Youssoupha Sidibe & Ok2Change Prove Your Heart Is Where It's At in Hilo, Hawai'i

By: Moriel O'Connor

Hilo is a city like no other. It's chill. Most people stroll around in no type of hurry. It’s vibrant. The downtown blocks are filled with tropical street art and rusted red roofs. On the weekends, the neon lights shine as music rings with the rain. Last Saturday, there was a flash flood warning and noone was phased. I was out watching the clouds drizzle into ripples on the asphalt.

Why did I cross the road? To get from the kava bar to the tea room. Walking into Perfect Harmony, I saw tall golden walls, red beams and circles of friends. Auntie Nancy, a wise woman with 14 children, poured tea into my cup as we listened to Ok2Change play live.



Ok2Change is a three piece folk-hop band based out of Pahoa, Hawai’i.  Lead vocalist, Imani Gentry-Faust has a soulfully sublime sound that is electrifying and unforgettable. Jay Lara also shares his voice, supporting the story of each song. He plays the guitar because what is a folk band without an acoustic guitar? Completing the trio is Matthew Jordan, a humble vocal percussionist who makes more sounds with his mouth than a drum kit ever could.

They share their songs to inspire others and are constantly reminding us it’s okay to change. Playing anywhere from farmer’s markets to museums, OK2Change is well known in Hawai'i. They also visit the mainland to support acts such as Boulder-based Amber Lily and Tubby Love.

Youssoupha Sidibe.

Youssoupha Sidibe.

After the tea party, the music went on down the road at Hilo Shala.  International Kora (African Harp) player, Youssoupha Sidibe, came to town to share his message. He believes music is the most intimate thing we can share, and he orchestrates musical intimacy with each crowd he meets. Youssoupha encouraged everyone to open their hearts and sing along to his Senegalese chants as he played the kora. In between songs, he spoke of unity and love. I wrote down some of his wisdom to share:

“We all gon’ get together and sing together. That is our salvation.”

“We sing to be in tune with the universe. Sound is the best portal to take you there.”

“A house is nothing but some bricks, maybe some wood. You not gon’ take it with you. Share what you have.”

“Your heart. That’s where it’s at.”

He’s right. Your heart is where it’s at. The evening was a reminder to stay true to love, and to take time to sip tea and sing in unison. It can get plush inside of our boxes: walls up, doors locked, windows shut and all. Still, we all have to get out of bed and do something. When we choose to circle together, we are the change.

Listen to Youssoupha's music here to tune into the love. You can listen to Ok2Change on Spotify or find them at Project Earth this summer.


All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.