Rule one about R&B island girl Yoza: Don’t call her Crystal. Of course, I immediately make this mistake. “Crystal?” I ask when I first meet her. “Crystal Yoza?”
Her face flushes with hues of red as she explains that it’s just Yoza now. “I don’t even like my first name,” she says. “I stopped using it three years ago.”
Ironically, crystal would be a plausible description of her appearance, because, by observing her noticeable tattoos, it is crystal-clear that this chick lives for music. The giant treble clef that cuts down her chest. The homage to Billie Holiday on her right forearm. The guitar that stretches down her spine. Yoza’s melodic addiction is painted all over her body, and she is quick to admit it, “Every tattoo I have on me is music, “she says. “It’s the thing I’m most passionate about.”
Yoza’s passion for the lyrical world began at age five, when she taught herself how to play her brother’s ukulele. Within a few years, she was a member of famed ukulele artist Roy Sakuma’s Super Keiki, a group of children uke players. At 12, Yoza conquered the saxophone (which later helped her achieve a full scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University). At 18, she took on the guitar, and by 23, she was playing with Ho’okahileo, a traditional Hawaiian group. But soon after, her desire to change tunes began to grow. “I love traditional Hawaiian music,” she explains. “I respect it. But that’s not what I want to do. And it’s not in my heart. Acoustic R&B and soul. That’s just what moves me.”
At first, Yoza wondered if her new sound would be accepted on the island. “With the tourism industry, everyone wants hear traditional Hawaiian music,” she says. “And I was sold on the idea that you have to play traditional Hawaiian music to pay the bills.”
So she did what most performers would do — she compromised. “I would just stick a little R&B in [the Hawaiian music.],” she explains. “And people started thinking it was cool.”
Today, Yoza is a full-force acoustic soul artist who is most commonly found on stage at Waikiki venues such as Jimmy Buffets at the Beachcomber and The Shack. Her rich, sultry vocals layered over her smooth, acoustic guitar strums serve listeners a goose-bump worthy batch of straight-up soul, and her sexy rasp recalls the sounds of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.
Yoza mixes up her sets with original pieces and R&B-twisted covers (ranging anywhere from Outkast to John Mayer) and her love of music radiates off of her whenever she’s on stage. “Music’s the best catharsis ever,” she says. “It can immediately put you in any emotional state. It can make you incredibly sad, or it can make you so super happy. It is something that does something to you that nothing else can.”
Soon, Yoza plans on bringing her love into the recording studio to make a full album of original songs. But what she will be doing after that, she is unsure.
“There is some sort of plan that God has,” she explains. “I just don’t know what it is yet. Until then, I’m just going to do the best I can.”
One thing is for sure — Yoza is going to be a musician until the day she dies. Because, according to her, she doesn’t have a choice. “[Music]’s all I can do. Seriously.” she says with a raspy laugh. “I’m a crappy waitress. I’m clumsy. I can’t do anything. Just music. I’m very limited.”
As long as she keeps on doing what she’s doing, music might be enough.