Since his early teens, Curtis Kamiya has had the kind of clarity of purpose that many people dream of. “I’m obsessed with music in general — listening to it, playing it, seeing it live, etc.,” says Kamiya, who has known since around the seventh grade that music would be his life’s calling.
With a father who plays guitar and a mother who sings, as well as a curriculum at Punahou School that provided outlets for creative study, Kamiya was on his way. He pursued music and theater at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, where he met his future wife, Annie, when they were cast as love interests in an Anton Chekhov play.
Today the couple co-owns Curtis Kamiya Music LLC, a Kaka‘ako-based business where Kamiya teaches private lessons in guitar, voice and ‘ukulele to people of all ages and skill levels. His clients range from retirees who are excited to now have the time to learn about music, students wanting to compile an audition tape for arts school, and Miss Hawai‘i contestants. “I got a bunch of people come in and they just want to be better at karaoke,” he says. “They go with their friends every other week and they say: ‘I just want to sound better. I sound so bad.’ ”
Music can have kind of a magical quality for those who don’t consider themselves musically inclined, Kamiya says. “When I get a chance to teach people who are brand new to music, it’s like I’m giving somebody this special, secret gift,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a wonderful feeling because people realize it’s a learned skill like anything else. It’s like playing tennis. You take a little time and invest in it and you can do it. The feeling you get from it is wonderful, amazing. I feel very privileged to be able to introduce people to that, to get in touch with that feeling.” Kamiya and Annie, a singer and percussionist who also handles the sales and administrative side of the business, can be seen performing with their band, Mango Season, at weddings, birthday parties, corporate events and ticketed shows. The seven-piece band plays jazz, soul and funk along the lines of Earth,Wind & Fire, Chicago and Steely Dan. Mango Season released its second CD, “Point Panic,” in 2017. “That’s all original music,” says Kamiya, music director.
Twice a year, the couple marries their performing and teaching businesses by inviting students of Kamiya’s to perform with Mango Season at Hard Rock Cafe in Waikīkī. “It’s super fun,” he says. “The students get kind of a rock star moment. … We play whatever the student is interested in — Hawaiian or jazz or country, sometimes it’s loud rock ‘n’ roll. And they get a chance to see what it feels like to play with a real pro group. It’s a real treat for them and for me.”