Stef Mariani: Staying Gold

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Fresh off the win for her 2018 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Alternative Album of the Year, Stay Gold, folk singer-songwriter Stef Mariani recently hosted a multi-media event at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona. It was part concert, part documentary debut, and an opportunity to find out what the message behind “Stay Gold” means to her and her audience.

Mariani began the evening with a 50-minute acoustic set accompanied by Pat Eskildsen on bass and Noa Eads on percussion. “I write about the different trials I have,” explained Marini as she opened her show. “They’re the moments in my life when I asked myself, ‘Am I going to become bitter, or better?’” Mariani has obviously chosen the latter and wants to help other people via the message in her songs.

Mariani was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, and now lives part-time between Oahu and Maui. As a true folk singer, she’s mastered the art of storytelling too. Part way into her set, she played “The Wave,” a track from a 2012 album released after her divorce. The song uses the surfing metaphor of being held underwater for what seems like a long time, “But the wave will spit you out and eventually let’s you go,” remarked Mariana, “and here I am.” She closed her set with a bright bouncy original tune called “Maui Song.”

Pat Eskildsen and Stef Mariani

After a brief intermission, Mariani return to the stage to debut the 18-minute documentary Stay Gold. In it she speaks about the difference of being proactive versus reactive. “I think the world has become reactive,” said Mariana, “and I think we give up our power when we do that.” The singer explained that her optimistic solution to combating negativity is exercising kindness every day, and making it a part of our life.

Mariani’s short film, told through home movies and current footage, is a retrospective on her life’s journey so far. In the beginning, it focuses partly on her mom, folk-singer Carolyn Haley-Murray, her brother, homeless now, and the first time she discovered Hawaiian music by digging through a record company’s trash.

Mariani’s music is influenced by her mother’s songs whose themes are positive and usually wrapped up a silver-lining ending. That in part is the cathartic message of the film Stay Gold: purge the bad, let in the good. It reminded me of singer Michael Franti’s catch phrase, “Stay Human.”

The film’s core reveals that Mariani’s close friend, who recently went through some rough times, was the inspiration to write “Stay Gold” about her. During an on-camera interview, Mariani tells her friend, “(The song) is about seeing yourself and how beautiful you are.” At that point, her friend breaks down in tears, but then realizes what a wonderful gift the song is.

The film’s journey ends with TV footage of Mariani at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano ceremony accepting an award for her album Stay Gold. As credits rolled, Mariana invited the crowd at Gertrude’s to express what “staying gold” means to them. Mariani’s summer tour continues to spread that message.


Watch the official “Stay Gold” music video.

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