Our look at some of the latest eclectic releases in Hawaiian music
December 01, 2005
For the ignorant masses, Hawaiian music conjures images of Braddah Iz, shirtless beach boys strumming 'ukulele and Don Ho appearing in that Brady Bunch episode in Hawai'i where Vincent Price lived in a cave with a tiki. That there's so much more to Hawaiian music almost goes without saying.
The music of Hawai'i has always been an integral part of the culture, from ancient chanting and ipu rhythms to modern fusions of rap, reggae and rock with slack key, or instrumental jazz renditions of standard Hawaiian classics. Whatever sub-genre "Hawaiian" incorporates, it's a soulful music lyrically rooted in the language, nature, family, history and even food of the islands.
As proof, here's a quick look at some of the Hawaiian music CDs that have floated through our office recently. Kani ka pila!
HOWARD AHIA BAND
IT'S KILLING ME
Passionate, edgy and melodic, the Howard Ahia Band's latest CD rocks in a not-so-typical Hawaiian fashion. Howard Ahia is an accomplished guitarist and vocalist in one of Maui's hardest working musical families, known mostly for island jazz and traditional Hawaiian tunes. But Ahia's sound is distinctly his own—it would be deceptive to call it "Hawaiian" and is a strong example of how truly eclectic Hawaiian music can be. It's Killing Me is an infectious album that would get much airtime on mainland college rock stations, evident especially in unforgettable tracks like "Birthday Song" and "Fly Away." (SC)
THE DON HO SHOW!
This is a single-disc re-release of Don Ho's first two albums, The Don Ho Show! and Don Ho—Again!, both full of his signature hapa haole music and recorded live at Duke Kahanamoku's in Honolulu in the mid-1960s, where he was billed as "the biggest thing from Hawai'i since sliced pineapple." Listen for a few minutes, and you'll swear you're transported back to old Waikiki, or perhaps even a Hawaii Five-O episode. There's three—three!—renditions of "Night Life," which many Don Ho fans consider the story of his life. Don't look for "Tiny Bubbles," but there is "Suck 'Em Up," in which Ho calls on his tourist audiences to drink a lot. The album includes Ho's covers of "La Bamba" and "Hang on Sloopy," which are what they are. (AP)
With 18 years between this release and their last one, Na Pali has had some time to reflect on their lives and synthesize their memories into a sometimes heavy but always polished sound. The Hawaiian steel guitar stands out on many tracks. The artists give tribute to so many Hawaiian ways in their music; it's lovely to see new musicians carrying on traditions rooted in Hawaiian culture. In track nine by Carlos Andrade, the Ha'ena Ahupua'a in North Kauai is celebrated in song, preserving traditional Hawaiian names and stories within it. Carlos also gives ancient navigators and their companions, the stars, tribute in "The Navigator's Lullaby." Pancho Graham and Pat Cockett come through with their love songs and memories in sweet Hawaiian melodies. The wisdom of the times for the band reverberates in Andrade's song "Inu i ka Wai 'Awa 'awa," with translated vocals "Cry! Homeland/ Cry for Hawai'i, drink the bitter waters/ there is no retreat." These sometimes somber but always enchanting melodies make this Na Pali a listening pleasure. In fact, I found myself entranced by the sixth track, "Waiting for the Rain." After listening to it several times in a row, a southerly Kona storm blew in and the rain stayed a few days. I put the CD away until after the Thanksgiving holiday. (JR)
Perhaps the only band of its kind, Gypsy Pacific blends classic Hawaiian tunes with the spirited "hot club" gypsy music of the 1930's, inspired by Django Reinhardt. The result is an upbeat, instrumental Hawaiian swing that is undeniably appealing to lovers of all genres. Songs like "Sophisticated Hula," "My Little Grass Shack" and "Beyond the Sea" get a playful, fresh twist that puts a bounce in your step and a smile on your face. Featuring accomplished musicians from Maui, Gypsy Pacific represents another facet of Hawaiian music that successfully embraces tradition and evolution with a unique style. Wela is their debut release. (SC)
The Ho'okipa soundtrack is a great collection of island songs. The 10 tracks flow well as an album but because they're performed by six different artists, the soundtrack has an eclectic feel. Artists include Cody Pueo Pata, well-known in the contemporary Hawaiian music scene; Assault Squad Riderz, a hip-hop group whose music has been described as having a mainland vibe with a local appeal; and Kahele, an upcoming group known for incorporating various styles of music and the Hawaiian language into their work. Overall this album is a great survey of Hawaiian music and even more importantly, a great listen. (AF)
FEEL THE SPIRIT
