DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Christian Yrizarry, left, University of Hawaii at Manoa Warrior Vili Fehoko and Jared Keo are ready to put fear into the hearts of UTEP players at the UH homecoming game. Actually, Yrizarry and Keo, who perform as Ho'onu'a, are hoping their music will attract fans to the homecoming concert tomorrow on the Bachman Hall lawn. The game itself is set to start at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
got its start on the mainland,
but returns as a headliner
A love of music brought Jared Keo and Christian Yrizzary together, but they didn't meet at a concert or record store. They never took music lessons together, either.
UH Homecoming Celebration
With Ho'onu'a and Natural Vibrations:
Where: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bachman Hall Lawn (corner of Dole and University)
When: 5 to 10 p.m. tomorrow; festivities begin at 3:45 with the music of Kalaeloa at Hale Aloha dorm.
Admission: Free for all ages
In fact, Keo (a Kamehameha graduate) and Yrizarry (an Iolani graduate) didn't get to know each other until they were more than 2,500 miles away from home.
Almost a decade later, the two now perform here and on the mainland as the duo Ho'onu'a, with three albums to their credit. This weekend the duo will headline the University of Hawaii at Manoa's homecoming celebration, along with another popular group, Natural Vibrations.
That Ho'onu'a would be headlining a homecoming event seems appropriate enough. They both played football at the University of San Diego, and began playing together under circumstances familiar to anyone who's ever been homesick. They found each other while looking for other Hawaii folk to kick back and kanikapila with during their free time.
"We were, like, three rooms apart in the same wing of the dorms," Keo said earlier this week over lunch at Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch and Crab. "That's pretty much where we starting playing."
One of Keo's classmates from Kamehameha would often make the trip to USD from the campus of San Diego State University, and along with Yrizarry and a handful of other people, the group would jam and sit around reminiscing of home. Eventually, Keo and Yrizarry discovered that they harmonized well together, and friends were becoming fans. In 1996, the duo was asked to open for a friend's alternative rock band at a campus dorm party.
"Just because so many people knew us at school ... we had this following that blew (everyone's) mind," Yrizarry said of Ho'onu'a's first performance. The duo ended up outdrawing the headlining band, and that started the process of getting noticed by island music fans back in Hawaii.
THE NEXT two years, Keo and Yrizarry continued their studies at USD -- Keo would end up graduating with a degree in Business Administration, Yrizarry in Communications.
Another student with local ties, Kristian Pangilinan, became the duo's manager, and in 1997 landed them a spot on a Town and Country Surf compilation album. The Ho'onu'a original chosen for the CD, "Surf Session," was one of the most popular tracks, prompting the compilation's producer to offer the band a shot at recording a full-length album.
"That was the funny thing about how we came into it," said Yrizarry, who said it was all relatively pain free, "compared to the usual way that people come in ... having a band for a long time, trying to get a deal, getting a deal and then trying to promote your record."
Stacy Medeiros, left, Peni "Big Penz" Pua'auli and Kayton Macariola are three members of Natural Vibrations, set to perform in the University of Hawaii homecoming concert.
By taking a side door of sorts, Ho'onu'a had a way into the local music business after playing just one show in Honolulu, the CD release party for "T&C Surf Sessions Volume Two."
In 1998, the guys released "Feel Good Island Music," which included songs like "2500," "Island Style Cruisin'" and "When I Think About You." It also introduced fans to Ho'onu'a's trademark "Feel Good" sound, embracing tunes that blend Hawaiian, Jamaican and American pop influences.
"It's not just island music; it's not just reggae music," Yrizarry explains. "We infuse everything into our music. It goes into the writing, it goes into the performing ... it's just a combination of all our inspirations to make this music that's not like any other band."
"If you're a Ho'onu'a fan, you'll easily be able to identify the difference between our music and someone else's," adds Keo.
KEO AND YRIZARRY released their sophomore effort, "Have a Good Time," in 2000, which continued to show that Ho'onu'a could put out songs that would get fans dancing. The band's latest CD, "Take You to the Jam," continues with that progression, this time incorporating more live instruments and tempo changes to make listeners feel as if they are at a live performance.
"The first CD was like one 'we're away from home' trip," says Keo. "The second album was like, 'we're home now,' so it was the Hawaii trip.
"The third album is a combination of everything we went through ... still staying on that 'Feel Good' vibe, while capitalizing on our live show," he said.
In the past five years, Ho'onu'a has also learned the importance of being in business for themselves. With the release of "Have a Good Time," Keo and Yrizarry launched their own label, Feel Good Entertainment. And just before heading into the studio to start recording "Take You to the Jam," the two decided to take on the responsibility of self-management.
"I was always putting it off, because I was hesitant about what kind of work we'd have to do," says Yrizarry. "But in retrospect, it should have been done a long time ago."
"Our responsibilities are broken down so clearly, so we know exactly (what to do)," Keo continues. "And in a sense, we've been doing this for the last couple of years."
DON'T EXPECT Ho'onu'a to slow down artistically due to the added chores. For Yrizarry, being in the band is already a full-time job. Keo also expects to dedicate more time to his music career if Mid-Pacific Institute's on-campus dormitory ends up closing down; he works there as a dorm adviser in addition to running his own financial consulting business and being a husband to his wife of two years, Lesley.
Keo and Yrizarry are quick to point out that the key to their continued success lies in markets outside Hawaii. "At least the West Coast, start off there," Keo says.
"I think every musician wants to blow up, get bigger and go farther," adds Yrizarry. "People expect to see us (in the club), so we're looking for more and more opportunities to get gigs outside."
The two go on to mention some of the places they'd like to visit around the world, and acts they'd like to perform with, like local boys Jack Johnson and Pepper, or even the Long Beach Dub All-Stars.
"It's always going to be an evolving process -- you're always going to try new things," said Keo. "That's what we're trying to do ... try something new, but we still get our bread and butter.
"I feel blessed just to be in this situation," he said.
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