Ginai Gets Jazzy

Talented, versatile Ginai steps up with a new CD, Jazz Island, that is a perfect showcase. If you’ve never been into jazz, this album could change your mind

Friday - March 03, 2006
By Chad Pata
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Ginai with son Aidan, her child with husband Ted Curti, a big-wave surfer
Ginai with son Aidan, her
child with husband Ted
Curti, a big-wave surfer

her way. They knew her father was black, even if they had never seen him, and kids can be cruel.

Despite this, Ginai still views the West side as home.

“Whenever I can see those gorilla heads on the side of the mountain, I know I am home,” she says, referring to the rock outcroppings on Maile Point.

The seeds of music her mother planted came to fruition at an early age. In seventh grade she won a talent contest with her version of Roberta Flack’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. At 16, she joined the professional world in a group named Nostalgia that toured the military bases doing covers from the ‘50s.

By age 18 she was ready for the big time, moving to the Bay Area and helping form a nine-piece funk band named Mo Dog. They opened for Huey Lewis and the News, hired a manager and were set to blow up. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Rock ‘n’Roll Hall of Fame - the band fell apart. Members got married, got “real jobs” and moved past their childhood dreams.

But not Ginai.

She traveled the Mainland, from the lights of Vegas to the isolation of Montana, making a living singing covers and making the music she loved. But it all got too lonely in the wide expanse of America, so she returned home in 1981 to make her mark here in the Islands.

Once home, she found lots of work entertaining tourists in revue shows like Aloha Las Vegas, and working conventions, still never giving up the dream of making music for herself.

She found a niche as a Whitney Houston impersonator, with the strength of voice to match the pop star and the good looks to host the shows. So she spent a decade imitating what she so longed to become. But rather than have it turn her bitter, she saw herself as the lucky one.

“You can take Whitney Houston’s career and make it go away, as far as I’m concerned,” says Ginai. “Because I think my career has been much more to talk about. I actually got to make a living in Hawaii as a singer, while functioning as a mother and a wife. I actually have a life. I surf, I live in paradise. Houston ain’t got nothing on me.”

As you can see, music hasn’t been her only focus. She has three kids, Nichele (21), Joli (14) and young Aidan (2), from three different marriages, finally finding the right one, she says, in big-wave surfer Ted Curti four years ago.

While love has been rough at times, the jilting she received from producer Oliver Wendell was the one that almost crushed her.

Wendell came to her to produce an album for the Japanese market, he altered the spelling of her name to Genai and promised to make her a big success on the other side of the pond.

So she gave him her money, her trust and her voice. It was her big break that would catapult her from the review shows to the world. But he went to Japan and never returned.

Soon Genai albums were popping up all over in Japan, seven in all, as a Hawaiian Jazz group. He brought in new singers while still using leftover tracks of Ginai’s vocals from their recordings in 1999. As for her compensation or fame, well, she was just another casualty to the music industry machine.

“I deeply regret letting that happen to me,” says Ginai. “I spent all these years thinking I needed to wait around for a record company or producer to find me. And when they did find me, they took advantage of me.”

At first she considered legal action - after all, it was her name and music he was selling - but the costs and intricacies of international law were prohibitive.

“I could have gotten frustrated and just spun my wheels, just been angry and bitter inside,” says Ginai. “But I decided to move on with this CD and I realized I didn’t need him. I didn’t need him at all.”

So she approached John Kolivas of the Honolulu Jazz Quartet about making an album - not just any album, but an introduction to jazz for the local community, a Jazz 101.

“It’s a struggle, because so many people in Hawaii don’t know what jazz is,” says Ginai. “I would like to straighten them out. Consider this a starter’s course covering melody, lyrics, improv and execution. Improv is the key to what distinguishes jazz from other genres of music.”

The album has a little bit of everything, including the Hawaiian song Puamana fused with the music of All Blues by Miles Davis. So far, it seems to be working. In just the preliminary releases she is already receiving feedback from not just the Mainland, but Europe as well.

But to Ginai, it still all comes down to making the music here at home.

“I wanted to start this here in Hawaii, first because it’s home,” says Ginai, who now resides in Wahiawa. “But also because I have so many fans here who have been waiting, they have fallen asleep waiting for Ginai to do something on a solo basis. And lastly because I thought we could make a real splash coming from Hawaii.”

You can also hear Ginai perform at Jazz Minds Art Cafe on Kapiolani Boulevard March 8 and 15, or at the Honolulu Club April 26. The CD release party March 10 will run from 9 p.m. to midnight and is free to the public.

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