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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 10 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 32
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Paula Fuga: Taking Hawaiian music to the next level

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Immediately when entering the Honolulu airport, after de-boarding your plane, you're welcomed by the sweet, cradling sounds of Hawaiian music emitted through the terminal speakers. It's like tropical aromatic potpourri for the ears. Do a little research during your vacation and an array of top-class performers can be found continuing this tradition of blending hushed slide guitars and ukulele, intertwined with harmonizing high-pitched vocals, at local clubs.

But over the years, this music culture has evolved to welcome folk, rock, and pop elements. Paula Fuga is an artist who merges an organic mix of traditional and contemporary styles, which is getting her noticed. A singer and instrumentalist who has recorded with Jack Johnson and Ziggy Marley, her voice will rock you gently to sleep like a backyard hammock on a lazy afternoon.

Well-known throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Fuga is gaining exposure on the mainland, thanks in part to a duet with Johnson called 'Country Road' and a handful of tours that continues to introduce new fans to her wonderful music. The Oahu-based artist is scheduled to perform live with the Mike Love Trio and special guests at The Crocodile (www.thecrocodile.com) on August 14. It promises to be a great night of Hawaiian-tinged folk-pop music and maybe some 'talk story,' as the islanders say, in an ohana (family) setting. For more details on Fuga, go to www.paulafugamusic.com. I caught up with her via e-mail this week while on the road, and here's what she shared with me inside The Music Lounge.

Rodriguez: Have you ever performed in Seattle before?

Fuga: I've performed in Seattle a couple of times. The first time was with some friends from Hawaii, a group called The Girlas, with Ernie Cruz Jr. on percussion. We planned a winter tour in January 2007 and Seattle was our last stop. By that show, the cold weather had taken its toll on us. We all had the sniffles and just couldn't get warm. I remember that chill even while we were performing. It was kind of funny, though, because in our green room at the show we were ordering pitchers of orange juice for vitamin C, when usually performers like to order liquor.

Rodriguez: What comes to mind when you hear the word Seattle?

Fuga: When I hear the word Seattle, I think of coffee, whales, donuts, and Dave Matthews, in that order. Then I think of the second time I played there, with Hawaii-based roots reggae band Ooklah the Moc. We opened for Clinton Fearon and Groundation. The vibes were only positive and it was a great show.

Rodriguez: I saw you play the Kokua Festival two years ago. Do you still perform with Jack Johnson from time to time?

Fuga: I'm truly blessed to have a friend like Jack - he always finds ways to include me in his projects and shows. Living five minutes away, Jack calls me up to record with him and join him for different benefits within the community. I'm certainly grateful for those opportunities and am continually inspired by his humble, earth-loving, and generous ways. Instead of holding his highly anticipated Kokua Festival benefit concert at the Waikiki Shell, Jack decided to do something a little different this year. He used that collective energy to put together a best-of Kokua Festival compilation and planned an inter-island Hawaii tour to promote it. He invited our good friend John Cruz and me to open for him on this solo, acoustic, theater tour around the islands. It was a beautiful thing as it gave the people of those islands a chance to see him performing in a most intimate setting. Jack played songs I've never heard him play live before in all my time jamming with him. He took his time in between songs to explain how he wrote them, sharing stories about his family and friends and life experiences. It was definitely a treat to see him in such raw form on stage.

Rodriguez: Tell us about your upcoming show at The Crocodile. What music can we expect to hear, and how long will your set be?

Fuga: Our show at The Crocodile will be number 10 of 12 shows on this West Coast tour, and we're really looking forward to it. This is the very first time that I am touring with my guitarist and friend Mike Love, along with our friend and percussionist Sam Ites. We've been playing together from the beginning of my career, before I released my debut album, and we are happy to finally be able to travel outside of Hawaii together to share our music with everyone.

Rodriguez: Do you have a regular performing gig in Hawaii, somewhere that mainland visitors can see you play?

Fuga: Mike, Sam, and I play together monthly on Maui at a place called Stella Blues in Kihei. It's a very intimate, sit-down dinner show where we are able to share stories and crack jokes in between songs. We three are a playful bunch and have a lot of fun when we jam together. We also play with a couple of different roots-reggae bands, as well as solo shows apart from each other. I've just started playing a regular solo gig at a place called Surfer, The Bar, at Turtle Bay Resort, about 10 minutes from my home on the North Shore of Oahu. It's a fun gig and gives me a chance to work out new and unfinished songs in front of an audience. Mike plays every Monday and Thursday with Sam at an Irish pub in downtown Honolulu.

Rodriguez: For those who haven't heard your music before, can you describe your style? You also play ukulele, right?

Fuga: I've always called my sound Oregano Blues, which stands for original music influenced by reggae and rhythm and blues. But if I had to describe Mike Love's sound, I would say that it's full, dynamic, and joyful. His lyrics are conscious, thought-provoking, and incredibly clever. I play ukulele on most of my songs and enjoy setting it down sometimes to just sing and focus on that radiant, healing energy in the music. It doesn't come from us - it flows through us.

Rodriguez: Is the song 'Country Road' on your Seattle set list?

Fuga: 'Country Road' is one of my favorite songs to play and will most surely be a part of our set at The Crocodile.

Rodriguez: For those Hawaii-bound tourists wanting to experience live authentic Hawaiian music, where would you recommend they go?

Fuga: Sunday afternoons there's a spot on the East side of Oahu called Honey's, named after Don Ho's mother. It's a hidden gem located at the Ko'olau Golf Course. There, you can enjoy the best live authentic Hawaiian music. The beautiful thing about it is, you never know who will show up to sit in on the session and each time is a little different. Sometimes there will be hula dancers in the audience and they'll just stand up and dance if they know the song that's being played. Super fun show!

Rodriguez: Are you rehearsing every day up until you depart for your tour? Have you started packing yet?

Fuga: We've been rehearsing together, for sure, and when we do I like to record it on my phone, so that I'm able to practice later on my own. I love to practice vocals in my car while I'm driving - it's the perfect environment. Surround-sound for listening and complete privacy. We've already begun the tour and are currently in Sacramento staying with Mike's family. It was definitely a blessing to be able to come here last night. His parents had dinner ready for us and just made us feel so welcomed and at home. We've been friends for a long time, so we know each other's life stories and have met each other's families. Mike and Sam are like brothers to me - we love each other and consider ourselves family.

Rodriguez: Finally, what part of Hawaii are you from, and what is your favorite place to have local food?

Fuga: I'm from a small town called Waimanalo on the east side of Oahu, but currently live on the North Shore, up in Pupukea. Both places are considered 'country' and are away from the hustle and bustle of the city. My favorite Hawaiian restaurant is called Helena's Hawaiian Food in Kalihi. Open from Tuesday to Friday, they serve the best Hawaiian food around. My favorite thing to order is their fried butterfish collar and squid luau. Helena's gets a lot of action because they've been featured on two different Food Network shows. A lot of visitors go there. It's the best!

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