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Sophomore sensation

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Mark Yamanaka poses with his guitar outside of Aiona Car Sales where he is employed Thursday afternoo2.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

When Mark Yamanaka released his debut CD “Lei Pua Kenikeni” three years ago, he had no idea that he’d win four Na Hoku Hanohano awards, including Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.

His sophomore CD “Lei Maile” was released Tuesday, and as the Hilo native notes: “I’m dealing with a lot of expectations.”

“I’ve been getting a lot of response from some of the tracks,” Yamanaka said. “The radio is already playing ‘Maui Under Moonlight’ and ‘Lei Maile’. I’m really proud of this CD, the thought I put into it, the work I put into it, the team I have that produced this CD.”

That team includes Ho‘omanawanui Apo on acoustic bass, Nathan Aweau, Kellen Paik and Kale Chang — the CD’s engineer and co-producer with Yamanaka — on electric bass, and Dwight Tokumoto on steel guitar. Kellen and Lihau Paik are the executive producers. Yamanaka, whose range encompasses baritone to his trademark falsetto, handles most of the vocal duties, including harmonies.

Another integral part of the team is Johnny Lum Ho, Mark’s kumu, who wrote three of the 13 songs on the album.

“Being from kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho’s halau is pretty special,” he said. “He’s a big part of who I am now and what I love to perform. Three out of 13 tracks are Uncle Johnny’s. His songs are like reality TV. Aside from maybe his haku mele that tell stories of history, he likes to tell stories of the current days and the common people. If you read the translations, people can relate to them.”

Yamanaka, who won the composer’s Hoku, Song of the Year the last time around, also wrote or co-wrote five of the tracks, including the title track, which he composed the music for and the poem, which was translated into Hawaiian by Lihau Paik.

“We were thinking about title tracks and all kinds of different titles for this CD, and we were like, ‘There’s so many different kinds of leis,’” he explained. “We went with ‘Lei Maile’ because there was no lei maile song. There are maile lei songs. So I thought, just let me pen something down, something casual, and see where it goes from there. It actually turned out pretty good with Lihau’s Hawaiian haku mele.”

The only pop cover is The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More,” a duet with Na Leo’s Lehua Kalima.

“I picked her because she’s from Hilo and she has a beautiful voice,” he said. “It’s a classic song that I don’t think too many people have redone. I picked the song based on the age of it. My parents love playing oldies around the house and I love that song.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the inclusion of the Irish classic “Danny Boy,” which he did as a tribute to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“I was asked by his wife, Irene, to perform a couple of tribute songs for him at his memorial here at the Civic,” Yamanaka explained. “‘Danny Boy’ was one of ’em, as well as ‘Kaimana Hila’. I was, like, I don’t know that song ‘Danny Boy’.” It wasn’t part of my repertoire. It was something I had never heard before. So my friend Dwight Tokumoto taught it to me the day before and I learned it and sang it at the memorial and pretty much fell in love with that song.”

“The Hokus have increased the demand for Yamanaka as a live musician and he’s since traveled numerous times to the West Coast, Las Vegas and Japan — a schedule he couldn’t maintain without the blessing of his employer, Aiona Car Sales.

“Aiona Car Sales has been such a supportive corner for me, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Yamanaka’s new CD is distributed by Mountain Apple Co., which means it’s available in almost all local retail outlets, as well as by download on iTunes and

He’ll also be performing with halau mates Eddy Atkins and Bert Naihe at a no-cover, all-ages CD release party on Friday, Nov. 15 at Karma HI, featuring special guests Robi Kahakalau and Kainani Kahaunaele. Doors open at 5 p.m. with the show from 6:30 to 10 p.m.

Email John Burnett at


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