, work entry-level day jobs or are still in school. They were discussing Yamasato's chemistry grades when we arrived.
Yamasato and Shimabukuro met during student-government field trips in high school, Yamasato from Kaiser and Shimabukuro from Kaimuki. "Bulldogs and Cougars!" said Yamasato. "We started jamming and knew there was a basic chemistry. We played together for a while and decided we needed a percussionist, and had Lopaka teaching our original drummer what to do. But Lopaka worked out best."
Colon, a Molokai High grad, is the son of musician Augie Colon, whose love of exotic percussionry was passed down. He also picked up the bird-call trick from his father, who can be heard on Martin Denny's swank jungle-lounge recordings.
Pure Heart's sound is a stew of its musical influences, ranging from Shimabukuro's classical and jazz roots to Colon's world-beat and Latin rhythms to Yamasato's reggae, contemporary Hawaiian and country flavors.
"With three backgrounds like that, it's a pretty unique sound," said Shimabukuro. "It's acoustic and easy-listening, and Jon sometimes sings in Hawaiian ..."
"It's a little bit of everything," said Yamasato.
"We're working now on creating our own sound, a new type of appeal," said Colon. "Something everyone can like, but Hawaiian style."
The name Pure Heart was chosen for its positive vibe, and also because it doesn't pigeonhole the group into a particular musical groove.
"Jon and I used to work at House of Music, and we could see how a name could typecast a band," said Colon. "My own goal in music is simply to see people with a smile on their face."
"Ha!" said Shimabukuro. "Music is my escape from reality!"
"I play to center myself," said Yamasato.
"I know what you mean," said Colon. "After a gig, I'm like, so relaxed. All stress is gone."
Although the lads are beginning to write new material, they enjoy performing covers, finding older songs they can hammer to suit their style.
"We'll have more originals on our second CD," said Colon. "But it's fun to find old stuff and revitalize it."
"Especially if it's something no one's heard, or stuff everyone's heard, and make it your own," said Shimabukuro.
"When you're in school five days a week and gigging on weekends, it's hard to clear your head to write new songs," said Yamasato.
"Best songs are written after breaking up with somebody," said Colon. The other two looked at him and laughed. "Really!" insisted Colon.
Are they limited at all by the band's small size?
"Nope, three people is just the right size," said Shimabukuro. "Lopaka's got enough drum instruments for plenty, though."
"I don't know if I'll perform forever, but I'd like to be affiliated with music somehow," said Yamasato.
"Yeah, I can see you behind the scenes, playing guitar and turning knobs," said Colon. "Me, I like performing. Always want to do it."
And their reaction to the four Hokus?
"Totally cool!" said Shimabukuro. "We didn't even expect to be nominated. We were ... flabbergasted!"
They all laughed. "That's the word!" said Yamasato. "Flabbergasted!"
"And stoked and happy!" said Colon. "Everything is coming so fast. We're getting to open for cool people."
"Like Fiona Apple. She was cool and really nice," said Yamasato.
"She had so many body guards," said Colon.
"And Joan Jett. What a personality!" said Yamasato. "Did Joan Jett have body guards?"
"Joan Jett WAS a bodyguard!" laughed Shimabukuro. "What a tough!"
"We'll just take it as it comes!" said Shimabukuro.
"And hopefully we'll spread our music elsewhere!" said Colon.
"We're going to Mars next!" said Yamasato.
They all laughed.
Pure Hearts 2
is first rate
By Pure Heart (Four String)
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
PURE Heart's second album, "2," improves in every way on the high standards set with last year's debut album, "Pure Heart." Officially released Saturday, one day before the group won four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, including Album of the Year, "2" shows Lopaka Colon, Jake Shimabukuro and Jon Yamasato still growing as musicians and song stylists.
If a rather routine remake of Bruce Channel's 1962 hit, "Hey Baby," proved the favorite of the music directors at Hawaii's "island music" radio stations last year, well, remake fans will find "2" a quantum leap forward.
The prospect of almost any local recording act attempting to recycle Lionel Ritchie's "Easy" or Marvin Gaye's 1973 sex anthem, "Let's Get it On," is enough to cause a shudder from anyone familiar with the magnificent originals. Pure Heart reworks both songs with imagination, verve, and a welcome absence of synthetic music tracks. Fresh arrangements, accenting the talents of Shimabukuro (ukulele) and Colon (percussion), capture the spirit of the lyrics while putting each song in a pleasant new perspective.
Better still is Pure Heart's take on "Wipe Out." It deserves immediate local airplay. The rapid-fire interplay between Shimabukuro and Colon gives the Surfaris' 1963 hit an impressive new sound.
Shimabukuro and Colon are also showcased on two Shimabukuro originals, "Happy 'Ukulele" and "Bongo Boy." Both songs will certainly inspire a younger generation of ukulele players and percussionists.
"Stormy Monday" finds Pure Heart exploring a blues standard with surprising success. "Koke'e" reflects the band's appreciation of modern Hawaiian music and features Augie Colon, Lopaka's father, who originated the "jungle noises" concept while working with Martin Denny in the '50s. The father and son reunion is a nice touch.
Yamasato again shows himself a competent and appealing vocalist while consistently providing the instrumental foundation of the group's arrangements. "Without You (I Don't Know)" and "Into the Mystic" give him well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Producer Tracey Terada uses celebrity guests sparingly but effectively. John and Guy Cruz increase the soul quotient blending their voices behind Yamasato on "Let's Get it On." Justin Kawika Young adds his voice elsewhere.
Jake's brother, Bruce, sits in for a dueling ukulele-type closing number. The title, rendered in hiragana, is pronounced "to-ka-da." The melody is inspired by Bach.
There are 16 songs here and almost exactly 60 minutes of music. Not only is Pure Heart on the cutting edge of contemporary island music but it gives its fans great value for the price of a local album!
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