The Music of This Talented Quartet Has a Way of Growing on Their Fans

Group photo of Jesse Shiroma’s relatives in Okinawa with the band, Streetlight Cadence
Jesse Shiroma’s relatives in Okinawa turned our to cheer on the band at their Kokusai Dori street performance. Chiyo Shiroma, the woman wearing the hat in the center, is the widow of George Shiroma’s (Jesse’s grandfather) cousin, Norimitsu Shiroma.

Alan Suemori
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

In 1961, an Englishman named Brian Epstein was working in his family’s business, minding a small neighborhood record store in Liverpool. It was not his life’s plan, but he figured it would do until his real destiny appeared. For Epstein, the work was boring and unchallenging, but he was struck by the number of teenaged girls who visited the shop every day, looking for the latest recordings of a local skiffle group that had previously been known as the Black Jacks, the Quarrymen, and Johnny and the Moondogs. Intrigued, Epstein paid a visit to the nearby Cavern Club, a smoky, cramped jazz cellar where the group played. There he discovered four scruffy, leather-jacketed toughs who were pounding out rowdy cover versions of the latest American hits popularized by Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas and Little Richard.

That band was the Beatles and the propitious meeting of Epstein and the fab four would change the world forever. What the local record store manager saw that most of the rest of world missed was a distinctive energy in their performance and an originality in their music that immediately connected with him. But what surprised him most of all was their wit and humor, which waffled out into the audience during musical breaks.

Epstein would clean up the band — cutting their hair, dressing them in suits and refining their stagecraft so that they suddenly appeared professional and clean-cut on stage. Within two years the Beatles were playing to standing-room-only crowds in England and were on their way to their first tour of America.

This is the apocryphal story that is part of show business legend and the eternal flame that draws all young performers into its almost irresistible orbit: the overnight rescue from the darkness of anonymity that leads to the hot white light of success.

But the reality of the music business is much harder and unforgiving. It can take 20 years for performers to become an overnight sensation — and that’s if they hit, at all. For many young musicians, the siren song of the music business can be nothing but an empty promise.

“Unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, it is very difficult to break into the business. There is no shortage of people who are willing to be unfair and take advantage of you,” said Brian Webb, the cello player in the musical group, Streetlight Cadence.

The four twentysomethings came together serendipitously through street fairs, musical auditions and campus concerts. Chaz Umamoto, 28, plays guitar, violin and ‘ukulele. Jesse Shiroma, 27, taught himself to play accordion after taking piano lessons in his youth. In addition to the 16-pound accordion that is strapped to his body throughout the band’s performances, Shiroma also plays a foot drum and a foot-controlled tambourine. Umamoto and Shiroma earned their bachelor’s degrees from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. Brian Webb, 26, plays the cello, which he only began studying at age 15. Jonathon Franklin, also 26, plays guitar, violin and ‘ukulele. Webb and Franklin earned their degrees at Hawai‘i Pacific University. Ironically, none of the four were music majors: Umamoto’s bachelor’s is in writing and public relations; Shiroma double-majored in history and German studies, part of his heritage; Webb graduated in sociology and Franklin earned his bachelor’s in entrepreneurial studies.

Their academic training has come in handy to some extent. “Our group has to do everything, from marketing, to recording, to scheduling, and doing it ourselves is 100 percent necessary because you have to maintain control of what you create, otherwise, you can be exploited,” said Webb in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Besides playing music, they all have band duties: Webb is responsible for bookings and events, music distribution and publishing and coordination for the group’s upcoming Japan tour. Franklin is responsible for Streetlight’s music recording and video production; Umamoto handles public relations; and Shiroma is in charge of their social media.

“You cannot wait around for someone to discover you, because that’s a fantasy and that’s never happened for us,” said Webb. “If you want to make progress, you have to make it happen for yourself.”

In 2009, Streetlight Cadence began playing for loose change and dollar bills from passersby on Kaläkaua Avenue near the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. They were also a regular presence on First Friday events, playing near Hawaii Theatre in Chinatown under the syncopation of the changing streetlights, offering a sound that was an improbable blend of folk, rock and Americana storytelling that some have tried to pigeonhole as alternative pop. But even that label does not fully capture the eclecticism of the group’s distinctive sound.

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