HONOLULU, HI – Taumei “Big John” Akapo is a presence in Hawaii, not just in his physical stature, but in the commanding nature of his soulful blues voice and ringing guitar playing that have enthralled residents and visitors to the Islands for decades. With the release of his debut CD, Paradise Blues, on October 19 from Mensch House Records, listeners from around the globe will get to experience what all the excitement is about.
Watch a video of John performing “Caramac Blues,” a track off the new CD, at the Honolulu BBQ Festival here:
Paradise Blues showcases John Akapo at his very best, with 10 songs that mix both his love of Delta blues and his American Samoan DNA for a blend unlike any other performer in contemporary blues/roots music. Produced by Akapo, the 10 tracks on his new disc include seven originals, as well as his own unique take on songs from some of his mentors, such as Robert Johnson (“Ramblin’ on My Mind”), Muddy Waters (“I Can’t Be Satisfied”) and Tommy Johnson (“Big Road Blues”).
John Akapo is a nomad who followed the music: from his early days as a kid growing up in Alaska, where he fell in love with the guitar, to his youth spent in American Samoa singing acapella and learning how to loop, John Akapo has been magnetically connected to a path of musical discovery.
John’s family heritage runs deep into the music. As a kid, John was constantly surrounded by music and his uncles were touring musicians who played guitar. His parents had watched family members succumb to addiction from the rock-and-roll lifestyle, so they did their best to keep John and his brothers away from the same pitfalls.
“My parents were firmly against the idea of me taking up the guitar,” John says. “I would have to hide my interest in singing and especially playing the guitar. I looked to my brother’s friend for guitar lessons and quietly dove into a wormhole of music that I have never climbed back out of. I would learn to play songs from watching VHS tapes or whatever I could get my hands on. That was how I discovered Eric Clapton performing his MTV Unplugged set and my whole world changed. I was still too young to have known who he was or that he was even part of the British revival of the Blues. All I knew was I wanted more.”
John immersed himself into the origins of the blues and never looked back. Taking a cue from the legends like Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King, he began to explore and absorb as much as he could from recordings, movies, books and magazines. Blues had become his solace.
Recording his own original works, John began a professional career as a luau musician, bandleader, solo entertainer, and more recently, a hip-hop producer and vocalist for 13 years. When he sits down to write music, he always ends up with a blues song. It’s only fitting that he has finally decided to release his first album, Paradise Blues, as a blues artist bringing him right back home.
“I think my music is like a tree rooted in traditional blues but sprinkled with Pacific salt water,” John explains. “I’m merely telling a story of where I’m from, and how I got here, set to a mellow acoustic blues soundtrack. I play the blues because it feels familiar to me. I feel a connection to the story behind the blues and I’m just trying to continue the story from another perspective. Give me a try and see if I can’t make you feel good about being blue.”
Akapo’s eclectic style has won over fans across the globe, including the likes of comedians J. Anthony Brown and Russell Peters, who sang John’s praises on his Instagram feed.
On his musical journey, John Akapo never turned his back on his Samoan heritage or his Hawaiian roots, and his experiences on the Islands have helped shape him as a person, as well as a guitarist. John embodies the spirit, beauty, sadness, and struggle of the Islands with every guitar lick.
“The blues fans that have seen me play, appreciate the fact that I’m from Hawaii, yet I make them feel like they’re at home in the mainland,” he summarizes. “The blues is at home here in the Islands, and it’s nothing new. I think the entire blues scene could use some of this Paradise Blues.”