Below is a 7:30 VIDEO of excerpts from a Vana Liya show at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A. It was the final set of her latest tour, with the latest incarnation of her band. “I’ve finally found my people,” she wrote on a recent Facebook post. “Everything seems right.” Dan Guzman, guitar, Logan Tyler, drums, Kenny Nishikawa, bass, and on violin Derrick—aka “Man of the Forests.”
It was a typically joyful Vana Liya set, complete with a goofy Dan Guzman mistake near the end that set the whole band laughing, especially drummer Logan Tyler, who was in Daniel’s last band (Light—The Band) and brought him over.
In “Island Style,” my first post on Vana Liya, I called her a “strong gentle,” whose music, like the best Hawai’ian, Caribbean, and other island musics often flows gently even while dealing with tough issues: loss, oppression, a redemption you need but is always just out of reach. Think anything by Bob Marley.
Look just under Vana Liya’s joy and you see her dealing with depression, addiction, relationship blindness. This night everyone was happy, glad to be going home, but the song that represented her gentle toughness best was her cover of “The Ballad of Johnny Butt,” a Secret Hate tune that the reggae-ska-punk band Sublime made popular. Sublime’s version is chunky and growling. I like its cynicism. In Vana Liya’s hands it flows, and her voice is beautiful, though she begins the chorus with a breathiness that conveys a hint of tiredness, perhaps a recognition of how difficult it is to overcome addiction. Overall, though, the joy remains, as does the prospect of overcoming. “We’ve got a brand new dance / It’s called we’ve got to overcome.” It was a beautiful evening.
Dan’s bluesy elegance coupled with Logan’s tough drumming bring out the strength and depth of Vana Liya’s writing and singing. Kenny Nishikawa is as joyful a musician as you’ll ever see. And as he adds sonic undertones and staccato highlights, Derrick also brings a quirkiness that rounds everything out. I’d say, yes, she’s found her people.
♦ Visit Vana Liya’s website and check out her videos all over the web, like her series for the Sugar Shack Sessions.
♦ Go Here for more of Dan Guzman’s music and projects, plus music by other family members.