Uma’s Ultimate Kona Konnection is a weekly column covering the music scene of Kailua Kona. This week she focuses on Sarah Bethany. Catch her trio playing tonight (Sept. 14) at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar from 6:30-9:30 p.m. I’m sure it will be an event to remember because this lady is talented!
When I first heard Sarah Bethany, it was at the Blues Fest at King Kamehameha Hotel in Kona two years ago. My husband’s band was playing later that night and I was so shocked and awed to hear Jill Scott’s “Golden” ringing through the air! Then Bethany covered “Welcome to Jamrock,” which I had never heard played live except by the original artist, Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley. That blew my mind she played it at a festival and recorded her live version. You can hear it on SoundCloud or her website. It’s amazing to hear a female sing that one, and it even has all the bells and whistles and samples from the original recording. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to talk with her then.
Thank goodness for this column which allows me to chat with so many talented and amazing musicians every week. Playing live also allows me to meet some of the people who attend my shows. I always love Bethany’s blend of styles, including Neo-Soul, Jazz, Pop, Funk & Reggae. She also plays Portuguese and Latin grooves at some concerts.
Bethany is married to her drummer, Michael; they have three children: two teenagers and a 3-year-old. Much of her time is spent being a mom. She also has 40 piano and voice students. Bethany sings and plays keys in several different bands on the island. One of her bands features of Michael Surprenant on drums, Matt Spencer on bass and guitar, Pat Eskildsen on guitar, and Jesse Snyder on sax and flute. “We are a fusion band, weaving the sounds of neo-soul, jazz, blues, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, reggae, hip-hop, rock and pop,” said Bethany. “Another band I play with regularly, is Matt Spencer’s salsa band, Isla Tumbao. We play every third Friday at Kukuau Studio in Hilo. Recently, I began singing in Randy Skaggs’s jazz band, Soul on a Roll, where we play every third Thursday in the lobby of the Palace Theater. I also play regularly with local artists, Drew Daniels and Lopaka Rootz. One of my greatest passions and desires is to create original music. We are currently working on an album at Mana Music Studio and hope to release our first single this year.”
Any challenges and/or joys of playing music here on the Big Island?
Certainly, the joys outweigh the challenges, but there are many of each. This island is full of magic and beauty. The mana is palpable and the connection to both land and spirit runs very deep, which is a fundamental aspect to my musicianship. The musical inspiration I experience here is beyond anything I have experienced elsewhere. Also, the community of musicians I connect with here is very special. The openness and acceptance I feel from my musical comrades are so supportive of my growth; it’s always encouraging me to continue, especially when the challenges come. One of the challenges here is that it has been difficult to find regular, good-paying gigs, to sustain me financially. Another challenge is that it seems there are limited options for venues where the eclectic styles of music I like to play would be appreciated.
What got you started playing music?
I fell in love with music when I started taking piano lessons as a little girl. I decided to pursue it at the university level when I was 19, and I earned a degree in music from the Conservatory of Music at UMKC (The University of Missouri–Kansas City).
About how many days in a month do you usually play?
I play almost every day, but usually without an audience. Most months, I perform 3 or 4 times. I rehearse with my band(s) several times a month as well.
Your biggest dream music-wise is…
My biggest dream as a musician is to simply allow music to be born through me, in an authentic expression that can touch the lives of others in a positive, nourishing and life-giving way.
What inspires your music most?
I am inspired most by other musicians and artists, especially those who dedicate their lives to their art form.
Your proudest moment in music was…
This is a tough question for me. I’m not sure if I have one. Maybe I haven’t had it yet.
Any suggestions for aspiring musicians?
One of my suggestions for aspiring musicians is to approach the path of music as a never-ending spiral of learning and growth, with infinite possibilities. It is a very long journey of ups and downs, and it requires steadfast dedication and commitment. Success usually does not come quickly. The musicians who “make it” in the industry, are the ones who are willing to get back on the horse after they fall off, over and over and over again. It’s not necessarily about talent, although that can be a factor. Mostly it’s about getting back on the horse.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
If there is a superpower that can create peace on earth, then that’s the one I want to have. Music is a superpower, so hopefully, I can help humanity move toward peace, even just a little.
Any closing thoughts, shout outs, mahalos, etc.?
Thank you, Uma, for reaching out to do this interview. I appreciate your support so much. I’d also like to thank my husband, Michael Surprenant, for being my biggest fan, for hearing my potential as a musician, and for encouraging me to keep going. Thanks, mom and dad for everything you do for me! Mahalo to all of my friends, family, and community on the Big Island and beyond, for supporting my music! I love you all!
Love Guru Uma performs solo acoustic ukulele – lately at weddings on the beach & sings in the 4-piece Uma Zuma Band, which performs rock, Top 40 and blues at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar Sept. 25 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. She loves performing any chance she can, including in a duo with her husband, with an upcoming show at Honokaa Public House Oct. 12 from 8-11 p.m. Uma enjoys staying busy as 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.
Photos: Steve Roby