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Entertainment // Musical Notes
Bill Mossman

A Big Whoppertunity

Duncan Osorio’s TV commercial may be just what he needs to get a promising music career broiling again

The last time many of us heard a sound from Duncan Osorio, it was back in 2009 when he was a fresh-faced musician laying down tracks with good buddy Taisen Abreu and their up-and-coming R&B group, Pure N8ive. Life was good, Osorio was living in the Great Lakes region and his tour-ready band was getting ready for an East Coast swing, in part to promote its single As Close As This.

And then just as quickly as he arrived on the music landscape, as close as he was to launching a promising music career, Osorio pulled a Houdini on us all and was gone – poof! - just like that.

“I had to take a break from music,” he tells me, in part to find his bearings again.

But in recent months, Osorio has reappeared at several Honolulu venues, including Bamboo Two Café and the Hukilau, wielding his trusty acoustic guitar and belting out those smooth, lower-register notes the ladies absolutely swoon over. More importantly, his existence is being acknowledged beyond the confines of these clubs, thanks in large part to his “Hungry Guy” appearance in Burger King’s latest TV commercial. Yes, that’s him sporting the Jason Mraz-like Fedora and singing a lyrically altered version of the Sean Naauao classic Fish and Poi.

“I just lucked out,” he says of landing the starring role in the 30-second commercial. “Burger King had been auditioning people and was having trouble finding someone they liked for the part, and an old acquaintance of mine happened to be working for the company and mentioned my name.

Fortunately, they went and checked out some of my (music videos) online, and I guess they thought I’d fit.”

Did he ever. Now, it seems like he can’t go anywhere before someone taps him on the shoulder and asks in Tony Solis-like fashion, “Eh, you da kine, ah?”

“The commercial has been great for exposure,” Osorio says. “I had no idea Burger King was even going to put my name on the commercial. People are recognizing me more, so it’s been really valuable in terms of getting my name out there.”

The last comment may seem a bit odd given Osorio’s well-known surname in the entertainment community. His father Jon spent the better part of the ’70s and ’80s as half of the duo Jon & Randy (with the late Randy Borden) – and scored his biggest hit Hawaiian Eyes in 1981 with a Hoku for Song of the Year. And his younger sister Jamaica is a well-known slam poet who’s taken her talents as far as the White House and was featured in HBO’s 2008 documentary series, Brave New Voices.

So in many ways, the Burger King commercial represents Osorio’s first big, ahem, whoppertunity at stepping out of his father and sister’s shadows.

“My last name has always been mildly recognizable,” he says, “and now Burger King has kind of helped people recognize my first name.”

And his talent as a versatile singer/songwriter. And while his stylings are very John Mayeresque/Brian McKnightish, even Osorio admits his influences are far too many to number – all of which has led to a distinct sound that his ever-growing fanbase appreciates.

“Yes, I grew up playing stuff like Fish and Poi,” Osorio admits. “But as far as what I do now, it’s a little different. When people ask what my sound is, I just tell them I’m more along the lines of alternative, soul, pop and R&B.”

Here’s what else the talented Palolo Valley native told Musical Notes:

MN: Did music come easy for you because, well, you’re the son of a professional musician?

DO: Not really. I mean, I wouldn’t say that I was musical when I was younger.

I remember my dad putting me in an ukulele class when I was around 8, just to see if I would like it – but I didn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to Kamehameha in the seventh grade – and there, everybody plays music! – that I really started getting into it. I joined the intermediate choir Na Opio, and I began playing with some of the group’s singers on the side. But because we had too many ukulele players, including myself, and because I was Jon Osorio’s son, everyone just figured I should play guitar. So I had to teach myself how to play the instrument.

MN: You spent some time away from the islands after graduating from Kamehameha in 2006 – principally for college, but also to pursue your music career with Pure N8tive. What happened to the band?

DO: I had been out in Detroit working on that project for about a year, and me and the other band members spent a summer traveling around the East Coast and performing. But the label we were working with was kind of up and down, and they hit some rough points. After our New York shows were cancelled because of budget cuts, we decided we each needed to do our own thing.

MN: So you dropped the label?

DO: Yes. The label had control over the recordings – the power to produce our music the way they wanted to – and I wanted to get back to having control over my sound.

MN: Beyond your live performances, what else can we expect from you in the coming months?

DO: Up until recently, my focus was to get an album done. But now I’m looking at releasing a video of one of my originals first and then start working on a direction for the album. I’ve written a ton of material over the past few years, so it’s just a matter of sorting through everything and determining what I do best.

Small-kine Notes:

After walking off with a number of Na Hoku Hanohano Awards at May’s annual showcase, including Male Vocalist of the Year and Hawaiian Album of the Year honors, Big Island singer/songwriter Kuana Torres Kahele is back with a new CD – this time with the group he helped found, Na Palapalai. Ha’a, the group’s sixth album, features members Kahele and Ioane Burns, and 12 tracks that are sure to warm the hearts of leo ha’iha’i lovers everywhere … Finally, sad news regarding the passing of stand-up guy and bassist John Koko of The Makaha Sons last week. As many Hawaiian music fans knew, John, 51, had a lifelong heart problem that was covered here in MidWeek last fall (“You Gotta Have Rhythm,” by Rasa Fournier, Nov. 23, 2011), and the Nanakuli native was still holding out hope for a transplant down the road. But alas, it wasn’t to be for the man fondly known for his “Kokolicious” smile. He leaves behind wife Tonia and four sons, along with scores of memorable songs, including “Ke Alaula,” “Mehameha/White Sandy Beach,” “Take A Walk In The Country” and the Kui Lee remake, “I’ll Remember You.” Indeed, we’ll always remember you, “Unko” John.

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