Mark Yamanaka’s latest album a reflection of family, life changes

  • Eight-time Na Hoku Hanohano winner Mark Yamanaka, of Hilo, releases his third album, "Lei Lehua," on Nov. 9. (Mark Yamanaka/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A lot can change in five years.

Since the release of his last album, Hilo-based musician Mark Yamanaka’s life has changed dramatically. The eight-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner has experienced, this year alone, getting married and his son beginning his senior year of high school. His latest album, “Lei Lehua,” is a reflection of that.

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“This album was kind of based off my life as it is now, and how it’s been in the last few years, with the things that I’ve experienced and the changes I’ve experienced,” Yamanaka said. “It represents, not only myself, but my wife as well and my kids. It’s a documentation of my life currently.”

The adjustment to these changes is the inspiration behind his third album, which will be released Friday. “Lei Lehua,” named after the official flower of the Big Island, consists of nine original songs written and co-written by Yamanaka. The album was recorded in two weeks on Kauai, before and after Yamanaka’s wedding in California to his wife, Laura Leilani. The quick production, along with the stress of the wedding, made the album’s creation a challenge.

“It was quite an experience. The whole mental part of trying to get it done, it was really overwhelming,” Yamanaka said. “And painstaking at times, just because there’s so much singing involved, and playing the guitar and ukulele. So there was some hard times in those weeks.”

The hard work is rewarding for Yamanaka, who said he makes albums not for himself, but for his family.

“I know one song, ‘Koke’e,’ is a favorite of my father-in-law, so I decided to record that one,” Yamanaka said. “There’s an inspirational song, ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow,’ which is a cover song that I decided to record for my family because they have pretty strong Christian beliefs. And my uncle recently passed away from cancer, and his dog’s name was Sparrow, so it all kind of came together with that song.”

There’s also the track “Leilani,” which Yamanaka wrote for his wife, and a bonus track titled “Our First Dance,” which has a special meaning for Yamanaka and his wife.

“My wife and I really wanted to find a first dance song for our wedding, and we couldn’t find one that we felt was personal, unique and exclusive,” Yamanaka said. “So I decided, I’m just going to write one and produce it. And that was the song that we came up with for our first dance.”

The track is only available on the physical copy of the album. Yamanaka also listed the title track, “Lei Lehua,” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as his favorite songs on the new release.

A CD release party is planned for Saturday, Nov. 24, at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, and Yamanaka will be traveling to Honolulu for an album celebration on Nov. 29. Yamanaka said he currently has no set plans for a tour, but he wants to play soon at the theaters on the west side of the Big Island.

As far as adding another award to his trophy case, Yamanaka said he hopes “Lei Lehua” is successful once awards season comes around, but it’s not his main goal when creating music.

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“In my career, I’ve garnered eight awards, and that is far beyond my wildest dreams and goals,” Yamanaka said. “As far as this particular project, of course, we hope we can get recognized in that way. But on the flip side, we are very pleased with the album itself, and that to me is the No. 1 winner right there.

“As long as my family and my close loved ones are excited and happy with it, I think I’ve already won.”