Lei It On

Hawaiian musician Paula Fuga is excited both for her return to Monterey County and to share the bill with singer-songwriter John Cruz.

Dubbed “Our Mission: Party!” the Sunset Center’s seventh annual fundraiser this weekend brings a Hawaiian island theme in food, drink and music.

Musically – more important in these pages than the other staples – the event will feature an appearance by guitarist John Cruz and a headline gig by Hawaiian singer and cultural ambassador Paula Fuga.

The concert marks a reprise at the Sunset Center for Honolulu-based Fuga, who wowed audiencemembers in a heart-rending performance last November in the center’s intimate Studio 105 space downstairs. “You could hear a pin drop in there last time,” Fuga says. “The audience was so attentive. I can’t wait to return there.”

Fuga’s style is eclectic, fusing traditional Hawaiian ukulele and lush vocal harmonies with her own brand of reggae-blues-gospel fusion, in chords, lyrics and melodies. She also shows a penchant for emotionally direct, assertive love songs. She was once told that her mom was singing the 1963 Paul & Paula hit “Hey Paula” on the way to the hospital in labor with her. “Maybe that’s why I love love songs so much,” Fuga says.

But her life has not been all sweetness and light, especially early on. “My life then was all drama,” she says. “And that’s where my blues leanings come from. The blues are born from sorrow.”

She exudes soul over reggae chords and rhythms, and in the end it is her crystal-clear, consuming alto voice, brimming with gooseflesh gospel passion and Marley-esque island reggae positivity for lyrics.

“Songwriting is different every time,” Fuga says. “It comes out of the sky.”

She is excited to be on the bill with Cruz. “John is one of Hawaii’s most respected musicians and singer-songwriters,” Fuga says. “He’s legendary in the islands.”

The soiree offers two levels of premium ticketing, along with a basic concert-only option starting at $50. “This gala is our biggest event of the year,” says Christine Sandin, Sunset Center’s executive and artistic director. She adds that this annual gala has been moved to the fall; its former springtime slot is now used to announce the upcoming season.

This year’s plans include a pre-show “Promenade Party” with island-style hors d’oeuvres with wine, beer and signature tropical cocktails, and hula dancing – all of this together with a meet-and-greet opportunity with the musical artists and access to a post-show after-party.

SUNSET CENTER GALA with PAULA FUGA 6:30pm Saturday, Sept. 7. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $50-$300. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org

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