Brother Noland Conjugacion is celebrating the new year with a new CD, a 10-piece band and three shows on the Big Island.
The island musical mainstay known for hits such as “Coconut Girl,” “Pua Lane” and “Are You Native?” will play the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, and a pair of concerts at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, at the Willie K Crown Room in Hilo’s Grand Naniloa Hotel.
For decades, Brother Noland recorded for Mountain Apple Company, but is now on his own. For his current effort, “His Songs His Stories His Style,” he said he had to “relearn the industry all over.”
“Everything is so different now, you know. I go all the way back to albums,” Brother Noland told the Tribune-Herald last week. “So to learn the production side of it and how the marketing works these days, it was very informative for me. I’d been with Mountain Apple for many years and they are, you might say, semi-retired now. To relearn the industry and develop my own record label, make sure everything is on point with the virtual world and develop a business team was very exciting and challenging at the same time.”
Conjugacion’s music is a stylistic amalgam. The new CD opens with a bang with “Signs,” a horn-oriented 1970s retro-funk tune reminiscent of Tower of Power, perfect for the larger band.
“Music is centrifugal, you know, so it’s going to recycle, right?” he said. “When I listen to Bruno (Mars), man, I love the guy. He’s a creative genius but he’s not reinventing the wheel. He’s just playing what he’s always played, from when he was with his dad in the Love Notes and he was little Elvis and little Michael. I look at how he produces, how he dances, everything, and it’s just him. It’s what he does. So a song like ‘Signs’ — it just comes out that way. I enjoy playing it with musicians that know how to play it. I’m just writing songs, that’s what I do. However they turn out, the whole process is the exciting part.”
The 10-piece outfit has played the Blue Note in Waikiki, but the Waimea and Hilo shows will be the first time the large lineup plays the Neighbor Islands.
“When we have the opportunity to do things with the 10-piece, I’m telling you, it’s so dynamic,” Brother Noland said. “They just know how to make it happen.”
There are some familiar faces in the band, including keyboardist Gaylord Holomalia, of Kalapana fame. Holomalia also engineered the CD. There’s also Fred Schreuders on guitar, who’s in the jazz-fusion band Hiroshima and has toured with the O’Jays and Michael Paulo.
There are also some musicians less familiar to island audiences, such as pianist Tommy James — not the ’60s pop-rock icon, but a New York-Hawaii bi-coastal who’s in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. That means he’s the guy who now plays The Duke’s iconic opening riff of “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
Behind the drumkit is Carlos Silva of Las Vegas, an alum of Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
“We call him ‘The Kid.’ He’s 22 years old and he’s a monster. When all the big artists pass through Vegas and they’ve got to put together a band, he’s usually the first call. He’s like a Jeff Porcaro,” Conjugacion said, referring to the late Toto drummer.
“The guy’s just terrific on stage, too. He’s a little rascal, yeah, and it keeps the older musicians on their toes.”
For those hoping to hear Brother Noland’s classics, he promises to play them, as well as the new material.
“Here we are, with a 10-piece band and we’re ready to take it on the road. I tell you, man, it will be dynamite. We’re all jacked up about the music and we just wanna play.”
Tickets for the Waimea show are $28/$48/$68, available at the Kahilu box office and online at kahilu.org. Hilo tickets are $27, available at Wizard Smoke Shop at the old CD Wizard store on Pohaku Street and at all Irie Hawaii Smoke Shop locations.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.