Sunday, August 19, 2018

Don't You Listen?: A Profile of Tona Walt Ohama (Part 5)

Part 5 — Conclusion

Bongo Jazz drops by Teatro to meet Ohama for a second interview, this one over lunch. He’s now a bookkeeper for the Teatro Restaurant Group; the dishwashing gig proving too physically taxing after nine years. He isn’t the same 21-year-old Ohama who, 37 years ago, managed to juggle working on the family potato farm and launching a recording career.

“I heard that time waits for no man,” Ohama once sang in My Time – and at the Arts Common reception, he became emotional seeing family and friends who’ve crossed his path over his 58 years. 

There was Mia, who Ohama started dating in 2007. 

“For a couple of people who never wanted to get married, we’re both so happy to be married to each other,” he says.

There were his sisters: Shoko, Tonianne and Natsuko.

There was Tona Michael, now 25. His son chose the reception to tell family he got engaged. 

“Such a night!” Ohama says.

And there were Bruce Toll, whose records sent Ohama’s life veering in a new direction; and Doug Wong, filming Ohama’s emotionally charged comments at the reception.

But, of course, some important people could not attend.

Ohama’s mother died 20 years ago; his father a few years later. 

In recent years, he has also dealt with the passing of close friends and contemporaries, including One Yellow Rabbit co-founder Michael Green and musician Richard McDowell, who helped open Ten Foot Henry’s. 

A Moment Of Quiet Reflection In Downtown Calgary is dedicated to both men.

“Their deaths affected me deeply, and contributed to my desire to document my work and complete my music catalogue before it is too late,” Ohama says. “Time is short for all of us. Their deaths were a shock and a wakeup call to me.”

Tona Ohama with his
wife Mia.
So Ohama is now looking ahead. He and Mia are planning a move to the East Village. And he’s keeping under wraps details of a new vocal album and a new ambient piece, both due in 2020.

“There’s not a lot of money here and there never will be,” Ohama says. “What I want is enough to continue making records.” 

And with many of his catalogue albums available as digital downloads and for streaming, one can’t help but wonder if new audiences will discover Ohama’s music years, maybe decades, down the road. 

Marcenko, for one, wouldn’t be surprised.

“Walt was just ahead of his time,” he says. “True pioneers, a lot of them don’t necessarily get the respect they deserve until years later. Then people go, ‘Oh, wow, we kind of dropped the ball on that one.’ ”

Peter Goodwin and Liz Janik are pleased to hear Ohama remains active on his terms.

“He didn’t need a record label to package him,” Goodwin says. “If he went to a major label …”

“… they would have neutered him,” says Janik.

“He just oozed creativity,” Goodwin continues. “How could you ignore someone like that?”

“Tona,” adds Doug Wong, “is always going to be unique and surprising and very creative. He’s always looking at the next horizon. 

“What amazes me about him is the fact he has been able to accomplish all of these things from where he started out. It doesn’t matter where you’re born, how small the town is. If you have this creative spirit in you, you can do good things. 

“Do amazing things.”

Wong pauses. Smiles.

“I’m glad he’s still here.”

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