The Singer and The Farm
Whether herding animals on her Waialua property or drawing crowds to another sold-out performance, veteran entertainer Ginai always finds ways to shine.
It started with a single horse — a birthday gift from her husband a decade ago — and the search for a home where the steed could roam.
But even though mononymous singer Ginai would eventually find the right spot, a 5-acre parcel in Waialua, O‘ahu, she knew she could never limit the number of animals on her land to just one.
So, the pet lover gave in to her nature and the single horse soon welcomed three more horses. Next came sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and pigs, too. Then, she allowed honeybee colonies to be formed there, and wild peacocks (the only uninvited guests) to roost on a ficus tree that bordered her leased property.
Even an old jack covered in sores ultimately cantered his way onto the site. She’s since given him the name Don Juan de DonKee because “he’s very loving and sweet with the kids.”
“Animals just seem to find me,” says the veteran entertainer, whose herd includes a kitten and three dogs. (“Two are good with the animals — the other one is not so good.
He tries to eat the ducks and he’ll chase the donkey!”)
“One of our former neighbors had abandoned a ram and a ewe, so we picked them up and brought them to our farm and the next thing I know, they’re making babies!”
Ginai admits to adoring the little ones, but acknowledges the entire lot hasn’t been shy about running roughshod over her sod.
“I’ve now got a herd, and I can’t stop them. I don’t have enough grass!” she says with a chuckle.
Nor does she have the heart to turn away feathered friends in need of a new abode.
When a neighbor passed away unexpectedly and his daughter asked if the songstress could take the family’s 12 chickens with her, she chirped in agreement.
“We had to build a chicken coop and reinforce it with a crazy amount of chicken wire because the mongoose around here are hungry. They want the eggs and if the eggs aren’t there, they’ll take the chicken,” explains Ginai.
“The chicken coop is the size of a garage — I mean you can park your car in it … it’s that big.”
Additionally, when she discovered several abandoned ducks at a nearby trailhead, she quickly scooped them up and honked her way back to the property she whimsically refers to as “Peacock in a Ficus Tree Farm.”
“We’re now constructing a duck pond for them and soon we’ll have an enclosure around it,” she says proudly.
Life on the farm certainly has its pluses, according to Ginai. For example, her honeybee population actually belongs to a couple of beekeepers who requested room to cultivate their colonies. In return, they promised to pay her in, well, syrupy sweetness.
“The deal is we get a 5-gallon bucket of honey every now and then,” explains Ginai. “So, every Christmas, we simply give away jars of honey to people.”
But managing livestock has its disappointments and adversities as well. The biggest tragedy occurred when a pack of wild dogs descended from the nearby Wai‘anae Range and slaughtered some of the farm’s occupants. The culprits were never caught, and the fact that they’re still roaming the mountains hasn’t eased the concerns of this shepherd of animals.
“I’ve been worried for my horses for so long,” Ginai confesses. “I sleep by my little enclosed campfire just listening to the sounds of the dogs, because I have incredible ears and I can hear them in the distance bouncing off the valley walls and everything.”
Despite the unexpected culling of the herd, Ginai and her family continue to maintain the farm as best they can, even with the ever-present challenges of dealing with soaring food costs and supply shortages.
“This was a particularly brutal summer with the cost of buying supplemental feed, plus the 30% rise in shipping and other issues. So, it’s been breaking the piggy bank trying to find ways to feed all the animals,” she sighs.
“But it’s OK. I don’t trip about stuff like that because Ke Akua provides. It’s just how it works. You put out, get back.”
It may be surprising to some that this longtime performer is just as comfortable standing before audiences and sparkling in sequined dresses as she is gathering chickens under her wings while glistening in sweat and sporting overalls. But the thing about Ginai is that she knows how to straddle both the urban and the rural quite well.
“I’m a glamour puss! I’ve got three closets worth of clothes and shoes,” she admits. “But, I’m also a country girl. I don’t have a problem putting on rubber boots or cowboy boots, or getting all muddy and dirty and having my hair be a sweaty mess.”
