The Fire Within
Hope burns eternal for ultra-positive reggae group Hiyah Fire, which releases its debut album this week
Lyrics always seem to be dancing in and out of Hiyah Fire songstress Candida Zulueta’s head, like flames lapping up oxygen all around. So it comes as no surprise that sparks of creativity would set her noggin on fire regardless of her surroundings even, apparently, while the avid reader of literary classics is in the midst of a calorie-burning workout.
“I was on a treadmill running one day and I was wanting to write a song about deeper things with a message of light, when it came to me,” she recalls. “Things are falling apart, but I’m comin’ together. The world way heavy all around, but I’m light as a feather.”
And just like that, the rhythmic accents and the sense of empowerment contained within those lines made the roots-reggae heart of Candida, aka JahPoetress, jump and skank much like it does during one of the band’s high-energy shows. Raised on the lifealtering sounds of Bob Marley, Third World and Jimmy Cliff, the co-lead singer and songwriter for Hiyah Fire immediately knew she had the building blocks of something good. Soon after, those lyrics became the opening verse to the title track of the group’s debut CD On The Rise, released just this week. (Visit the website hiyahfire.com for more information.) And like many of the band’s lovers rock, dancehall, island reggae-vibe compositions, the title track contains that all-important message of hope in a world full of despair.
“All of us are struggling to pay bills, to pay rent, things like that. So none of us are really alone when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges,” explains Candida about the lyrics’ meaning. “But if you can reach deeper and find that inner peace, you’re unstoppable.”
If the best songs are written from personal experience, then Candida undoubtedly finds part of her songwriting inspiration in husband Bruce Zulueta’s own search for sanctuary. More than a decade ago, Bruce was a rising star with the Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning group Typical Hawaiians. Yet despite the band’s success in the island reggae and Hawaiian contemporary music scene, there’s more than a hint of regret in his voice when recalling the fiery excesses of youth that accompanied the group’s rise to fame.
Fortunately, hindsight can be a beautiful thing when seen through the lens of maturity.
“We weren’t prepared. We didn’t know what to expect or how to act,” says Bruce of his days as a Typical Hawaiian frontman. “Success just came on like a freight train and …”
Derailed but not defeated, Bruce has since sought to reinvent himself as one-half of the Hiyah Fire duo. Gone are the large muscles of yesterday and the even larger-than-life attitude. Instead, he spends much of his time talking about social responsibility, respect, forgiveness, humility and positivity. The name Hiyah Fire, according to Candida, was forged by her husband in the crucible of life’s hard lessons.
“We all have a fire burning to keep us alive,” she explains. “A higher fire means the spirit within that is awoken. In this day and age, it’s so easy to not be in touch with yourself and forget to dig deep. Hiyah Fire reminds us to think beyond the material and physical.”
Today, Bruce, as the band’s co-lead singer, guitarist and producer, is content with the direction that both his life and the group ably accompanied by a bevy of talented backup musicians, including former Ho’aikane singer/drummer Jamin “Chief Ragga” Wong have taken. As a result, the man also known as Shaka B is feeling, as his wife once wrote following a treadmill workout, “light as a feather.”
“It’s a whole new chapter for me,” he says. “I don’t want to push the negativity anymore. I’d rather spend my time promoting goodness.”
Musical Notes caught up with the duo and got JahPoetress to talk about how life has been good as of late to Hiyah Fire.
MN: I hear it took two years for you to record On the Rise. Are you relieved now that the process is finally over?
CZ: Yes, but I would say the feeling is more daunting to us because we’ve now exposed ourselves to the world! Along with our excitement comes anticipation, but we feel confident in the relevance of this album. As for the length of the recording process, we had to factor in all the things that come into play like budget, musicians, availability of studio and life in general. But we also wanted to take our time and let the tracks marinate and build organically.
MN: Music does seem best when it’s allowed to happen naturally, eh?
CZ: Exactly. Music in its purest form is raw expression and emotion. Before the business side of music steps in, before what’s the next hottest thing, music is pure. And that’s exactly what this album is. We would just jam and create music until we had so much material that we decided to record. So you know how we like to look at photos where those in the photograph aren’t even aware they’re being photographed? Well, that’s how we approached this album.
MN: Which songs do you expect fans to embrace immediately?
CZ: You just never know what the feedback will be. This album is very diverse in its influences, so the reactions may be just as diverse. What we would love, though, is for listeners to embrace the title track, On the Rise, as well as my favorite, Back Against the Wall, which is about pushing forward no matter what. Right now, our music is being played in Tahiti, the Virgin Islands and in Japan, where our song So High is getting airplay.
MN: Where’s the band gigging these days?
CZ: We usually play an intimate acoustic set at Banzai Sushi in Haleiwa. We’ll also be on the Perry and Price show March 3.
MN: What are your expectations in 2012?
CZ: To do bigger venues and shows locally, pay our dues and just spread the music! Then by summer, we are hoping to tour Japan, and by the end of the year, we hope to hit the West Coast, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But humility, we believe, is key, and if we are blessed to do all these things, we will be grateful.