Talent show winner to kick off StreetMusic series

Malia Kaneshige can't remember a time when she wasn't singing.

"I started to sing when I could talk," she said.

That wasn't too long ago.

Malia is an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Riverview Charter School.

Over the past two years, she's become quite the up-and-coming act in Beaufort and beyond. She won Beaufort's Best Hidden Talent competition last year and gets to be the lead act for the StreetMusic on Paris Avenue concert series, which starts Saturday in Port Royal.

She's found a little success at a young age, and now she and her parents are trying to figure what to make of it.

Malia started singing in public at age 9, performing mostly at local festivals.

She's won singing competitions at the Yemassee Shrimp Festival and Beaufort Water Festival.

She had only been taking vocal lessons for a year when she entered Beaufort's Best Hidden Talent, a local variation of "American Idol." She bowled over the crowd with renditions of Maria Carey and Whitney Houston songs, beating out competitors much older than she.

"It's nice and humbling when people come to hear your child sing," said her father, Mike. "When people who are in that industry started to come to us to say she had talent, that got our attention."

She's started traveling greater distances to perform, recently going up to Myrtle Beach for a talent contest. She's met with a producer in Savannah to seek guidance on the next step in her musical career.

But her parents don't want to make those steps too quickly. Mike and Taylor Kaneshige are not aiming to become stage parents.

"We try to keep her grounded," Mike said. "It's more about fun. It's about being a kid."

They don't want to push her toward a music career at a young age, rather letting Malia decide how much she wants to sing. And Malia is more than willing to push herself. Most nights after school she settles in for an hour or more of homework, then starts to sing, whether that's private lessons or reviewing her set for the upcoming concert in Port Royal. She's planning a repertoire of about 19 songs, not so hard to accomplish considering at anytime she can sing about 50 tunes from memory.

She's practicing with a band behind her called Generation Gap. The group has performed at arts fundraisers and other small concerts in the Beaufort area over the past year and a half, said band member J.W. Rone, who also serves as ARTworks executive director.

Malia and the group came together after she won Beaufort's Best Hidden Talent. She needed a backing band to perform for the StreetMusic festival and the fit seemed right, as several of the members knew Malia.

When Malia came on board, it truly did present a bit a of a generation gap. The band members are well into adulthood and were used to playing blues and classic rock. But Malia drew from pop and R&B. They compromised and found material to which both could relate. They plan to open their set with Malia with a cover of the classic "Rockin' Robin."

Although she's not used to playing with a live band, she has fit in quickly, even enduring the long rehearsals, members said.

"She's a very talented individual," Rone said. "It's started to become like one big family."