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Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, December 17, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Jake Shimabukuto (at right), with Lopaka Colon.

Staying with music,
‘Pure’ and simple

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


WORD of Pure Heart's hiatus -- as in pau, lau lau! -- spread fast Thanksgiving Day. A press release the following day seemed to make it official.

As is often the case with such bombshells, the "hiatus" lasted for a nanosecond. Percussionist Lopaka Colon and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shima- bukuro are taking the group forward with Guy Cruz replacing Jon Yamasato on guitar and vocals.

The new Pure Heart will make its public debut with Diana Krall and the Honolulu Symphony on Jan. 7 and 8 at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Earlier this week, Shimabukuro, Colon and new manager Tracey Terada, were setting the record straight. Terada produced Pure Heart's self-titled, four-time Hoku Award-winning debut album, and two subsequent albums, "2" and "2.5." He can be reached at (808)-236-4232 or at

The soft-spoken Shimabukuro chose his words carefully. It was clear that he and Colon supported Yamasato's decision to leave. It was also clear that no one wanted to criticize Yamasato's parents -- the group's managers until their son's retirement -- about the timing of the announcement, or the way it was made public.

Colon learned of Yama- sato's departure when friends saw a newspaper story and called him.

"When we first started off as a band we all laid it on the line like what our intentions were and we knew that he was going to do that one of these days but we didn't know it was going to occur so soon," Colon explains.

"Jon has his own unique sound which was very essential to the group, but Jon wants to pursue his education, whereas me and Lopaka ..."

"... We totally respect the fact that he wants to go to school, but we want to continue the Pure Heart vibe," Colon finishes.

Yamasato is majoring in education and said recently that he took college music classes "when I have extra credits to spare." He was the youngest of the original trio, and at 21 is now looking at the requirements for getting into graduate school.

Colon, son of percussionist Augie Colon, is "about a year" short of completing degree requirements in music and Spanish, and plans to earn a few credits at a time. He also plans an extended stay in Puerto Rico to learn about his heritage.

Shimabukuro doesn't plan to return to school soon. "I enjoy being on stage and I don't want to just let that go." He is focusing on the band, plans to open an ukulele studio and recently finished an ukulele instructional book.

"Putting smiles on people's faces is one of the best feelings to have," Colon adds. "We're still surprised at how fast things are moving. We didn't expect it to become like this so we just have to roll with the punches and come out victorious."

Colon and Shimabukuro speak carefully when it comes to the future. They make it clear that they mean no disrespect to Yamasato when they say that they are looking forward to working with Guy Cruz.

Cruz is the son of Hawaiian-country musician Ernie Cruz Sr., and younger brother of Hoku Award-winners Ernie Cruz Jr. of the Ka'au Crater Boys and solo artist John Cruz.

"He had a lot of influence from his family, and his brothers, which is a different background from where Jon and myself came from," Shimabukuro says.

"He's a composer so he has the talent of writing a lot of songs, and he projects his feelings -- you can just see his persona on stage. He has that soulful energy on stage," Colon adds.

"The three of us have played together before and the chemistry we find is great between the three of us," Shimabukuro said. "He's Lopaka's cousin and they've always wanted to do projects together and never had the opportunity. I know Lopaka's father is really happy that they are."

Fans will recall that Pure Heart recorded one of Cruz's songs on "2." Colon says the song, "Without You I Don't Know," is particularly popular on the Big Island.

Terada says that Cruz will continue to perform and record as a solo artist, while Colon and Shimabukuro continue to refine their symbiosis of ukulele and acoustic percussion.

Shimabukuro adds that he's found a unique musical partner in Colon.

"I've never played with someone -- especially a percussionist -- where I could play a lick on the ukulele and then he'll come back with something like a call-and-response thing.

"It really keeps it fun -- and challenging. He has so many ideas it challenges me to be creative myself. I just love jamming with this guy."

Colon credits his father with inspiring him to take percussion beyond "just playing a couple of beats.

"When I hooked up with these guys I could already see where it was going to go and the click on stage is even getting stronger. Definitely, we are not breaking up."

The new trio is already working on material for a new album. What will it sound like? Aside from everything Cruz is bringing to the group, Shimabukuro is being encouraged by Colon's father to take up the cuatro (a Puerto Rican stringed instrument).

"I'm not going to tell your dad 'No,' " Shimabukuro tells Colon with a laugh. "It's always neat and challenging to pick up a new instrument whether it be the kazoo or the harmonica or the cuatro."

Colon is continuing to add to his percussion instrument collection.

They're looking for a club gig that will allow them to work out new material with an audience.

"Before the three of us got together we used to be a coffee-shop band. For years we played at coffee shops and I really credit those performances with our success," Shimabukuro says.

"It got to a point where someone would request a song and we'd just do it -- never doing it before but we knew each other so well that we would know where we were going to do the punches and the fills."

"We want to keep that chemistry with guitar, ukulele and percussion. Maybe a bass for concerts," Colon adds.

"The two of us share common goals," Shimabukuro says. "I want to break away from old ukulele stereotypes and show people that it is a versatile instrument and that it can be fun and exciting and dynamic and a very serious instrument as well. Something very visual. Lopaka is showing people that a percussionist can be a front man as well."

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