A Sweet Pairing

It took 17 years, but Curtis and Annie Kamiya of Mango Season are finally ripe for success, thanks to the couple’s debut album

The seeds of romance began for Curtis and Annie Kamiya back in 1996, when the two were theater majors at the University of Puget Sound. Cast opposite each other in the drama The Seagull, the pair developed an almost instant attraction to one another – much like fruit flies are drawn to ripened produce.


Image 1 of 2

Mango Season's debut album, "Flying Home"

For Curtis, singing with Annie turned out to be the catalyst that would bring their different worlds together: he, the shy local boy and Punahou alumnus raised on the ’70s sounds of Kalapana, Cecilio & Kapono and Olomana; and she, the gregarious mezzo-soprano vocalist from Oregon who cut her teeth on the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Joan Baez and Cat Stevens.

“I noticed right away that Annie was a great singer who had this big personality and who was really great at talking to people,” remembers Curtis. “I was always more of a reserved person, so in many ways our relationship worked because we complemented each other.”

Marriage soon followed, with the relationship bearing first signs of music fruit during extended stops in Seattle and San Francisco, where Curtis released two albums as a solo artist. Still, it wasn’t until five years ago that the couple decided they had enough of Mainland life and chose to plant their roots in Hawaii. A year later, Annie gave up her gig as an educational consultant and joined Curtis as a full-time creative partner and musician.

“When Annie joined up, the songs began to reflect both of our influences,” Curtis explains. “As a result, something unique came out of this collaboration.”

The musical merger gave birth to Mango Season, an island/soul jazz group that just recently dropped its first mango – a debut album called Flying Home, which features 14 tasty tracks, including the traditional Hawaiian favorite Noho Pai Pai and the Roberta Flack classic Where Is The Love. Assisting Curtis (vocals/guitarist) and Annie (vocals/hand percussion) on the CD are Wil Tafolo (vocals/bass), Chris Yeh (saxophone) and Rory Loughran (drums).

“There’s a nice, eclectic mix of music on the album,” says Curtis, whose band can be found playing weekly gigs at Lulu’s in Waikiki, 53 By The Sea and Nico’s Pier 38. “Aside from the 10 original compositions, the album features songs in five different languages. One of them, in fact, is the Sergio Mendes’ song, Mas Que Nada.”

Here’s what else Curtis told Musical Notes:

MN: What’s the story behind the album’s name, Flying Home?

CK: It was in response to Annie’s challenges in moving to Hawaii. The first couple of years were especially tough for her. For me, I already had family and friends here. For Annie, she had to go out and find her own friends. But she’s been able to do so, and it’s been great ever since.

MN: How instrumental was Kickstarter, a funding platform that many independent artists are using these days to launch their creative projects, in making Mango Season’s debut album a reality?

CK: Very instrumental. If you want to make a great CD, you need a bunch of change. We wanted a great CD, so we got involved with Kickstarter. Not only did it help fund our project, but it was instrumental in fostering a community of followers of our music.

MN: Where would you like to be as a band one year from now?

CK: The goal has always been to create a larger band profile. For example, we’d love to win a Hoku one of these days, and we’d love to get a tour going – first to the outer islands, and second to Japan and the West Coast.

Sean and Kyle Luster | Photo courtesy Red Light Challenge Band

Small-kine Notes:

Rockers Sean and Kyle Luster, otherwise known as Red Light Challenge Band, hit the road this week for a 30-date summer tour that takes them from Denver to Boston. The ever-ambitious brothers, who last toured stateside three years ago, performing at amusement parks and malls while promoting their debut album, Marina Girl, kick things off Saturday at the Sundown Concert in Missouri before wrapping up the last leg of their tour with a July 21 show in New England. Not a bad way to spend the summer for guitarist/vocalist Sean, 20, a former valedictorian at Pearl City High, and drummer/vocalist Kyle, 16, also a Charger and current National Honor Society student … Those eagerly anticipating Kuana Torres Kahele’s next musical offering, Kahele, a smorgasbord of 14 deliciously original tunes due out July 30, can satisfy their appetites in the meantime with his new single, E Ku’u Lei, My Love, featuring Maila Gibson and available on iTunes … Finally, check out Kapena this Saturday, from 4 to 6 p.m., as part of Duke’s Waikiki free summer entertainment series “Concerts on the Beach.”