Born in Chicago but raised in Mā‘ili, Ginai was taught by her mother at an early age to put in an honest day’s work and to embrace her diverse ethnic heritage of Hawaiian, African American, Native American, Scottish, Irish and French. But the greatest emphasis was placed on the importance of living by the Golden Rule.
“My mother always brought us up with the lesson of giving, of doing unto those as you would have done unto you,” she recalls. “We watched our mother help everyone, from friends to family to complete strangers, so we had an example set for us early in our lives.”
Beyond her obvious love for animals and desire to shelter them, the singer remains committed to blessing the lives of people as well. In the last decade, she’s not only served as a foster parent to her sister’s daughters and a cousin’s five children, but also as guardian of an elderly man from the Valley Isle.
In explaining how she first crossed paths with Izuo Yamazaki, Ginai recalls performing with Willie K at Maui Memorial Medical Center a few years back and noticing an emotionally distraught man crouched in the corner of the hospital.
“When I inquired about him, the staff said that he needed a guardian, someone to take charge of him because he gets bounced around a lot by care homes, and that there’s a little bit of dementia also going on.
“So, I volunteered to take guardianship of him.”
Once Yamazaki was on O‘ahu, Ginai found a place for him at a care home. Then, to form bonds between him and her ‘ohana, she’d pick him up on a regular basis so that he could participate in family activities.
Unfortunately, Yamazaki was diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few months after their friendship began. Immediately, Ginai cleared out her home office, had a hospital bed installed and sought onsite nursing care so that he could spend his remaining days among loved ones.
“Before he died, he told me, ‘Ginai-san, you take my ashes … I like go swimming with the fishes,’” she recalls. “When he passed, I had him cremated and flew his remains to Maui.”
Pausing briefly to remember her time with the man she fondly calls “Yama,” and reflecting upon the lesson taught to her so many years ago by her mother, an emotional Ginai begins to tear up. There isn’t a day that goes by in which she doesn’t think of him.
“He was a troubled and lonely man … and he fought his care home operators all the time, but I loved him till he moved on. He needed us, and we were there for him.
“I like to think that I treated him the way that I would want to be treated.” she says.
Fans of Ginai have been treated to her melodious and powerful voice ever since she was a teenager. In the seventh grade, she captured a talent contest by singing Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. By 16, she joined a group that toured military bases (her father was in the U.S.Army) and performed ’50s music covers. Following high school graduation, she landed in the Bay Area where she played with a nine-piece funk band called Mo Dog.
After returning to the islands, she found success with local swing band Hula Joe & The Hut Jumpers and Hot Club of Hulaville, and captured both Hawaiian Music and Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards along the way. In recent years, she’s turned into more of a jack-of-all-trades type of musician despite being defined as a jazz and R&B singer for much of her career.
“When I’m with (bands) Kailua Bay Buddies and Funk-A-holics, I’m playing rock, funk and soul,” explains Ginai, who was a regular performer at Blue Note Hawai‘i from 2017 to 2019. “So in a sense, I’ve expanded as a singer, as a performer, as a musician … I’ve been freed, I’ve been allowed to fly.
“I don’t want to be in a box,” she continues. “You can no longer define me other than to say that I’m the cream of the crop at whatever I do. I’m not trying to toot my horn, but I’m really good at a lot of stuff.”
Music lovers can still catch her live with Funk-A-holics every fourth Thursday of the month at Tapa Bar at Hilton Hawaiian Village. She also plays a monthly gig with Hawaiian Soul at the same venue. And, to help ring in the new year, she’s teaming up with Kailua Bay Buddies for three performances at Shorefyre in Waikīkī. The dates are Dec. 30, 31 and Jan. 1, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Those who prefer catching her performances on social media regularly visit her Instagram account, @dginai. There, she streams live shows from Peacock in a Ficus Tree Farm, where she sings and bangs on the bongos while being accompanied by keyboardist Alan Okuye.
In many ways, Ginai has finally hit the high notes in her life. She has her farm, her family and a thriving music career. More importantly, she still has a lot of love to give to all creatures — whether they roam about on two legs or four.
“My life is not centered around making money,” she states. “My life is centered around making joy and happiness for animals, for people, for audiences.”
And you can bet the farm that that’s a life worth living.