Yamanoha also wanted to join the school band but couldn’t because he wasn’t able to read music at the time.
“I’ve always relied on my ear more than reading,” Yamanoha said. “I was taught by ear from my father, so it’s more natural for me to hear music in that way.”
Despite that, he learned to play the accordion and instruments that include the trumpet, banjo, piano, trombone, mandolin, upright bass and pump organ.
Yamanoha now works on music fulltime. He teaches music to make ends meet and often fills in when bands need an extra musician for a gig or recording.
He also is a member of The Crux, The Vivants, The Traveling Spectacular (a traveling circus-themed vaudeville musical experience) and is creator of Oddjob Ensemble, a project he conducts while he plays the accordion.
“This is what I want to do with my life, so why not do it all the time?” Yamanoha asked. “It’s what makes me the happiest and brings me the most joy.”
Despite his many musical projects, Yamanoha remains humble and often prefers to be thought of as “the Swiss army knife in the background,” an all-purpose player rather than the frontman. He takes inspiration from old session musicians — “The ones that are in all of the recordings and you hear them all the time but you don’t know who they are,” he said.
Josh Windmiller, frontman of The Crux and director of The North Bay Hootenanny, has known Yamanoha for nearly seven years. He said he doesn’t remember when Yamanoha officially joined the band.
“As far as I’m concerned, one day he wasn’t in The Crux and then the next day he was,” Windmiller said. “Working with Kalei began just as natural as starting to grow facial hair and losing hair as you get older, or something that’s just a natural process.”