By Léo Azambuja

Daphne Sanchez at Kilohana Plantation in Puhi. Photo by Léo Azambuja

A young local artist teamed up with a seasoned music writer and producer to release an album they expect will bring unity and hope to the world during these hard times of COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are one world, we are every nation,

We’re praying for our lives, we’re fighting for survival,

We are the future, hope for tomorrow,

Together as one, we can heal the world,” Daphne Sanchez sings in the chorus of “We Are One World,” released in November as a single for the namesake album hitting online platforms and local markets this month.

The six-track “We Are One World” album is about inspiring people to have hope through music, an universal language that everyone relates to, the 29-year-old musician from Kaua‘i said.

Earlier this year, when lockdowns and curfews went into effect to slow down the spread of COVID-19 virus, Art Umezu got his creative juices flowing, and started writing and composing new songs, with Sanchez in mind as the singer. They’ve known each other since Sanchez was 15 years old, and have collaborated in various music projects and shows on Kaua‘i and in Japan.

Daphne Sanchez at Kilohana Plantation in Puhi. Photo by Léo Azambuja

“Art was saying he was writing music, and knowing him, I was like, ‘Oh God, here we go,’” jokes Sanchez, adding the new album is basically where our lives are right now, people getting sick, losing loved ones and having to cope with it. She said she is always willing to say anything that has a good message, so when Art contacted her, she agreed because the tracks have to do with hope. “I’m just making sure that everybody gets the message out there to stay strong.”

The main song, “We Are One World,” begins with a bone-chilling pule, or prayer, in Hawaiian language by Chucky Boy Chock, a long-time musician also known as a champion of local culture — he’s the executive director of Kaua‘i Museum. Despite touching a dark topic, the music and the lyrics, together with Sanchez’s incredible range of notes, is uplifting from the very beginning. The song is dedicated to front-line health workers, and is also a memorial to those who lost their lives to COVID-19.

The songs in the album are mostly ballads, Sanchez said, and some of them sound “pretty jazzy,” with a Broadway feel to it.

Daphne Sanchez performing at Spa Resort Hawaiians in Japan before 1,500 people in 2009. Contributed photo

Umezu wrote the songs while keeping in mind Sanchez is a Broadway singer — she performed at the South Pacific musical on Kaua‘i for more than 10 years.

“I love musicals,” said the Class of 2009 Kapa‘a High School graduate.

The album’s fifth track, “There’s No Place Like New York,” is a “jazzy” song that Umezu wrote for a few reasons. For once, he wanted to challenge Sanchez to sing jazz. But it was also a tribute to New York, which got hit hard by the pandemic. Umezu wants this song to inspire their residents to build confidence in their recovery, and also for them to know that we are here thinking of them to make sure they will get back on their feet.

“Everybody should at least go there once; for the glamour, the glitz, the fashion, the culture, the history, everything,” Umezu said of New York, adding their residents might be perceived as “the rudest people in the whole world,” but when he was there, he wore an aloha shirt and people really warmed up to him, just for being from Hawai‘i.

Daphne Sanchez presented New York actor Ben Stiller with a lei she crafted when he was filming ‘Tropic Thunder’ on Kaua‘i in 2007. Contributed photo

The song has also a special meaning for Umezu, who worked for 17 years as a film commissioner for the County of Kaua‘i. In 2007, Bronx native Ben Stiller filmed “Tropic Thunder” on the island. Stiller would buy property on the North Shore and become a part-time island resident. Sanchez shared a picture with Stiller, where she crafted a lei especially for the New York actor. So, “There’s No Place Like New York” is dedicated to Stiller.

Other songs in the album include “Everybody Wear A Mask,” “I Pray For You,” “I’m Missing You,” and “Color The World With Love” (dedicated to the children of the world).

This is Sanchez’s second album. In 2010, she released the “Angel On My Shoulder” CD, which is now out of print.

“I love singing. I love music. I love being involved with it. I love to be surrounded by it,” she said.

As a young child, Sanchez liked to jump around her house, dance and lip sing. When she was 12 years old, her mother took her to voice lessons for the first time. At that time, Sanchez wasn’t too happy about it, but today she thanks her mother.

Daphne Sanchez. Contributed photo

“For six years, I took voice lessons. The first few months it was like torture, because I was a kid,” she says, laughing. But she also said it the lessons were good for her. “My mom totally saw that, so she just kept bringing me to voice lessons. It was only 30 minutes to an hour long, so it wasn’t that bad. It totally paid off because my voice teacher was the person who really taught me how to sing in a healthy way, to perform, to entertain, to tell the story.”

Now, when Sanchez sings, she said, she’s not just worried about hitting the right notes or words. She prefers to sing songs with good messages, with a meaning that people can relate to, she said.

Sanchez’s resumé is quite extensive, starting when she was a young teen. Besides recording two albums and performing for a decade in the South Pacific musical, she has sung in countless charity and community events. She performed — and won — singing competitions as a teenager. In 2006, she performed at the reelection celebration for the late Mayor Brian Baptiste. In 2008, she recorded the song “Together We Can,” with Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and singer Chico Edralin. That same year, she went to Japan for the first time to perform for thousands of people, and would return every summer for many years. From 2009 to 2014, she hosted “The Jam Room” at Kukui Grove Center, a weekly free youth music venue. In 2011, she teamed up with Christine Valenzuela-Calzado to record “Watching Over You,” for the victims of a typhoon in the Phillipines . In the last four years, she joined the Greenstone Project, the island’s top convention band. Somehow, she even found time to be crowned Miss Island Mokihana in 2010.

Daphne Sanchez performing at Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Contributed photo

Some of her main influences come from country singers such as Shania Twain, Leann Rimes and Sara Evans, and pop singers Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston.

“And then I really love ballads, because of course, I’m Filipino. I don’t know if you know that, Filipinos love their ballads. You go to a karaoke party, they always have karaoke,” said Sanchez, laughing.

She said she will always be involved with music. One of her goals is to write her own music. The young artist hasn’t lost her modesty or her sense of being grounded — despite having the talent to be a big star, she says she’s happy with where she is musically.

She still wants to travel and check out other music scenes.

“I’d be totally okay with singing in some lounge somewhere,” Sanchez said. “I’d be happy with that, you know, be surrounded by people that have kind of that same goal and just put music out there.”

Daphne Sanchez hosted The Jam Room at Kukui Grove Center from 2009 to 2014. Contributed photo

Keep an eye — and both ears — open for the upcoming “We Are One World” album to be released mid-December across music platforms. The CD should also become available soon at selected locations around the island.

The album is being released under the label Music of Kaua‘i. It was recorded at MIRAI studio and at the Sheration Kaua‘i Resort at Coconut Plantation. Umezu produced and composed all the songs. Alberto “Berto” Genovia and Percy Sanchez were the engineers, and Ronnie Esteban did the music programming, except for “I’m Missing You,” by Bryan Kessler.

For the future, during these uncertain times of COVID-19, as Sanchez sings in the title track, “tomorrow will be a brighter day, together we’ll save this world for you and me.”

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