Mojomana

One of music’s most important functions is enhancement of landscape. Part of the appeal of a record like, say, Getz/Gilberto lies in its ability to define a moment and become inseparable, at least in memory, from a physical setting. (Think early evening, Makena, champagne, Getz. Damn.) Some artists’ compositions just have an unquantifiable ability to invoke various types of scenery, some nameless force that pushes the music into another dimension. Haiku-based Mojomana does this without overdoing it. 

And they know how to party.

“I aim for infamy,” drummer Dan Minichiello tells me over an assortment of flavored cleaning products at a cafe in Paia. His first concert was Cream, he says, and he recalls a lethargic and bone-thin Ginger Baker mounting the stage, later coming alive for a 45-minute drum solo. Magic.

Singer/guitarist Melissa M., who writes most of their songs, says that she often breaks strings from playing too hard, from trying to convey the gestalt of whatever musical picture she has in mind.

It’s no wonder geography seems to play heavily into their sound: M. grew up in New Mexico and went to college and grad school in Flagstaff, AZ. She’s been on Maui for nearly a decade. Not a bad record as far as inspiring locales go.

M. employs chord progressions that are simple and pretty catchy, but often dramatic (with a few blues structures here and there), and lead guitarist Rodney K. overlays them with stretchy, psychedelic solos (I would like to stress here that they’re not quite a jam band). Bass and drums (furnished by Dino Segovis and Minichiello, respectively) give M.’s dreamy compositions a dance-inducing bounciness.

The band assembled in 2005, and debuted at an Iraq War veterans’ benefit concert. Now in a slightly different configuration, they gig a few times a month, and play at Eha’s this Saturday.

M. says Mojomana has gotten comparisons to the likes of the Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star. While bands with female vocalists tend to get compared to other girl-fronted bands simply by virtue of plumbing, these comparisons actually have merit. Here’s my comparison: The Velvet Underground plus The B52s, four hours into an acid bender in the desert.

They do surf versions of “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Tracks of my Tears” and a blues version of “Gin and Juice.” Lyrically, M. explores an array of physical and psychological landscapes. “A lot of it is really somewhat of a stream of consciousness,” she says.

M.’s vocal style is striking. She’s on the low end of mezzo-soprano with a breezy, slightly frail sound that never becomes nasal. She sometimes goes a little flat, but in a way that totally works; the way Liz Phair used to do before selling out.

So what about the name? M. says they came up with it while trying to describe what mana is to someone—kind of like mojo, but then again pretty different. It is at the intersection between mojo and mana where their music lies—music that is more conjured than crafted. MTW

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