The Show Must Go Online

Bill Mossman
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July 06, 2011
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HI Sessions’ staffers Jon Yamasato, Vance Morimoto, Jonas Maon, Dave Kusumoto, Nick Kawakami and Raf Bacani. Photo courtesy of HI Sessions

HI Sessions puts local musicians in high-quality videos shot in a laid-back setting, and promptly delivers their sound to the world

Every so often, a seed of an idea comes along, falls on fertile ground where it begins to take root and makes onlookers think, “Now this could blossom into something really beautiful.”

Well, say hello to beautiful.

HI Sessions is an ambitious online video and podcast project launched this summer that its creators hope will bring live and intimate music performances into Hawaii homes and beyond.

The planters of this seed-of-an-idea analogy are former lead singer/guitarist of Pure Heart Jon Yamasato and video production expert Dave Kusumoto, who are ably supported by a staff of eager-to-cultivate volunteers. The fertile ground represents members of the local music industry, many of whom have been seemingly laboring in vain while anxiously looking for career growth outside the confines of these islands.

And the onlookers are, well, song lovers like you and me.

Here’s how HI Sessions works: Every two weeks, Yamasato and his production team convene at Kusumoto’s home in Kaimuki, where a local artist or group is invited thanks to Yamasato’s personal “Rolodex of Hawaii’s top talent” to perform an acoustical set of three songs. Each song is shot in high-definition video and these recordings, along with a podcast, are posted on the website to be viewed and listened to over and over again.

Although still in its infant stages, the website has shown signs of blossoming as it slowly branches out to other parts of the globe. Yamasato says early Web analytics reveal the majority of hits are coming from Hawaii and the continental U.S. “But the second most number of hits is coming from the Philippines, and I don’t know if it’s because the ukulele is big there,” he says. “And then we’re getting hits from Japan, Indonesia and Europe as well.”

All of which is potentially great news for both seasoned and budding local musicians just screaming to be heard.

“For me, HI Sessions really highlights Hawaii’s talent to the world,” says Nick Kawakami, a member of local group ManoaDNA and a podcast/production member of HI Sessions. “Being from a small state with a total population of just over a million, it’s hard for me to fathom that we have all these great musicians.

“So for me, it’s just cool that I get to meet all this great talent and help display their talents to the world.”

Musical Notes tracked down Yamasato between sessions and got him to talk in greater detail about the genesis of this project and whether HI Sessions is really the start of something big.

MN: How did the idea for HI Sessions come about?

Yamasato: It began earlier this year. I have a 2year-old daughter and she likes to watch people like Taylor Swift on YouTube, and I noticed that a lot of these Mainland artists have high-quality videos on the Internet. So I started checking online to see if anyone here in Hawaii had anything of that quality and couldn’t find anyone who did. That’s when I called up my friend Dave Kusumoto, and the two of us came up with this idea of doing a Web show where artists would come into a somewhat casual setting and have some fun sort of like if a band came over to your house and had an acoustic jam session there.

MN: What else do artists get by appearing on the site?

Yamasato: We also do an hourlong podcast that Nick and I host so that people can learn more about the artists than what they would from a fiveor 10-minute radio interview. And we throw in a 19-question video where we ask random questions like “What’s your favorite hobby?”

MN: HI Sessions kicked off in June with Heart & Soul and followed with the band Beach 5, featuring Christian Yrizarry and Sani Apuakehau. This week, you’ve got the very talented Nathan Aweau. Who else have you locked in for future segments?

Yamasato: We have established artists such as Ernie Cruz Jr. and Ryan Gonzales of Alea, as well as up-andcomers like Yoza and Candy Diaz.

MN: So, are you enjoying yourself?

Yamasato: Oh, yeah. No one is making money around here; everyone’s volunteering his time and doing it for the artists. Really, this is what we do for fun.


Listen up, amateur musicians: July 15 is a date to mark down on your digital or refrigerator-hanging calendars. That’s the day when entries are due for two upcoming contests the 27th annual Ka Himeni Ana competition and the third annual Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search. The former event seeks Hawaiian music groups performing acoustic compositions in nahenahe style, while the latter competition desires both solo and group acts from any music genre. Six cash prizes ranging from $200 to $1,200 will be awarded to Ka Himeni Ana winners, while a one-month paid contract with Kani Ka Pila and studio time at Honolulu Community College’s Mike Curb MELE Studios go to the victors in “Talent Search” ...

A congratulatory note goes out from this “Led Head” to ukulele and slack-key guitarist Ledward Kaapana, who has been named an NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipient. Along with taking home the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, Uncle Ledward gets a not-too-shabby $25,000 check. Here’s hoping for many more years of music from the former Hui Ohana and I Kona band member, who helped make it cool to pick up an ukulele or guitar and “jus’ press” ...

Finally, vintage Kailua bands will reunite this weekend at Bob’s Sports Bar on Hamakua Drive, with an even bigger get-together planned for next summer. Check out 1970s teenage-heartthrob bands Stryder, Pinkerton’s, Cooper’s Still, Woodrose and more Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. The buzz is that a CD featuring the bands’ music will be out in time for the party.

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