January 24, 2012 | By Jason Black

Photo: Courtesy Yoza

A strong distinct voice—all singers worth their salt must have one. Yoza (born Crystal Mieko Yoza) is no exception, speaking over the phone in her uncanny raspy tone. It’s no surprise: It’s an instrument she’s been cultivating her whole life.

Born and raised on O‘ahu, this exotic mix of Okinawan, Honduran and Maya Indian took to music at early age. Apparently, it’s in her blood—her whole family was in on the act. Dad played guitar. Mom played drums. Her brother played ‘ukulele.

At age 5, Yoza learned to play uke just like her brother. By 18, she’d moved on to strumming a guitar, and the following year, she’d graduated to writing her own music. By 23, she began regularly playing with Ho‘okahileo, a traditional and contemporary Hawaiian group that performed all over the Islands. Along the way, she longed for more, inspired by acoustic soul and Motown artists like Stevie Wonder, Eydie Gorme and India Arie. So she struck out on her own.

Currently, you can catch her classic soul, R&B, and Neo-Soul-inspired show at popular Waikiki venues such as the Hard Rock Cafe, Mai Tai Bar and Rum Fire. There’s also some talk of her playing gigs at the chic Modern Hotel Lobby Bar. So what can an audience expect from her nightly show? The unexpected.

“Honestly, my show is always different because I always play with different musicians,” she says. “But I enjoy playing a lot of original material and try to steer clear of local music as much as possible.”

Over the past few years, she’s noticed that the Waikiki musical landscape has dramatically changed. She believes that the scene is more accepting of contemporary musicians like her. “I used to have to cover up my tattoos and indulge audience requests for Hotel California,” she recalls. “Now, people are much more open to diversity and individualism, and I can pretty much play what I want.”

In addition to continuously gigging around town, she’s in the process of working on her debut solo album alongside Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning producer Shawn Pi-mental as well as Grammy nominee and Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning producer Michael Ruff. Then, once it’s done, she’ll be off to tour Europe. The future has a lot in store for this local island girl on the rise.

“Really, it’s a compilation of stuff that I’ve been working on since I was about 16 or 17. It’s 95 percent original music. But we really don’t have a genre for what we do,” she smirks.