Makana is a musical sovereign who recognizes no boundaries.
His new CD, “Ripe,” contains both traditional slack key and his trademark hybrid “slack rock” — but this time, his formidable pop chops are front and center. It’s a work that catapults him into the conversation of top English-language singer-songwriters in Hawaii, alongside such luminaries as Jack Johnson and John Cruz.
Makana will be on Hawaii Island for a pair of concerts, Thursday, Jan. 30, at the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu, South Kona, and Friday, Jan. 31, at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea. Both concerts start at 7 p.m. Advance tickets for the Aloha show are $30 for general admission, $25 for students and seniors, available at Kiernan Music in Kainaliu. They’ll be $35 the day of the show. Tickets for the Kahilu show are $64, $44, $34 and $20, available at the Kahilu box office, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-noon or online at www.kahilutheatre.org.
He’ll also do a CD signing session with a free mini-concert on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Basically Books in downtown Hilo. He said he’ll likely play a concert at Hilo’s Palace Theatre later this year.
The CD’s working title was “Manic,” the title of one of the songs on the album, but in the end, “Ripe” won out. The title is taken from the lyrics of one of the songs, “Nectarine,” which uses the fruit as a sexual metaphor.
“This album wasn’t a planned album per se,” Makana told the Tribune-Herald last week. “There was a collection of songs that aggregated over a period of over a decade. Some of them were B sides, some were demos, some were just ideas. ‘We are the Many’ had been released already on YouTube and went viral and I’d never actually put it on a record. So a lot of kind of seemingly disparate material was just piling up, and I thought there’s some stuff here to share.”
Makana said the album came out of a smaller project he did a few years back, a limited 300-CD run he called “The Bootleg.”
“I sold it only at the farmer’s market here on Oahu. And it sold out immediately,” he said. “And people just started emailing and calling saying ‘We want more’ and that was it. And that was the genesis, the precursor for ‘Ripe.’”
Funds to record were raised online through Kickstarter and Makana hired two legendary producers: Ron Nevison, who’s worked with Led Zeppelin and The Who; and Mitchell Froom, whose credits include Sheryl Crow, Crowded House, Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson. He also tapped the talents of Jeff Bova, who’s played with Herbie Hancock and produced Celine Dion, as an arranger.
“It was really the first time ever that I’ve included producers in my process and this is the result. I’m very proud I did it and I’m very thankful,” he said. “Because I’d done everything on my own, kind of hamajang. You know, bathroom studios and makeshift recording areas. Nothing really professional and top-notch. So we raised the money and were able to present the album in what I think is a really cohesive form considering the many different styles of music.”
All but three songs are originals. Two of the covers are “Hi‘ilawe,” Gabby Pahinui’s signature song, which is recorded analog, with reel-to-reel tape and tube compressors which impart a warmth lacking in digital recordings, and a slack-rock version of “Led Zepplin’s “Going to California,” which he’s performed in concert for several years. The third is “Bizarre Love Triangle,” a 1986 dance hit by the British new wave band New Order.
“If you recall, on my first album, I put out Yaz’s ‘Only You.’ I did a cover,” Makana said. “I’m a huge fan of electronica music. I obviously don’t do electronica currently, but I love to take songs in that fashion and make them my own.
“Manic” is also departure, a piano song he wrote on New Year’s Eve two years ago. The lyrics include: “I’m a bipolar manic, obsessive romantic, who just can’t seem to lead a normal life. I’ll be as high as a kite, everything is all right, and the next moment I feel like I want to die.”
“I’m a guy who’s never been afraid to evolve and change. If you listen to my catalog, it’s hard to know if it’s the same artist sometimes,” Makana said. “To me, art is an exploration. When we stay in our comfort zone and do just what our muscle memory determines — and a lot of musicians just work off muscle memory, you put your finger on the keyboard, you hit a drum, you go to write a lyric — something that you’ve done in the past just by default comes out.
“And if that determines your artistic process, you’re not really creating art, you’re just regurgitating.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.