Jesus Villafranco Perez
As a member of several jazz combos and bands, Brandon Kinalele is known throughout the City College music department as nice, talented and accomplished, but music was not always an option for the 26-year-old.
It wasn’t until age 15 that Kinalele picked up his brother’s old guitar for the first time, it was love at first note.
“I didn’t even know I was a musician till then,” Kinalele said. “Just playing and hearing these different sounds was so special.”
Kinalele has played ever since.
The guitarist was born in Fresno but spent most of his childhood living with his mother in Mariposa.
“It’s a one-street town, really small,” Kinalele said. “Athletics was big there and I played football and basketball most of my childhood.”
Because of this, music was not scholastically acknowledged.
Growing up, Kinalele would listen to “expressive artists” like Ray Charles, Jack Johnson, and Eminem.
Although music was his passion, he did not see it as a reasonable path to take.
Kinalele first came to City College to play football with plans to one day start his own business.
It was on a fluke that he signed up for a vocal class in 2016.
Immediately, he fell in love.
“He’s a talented dude,” said City College jazz drummer Aeron Price. “He was always able to learn songs super fast.”
Kinalele started to submerge himself in the school’s music program and quickly joined bands and started rehearsing in jazz combos.
“He came in 2017 with no ensemble experience,” said Eric Heidner, director of City College’s Good Times Big Band. “He’s improved in every aspect of his instrument.”
Kinalele admitted to not knowing how to read music when he first came to City College.
He joined the Applied Music Program and became a member of numerous jazz combos.
Then, In the spring of 2018 Kinalele developed elbow tetanus.
He was forced to drop out of the department and stop playing guitar.
“Just putting my hand in a chord shape felt painful,” Kinalele said. “For three months I had some dark thoughts… I thought I’d never play again.”
Kinalele eventually learned stretches to relieve his elbow pain.
Soon after, Kinalele was offered a job at a fundraiser for El Montecito Early School.
Here Kinalele was introduced to Suzy Debreski, Early School’s director.
Debreski offered him a job teaching basic music to three- and four-year-olds. He’s been there ever since.
“I think of them as my own,” Kinalele said with a laugh. “I love learning with them.”
He returned to City College’s Music Department in the Fall of 2018.
Kinalele’s currently a member of a jazz combo and Good Times band.
“When I’m playing music, that’s when I’m living,” Kinalele said. “That’s what I love doing.”