Concert review: Mark Yamanaka is livin’ the dream

  • Mark Yamanaka performs during Saturday’s Kahilu Kahilu Theatre livestream concert. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Mark Yamanaka performs during Saturday’s Kahilu Kahilu Theatre livestream concert. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Mark Yamanaka performs during Saturday’s Kahilu Kahilu Theatre livestream concert. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Mark Yamanaka performs during Saturday’s Kahilu Kahilu Theatre livestream concert. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

“I’m super stoked with where my life is now, and all the things that I have and the things that I love,” said award-winning musician Mark Yamanaka during Saturday’s Kahilu Theatre’s livestream concert. Family life has always been his No. 1 priority, and it was the guiding theme in his hour-long set.

Yamanaka was joined on stage by a trio of talented musicians — Bert Naihe (guitar/vocals), Sean Naleimaile (bass/vocals), and Dwight Tokumoto (steel guitar). Yamanaka admitted that due to pandemic restrictions, it had been a while since the band played together, and this event was the next best thing to a large-venue public show. The Kahilu Theatre began streaming its pay-per-view performances on Kahilu TV in mid-December, and this was the 11th live performance.

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Yamanaka paid tribute to his wife Laura with “My Senorita,” a Puerto Rican Kachi-Kachi style tune dedicated to her because she is of Mexican descent. He said the melody came to him on a drive home from work.

“Just before I reached home, I pulled into the Rainbow Falls parking lot, and luckily I had my ukulele in the car and wrote the song,” he said. Normally, Yamanaka reproduces Spanish-style trumpets with his lips for the solo, however, Dwight Tokumoto was there to add some beautiful steel guitar which gave the song an island twist.

The intimate concert also provided the Hilo-based musician with the opportunity to debut a new original song titled “Live In A Dream.” “Many people have said that I must have written a lot of songs during these times,” noted Yamanaka. “Unfortunately, it was only one, but it gave me time to reflect on my life thus far.” The singer will turn 41 this year.

The theatre’s limited tech crew, also acting as a substitute audience, cheered loudly and encouraged a hana hou from Mark and his band. Reaching back to his 2010 debut album Lei Pua Kenikeni, he performed “Ke Akua Mana E.” It’s a Christian hymn (“O Store Gud” — “How Great Thou Art”) based on a Swedish traditional melody and a poem written by Carl Boberg. The English version has been covered by a range of artists including Elvis, The Sons of the Pioneers, and Carrie Underwood. Hearing Yamanaka perform it in Hawaiian, with his heavenly falsetto, was truly a chicken skin moment.

After the show, Mark and I did a live post-show interview and I asked him about the meaning of the new song “Live In A Dream.”

“There’s a line in the song that goes, ‘If I go to heaven tomorrow, I’m going to be OK,’ which, of course, I don’t want to leave my family behind,” said Yamanaka. “My life so far is everything I could’ve dreamed of and hoped for — my beautiful three children and my wife. That song helped me to reflect on the blessings that I have and my day job too!”

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Musically, Yamanaka has received 14 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and walked away with such coveted honors as Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year. He’s truly one of our great musical treasures.

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.