Uma’s Ultimate Kona Konnection is a weekly column covering the music scene of Kailua Kona & now Waikoloa. This week she spotlights RJ Kaneao, who graces the stage weekly on Fridays 5:30-8:30 and Sundays 5-8pm @Waikoloa Luxury Cinemas, Wednesdays @A-Bay’s Island Grill 6-9pm, and Saturdays at the Fairmont Orchid Luana Lounge 6-9 p.m. You can expect a great show with a consummate & talented musician!
While searching for musicians to interview, I’d always heard of RJ Kaneao…his music is eclectic, covering Hawaiian & Jawaiian styles, blues, rock and easy listening. I enjoyed hearing him play at the Waikoloa Movie Theater, and discovered he knows my husband and many of the same people I do, as this Big Island really is pretty small. RJ was born and raised in Honokaa; he speaks 3 languages fluently, including Tahitian and French and continues to further his interest in the culture and ancestors of the South Pacific. I learned a lot from & about him.
Do you find any challenges and/or joys of playing music here on the Big Island?
Definitely the joys include playing smaller gigs and having more of a connection with my audience. The people I’ve met are just amazing. Challenges might be exposure, which is a huge situation here for me. I’ve gotten the opportunity to play some very large gigs and some pretty cool venues but here on the Big Island, I have a harder time getting opportunities to play places. I’ve always felt like I just don’t get the calls so many others do, but when I do then they start rolling in. I’m blessed either way.
What got you started playing music?
I started on stage dancing and singing when I was in preschool; I still remember that performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” I was raised on a stage; my parents ran beauty pageants and variety shows in my hometown of Honokaa. It was at about 8-9 years old that (music) had finally kicked into full throttle and I began taking it seriously. Before the age of 12 I’d already done tours and many talent competitions etc. When I was 12, I won the National Exchange Club Talent Show singing “Earth Angel.” From there it snowballed I guess. I began doing normal appearances at the Don Ho Show in Waikiki area (under the dome) and doing a lot of “Shower of Stars” by Kenny Rogers’ and Dolly Parton’s former manager. I worked with Melveen Leed, Peter Moon Band and many more. In high school I sang with my band “Frenz.” It’s all on my website (see below).
About how many days in a month do you usually play?
Nothing less than twenty, I think. I also do corporate shows but a lot of my time is spent in my recording studio “Groove Plant Hawaii” located in Waikoloa Village. Usually I’m recording by day & gigging at night. I’m currently recording my 6th solo album which will be my first Major Label Album with Sony Music Global & Dark Star Records all out of LA. I’ve self-produced 4 of my 5 published albums:
1) Flipside(2000) – Produced by Charles Brotman
2) Lanui (2005) – Produced by RJ Kaneao
3) Toru (2009) – Produced by RJ Kaneao
4) Best of Me (2012) – Produced by RJ Kaneao
5) Genres of Soul (2018) – Produced By RJ Kaneao (Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winning and Grammy Balloted/Nominated)
Your biggest dream music-wise is?
To continue making music. I’ve checked many things off my bucket list, including touring locally (statewide), nationally and internationally. I’ve done this as a full-time career for over 24 years and played in front of thousands of people and sometimes as small as a few people. I’ve played for kings, queens, a prince, princesses, Presidents and their families, rockstars and movie stars etc. It’s been amazing thus far. I’ve won my own Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award, I’ve played and helped produce Grammy Award Nominated and Winning Albums/Music, so there’s not much I’d dream about that I feel isn’t accessible. It’s all about making those dreams into reality and staying extremely humbled by the experience every time. Being able to play and know some of my idols has been a dream come true. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Pat Simmons (Doobie Brothers) Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) Uncle Willie K, Elvin Bishop, Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang etc.
What inspires your music most?
My Son, Grandson, Family, Love, Love Lost, Current events. I feel inspired also where I see great players (guitarists) and/or vocalist who have really honed their craft. Guys like Josh Smith, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Prince and many more who put that road map out for me to follow.
Your proudest moment in music was…
Probably stepping onstage and including my son (my associate producer) as I accepted our first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award back in 2018. It was always my dream to include him and to thank my parents publicly. Being in Billboard’s 2018Grammy-edition was pretty cool. Some awkward times for me had to be sitting in staple center watching a Lakers game and having music I’ve done work on blasting through the arena. That’s still weird for me. I hear my music all the time in Hawaii on the radio, but that was crazy.
Any suggestions for aspiring musicians?
Don’t give up, work and study hard. Practice, Practice and more practice. I’ve always said and believe that “practice doesn’t make perfect but it’ll make you better!” You can never be perfect because you’ll continue to learn if your mind and heart are open to it. Don’t get stagnant, stay off drugs and never ever let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do!
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
I already have one – it’s the power to Love people with music.
What TV show did you last binge watch?
Mmmm? I’m not really a TV kinda person. I watch tons of informational stuff on YouTube etc.
Love Guru Uma performs solo acoustic ukulele this Saturday 7/27 & Tuesday 7/30 at Foster’s Kitchen in Kona 6-9 p.m., plus New Thought Center in Kealakekua 7/28 9:45am-11:30 a.m., and Foster’s Kitchen Waikoloa July 31. She also sings in the 4-piece Uma Zuma Band, and in a duo with her husband. Uma’s also a substitute teacher, Uber driver, Tour guide and self-published author. She just completed Book 2 in a series of adventure love story and self-help reads entitled Love is Crazy – Lessons in Love: Creating your own Happy Ever After and Love is Crazy Satisfying. More at umaojeda.weebly.com
All photos courtesy of RJ Kaneao. Featured image is RJ Kaneao and Don Ho.