Soul songstress Ito hopes for wider audience

Apr. 11, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Neosoul musician Maryanne Ito releases her new album, "waking up," with a preview party on Thursday at The Dragon Upstairs. (Star-Advertiser / 2013)

Neosoul musician Maryanne Ito releases her new album, “waking up,” with a preview party Thursday at The Dragon Upstairs. (Star-Advertiser File)


Maryanne Ito, a local favorite for lovers of sweet soul and neosoul music, is ready to take her music to the next level with a new album, “waking up.”

The album gets a preview party Thursday with a performance at The Dragon Upstairs that also doubles as a fundraiser.

All who buy tickets or donate will also receive a copy of an advance EP by Ito that gives a sampling of the full album.

Money raised will help purchase rights for two cover songs Ito would like to include: “Sweet Love” (a hit for Anita Baker) and “Tell Me” (a romantic, hip-hop-inflected track by Groove Theory).

ON “WAKING UP,” Ito said she took on diverse forms of music, including soul, hip-hop and smooth jazz — a new genre for her.



Presented by DJ Bennie James

» Where: The Dragon Upstairs, 1038 Nuuanu Ave.
» When: 6-9 p.m. and 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday
» Cost: $20, includes pupu, limited-edition EP/album sampler
» Info: (808) 526-1411,

A jazz-inflected track, “Don’t Be Afraid,” with instrumentation from guitarist David Yamasaki, has turned out to be one of her favorites, she said.

“I’m really getting into it,” she said, serenely. “I’m open to experimenting with new sounds, to see what I’m capable of.”

All the songs have been written and recorded for the full-length album, though there is still some mixing to be done.

Ito, 30, has released music and participated in many notable live shows in Honolulu over the past several years, but her name recognition remains largely confined to the islands.

This time around, she’s hoping to reach a much wider potential audience, with a boost from Honolulu soul-music DJ Bennie James, who’s joined forces with Ito to get the word out, acting as her manager.

“We’re trying to get this music out,” she said. “That’s what we’re working on right now.”

JAMES, a British expat and longtime Honolulu DJ with deep knowledge of soul music, fell in love with Ito’s voice a couple of years back.

He was “blown away” when he heard the music, James said. “It was a total curveball.”

James hadn’t thought of getting into the management game before listening to her music. But Ito wasn’t getting a lot of traction in the music business, and James said he couldn’t live with the idea of letting her voice go unheard.

So he took a leap of faith, and joined forces with the singer.

James believes he can bring Ito’s voice and sound to international recognition. He’s contributing his own experience in the music business to the mix.

Through James’ contacts, Ito hopes to get her songs out to soul-music fans in Europe, Japan (Ito is Japanese and Samoan) and throughout the U.S.

“It’s been great working with people who are equally passionate about music,” Ito said, confirming that the musical partnership with James has proved a good match so far.

“He’s a soul man, I do soul music,” she said. “That’s why we work together so well.”

ITO AND JAMES compare her sound to that of neosoul stars Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.

“You’ll definitely hear their influence,” she said.

On the album and in performance, Ito says you will also hear “a lot of soul,” DJ-generated musical samples and pop influences, creating a blend that sounds “magical” to her.

“Everything we’ve been able to get in there and create just flows,” Ito said.

DJ Sub-Zero engineered the project at Primaphonix Studio. Members of the Stone Groove Family, The Level, Slapp Symphony, RSL and Thirst4Worst, also contributed to the album.

There are two shifts of this soul-survival party, with a total of just 100 tickets available for the show at the intimate Dragon Upstairs, so those who want to attend should sign up early to guarantee a seat.

The full album, pictured, will be released via iTunes on June 5.

“This EP/album sampler will never be printed again, so don’t miss out!” James said. “Support this event and help real soul music grow right here in Hawaii.”

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