Na Leo consists of three lovely young ladies who give all their thanks to the Lord. They make beautiful music with a positive Christian message. The group has been together for 21 years and claim they have yet to make a CD like this before. Na Leo has already put out 15 albums but this proves to be the most contemporary yet. It's charming to hear what they have to be so happy about. It makes you feel like being a better person and shake what the good Lord has given ya. (GP)
Ho'okena is a very prolific group putting out over eight CDs already, Lei Pulamahia being their ninth. The Three Tenors have nothing on these guys. Four very talented men sing their hearts out, though unless you speak Hawaiian, it's gonna be difficult to know what they're talking about. All in Hawaiian language, the CD stays in the category of Hawaiiana. This is what a person might hear in an elevator or over dinner at the Westin which is fine, except the performers wouldn't get the credit they deserve. (GP)
SMOOTH ISLAND JAZZ CHRISTMAS
"This is mall music," was how one friend described this collection of synthesized, computerized holiday stand-bys. "No, this is take-an-Uzi-to-the-mall music," said another. Think Kenny G playing "Silent Night," "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Little Drummer Boy" for a bunch of sunburned tourists on Wailea Beach, but with less soul. Merry Christmas! (AP)
FRIENDS OF ALOHA
HAWAIIAN ISLANDS LULLABY COLLECTION
Rock this one in the nursery: its songs soothe the most savage of beasts—or children, as the case may be. This international collection compiles lullabies from Ireland to Samoa, with 20 tracks in all. Waves, birds and crickets contribute to the album's overall calming effect. The slack-key touches on "Brahms Lullaby" only improve this well-known German ditty. These songs may grow on you while you listen; my new favorite is "Dungdunguen Kanto," the Ilocano baby song from the Philippines. They say the secret to the lullaby is tempo mapping: the gradual slowing of the beats during the song. If this CD doesn't put your babe to sleep, the CD jacket has a bonus list of the top 20 ways to calm that crying baby. Nighty night! (JR)
JACK DE MELLO
HAWAII: LAND OF ENCHANTMENT
This is novelty Hawaiian music of vintage soundtracks, and a re-release of a Jack De Mello Orchestra classic from 1961. No 'ukes or steel guitars here. Think South Pacific with sweeping orchestral scores and dramatic instrumentation using volcanic classical strings, wordless vocals and traditional chants to translate standards like "Puamana" and "Aloha Oe." (SC)
KA 'EHA KE ALOHA
Sean Na'auao's vocals and style have matured since I heard them last. Sean has beautiful range as he sings a mix of contemporary Hawaiian songs written by himself and others on this release. Sean steps away from his earlier island rhythm reggae style and focuses on his Hawaiian composition. The opening song "Ka Ipo lei Manu," composed by Queen Kapi'olani herself, is a beautiful though somewhat melancholy tribute to her memories of her chief. The CD picks up speed with the next track "Holo Holo Ka'a" and continues this switch throughout. Sean really stands out with the songs that he composes himself, like "Ni'ihau o Kahelelani," written with his wife Kau'i. He's also not afraid to try a ballad like Dionne Warwick's "I'll Never Love this Way Again" and pulls it off well, but the favorite track here is "No Hawaiians No Aloha," again by Sean and Kau'i. The refrain chants, "No Hawaiians No Aloha/We must preserve this island spirit/No Hawaiians No Aloha/E malama I ke kanaka." Sean has proven his talents again in this change of pace CD. (JR)
BIG EVERY TIME
I've got three words: BOP, BOP, BOP! You know what I'm talking about. These tracks vary from hip-hop to reggae beats and could easily make up the soundtrack to a BBQ, a night out or a night in with your special one. Some songs are sweet professions of love, while others are of real Hawaiian history, and there are pleas for unity and rhymes about kickin' it in the 808. It's all in the spirit of Aloha. I highly recommend giving your ear over to these braddahs for an hour or so. (HK)
DUKE OF UKE
I listened to this collection of Bill Tapia's very recent and very old 'ukulele songs on a rainy morning, and it considerably brightened my mood. Born in Honolulu on the first day of 1908, Tapia's been playing the 'uke since he was seven, though since 1946 he's unfortunately found it necessary to live and perform in California. Three of the album's tracks—"Chinatown/Avalon," "Hilo March" and "Indian Love Call"—are actually 1936 recordings: faster than his more recent tunes, and often quite grainy (as was the style of the time), they also lack much of the emotion that seeps from his later songs. The album's real gem is the last track, a spirited but still sentimental rendition of "Little Grass Shack" recorded live in June, 2004, when he was just 96. (AP)
ONE LITTLE DREAM
In Mihana's second solo CD release, she incorporates many styles from traditional Hawaiian chant to a more contemporary bluegrass sound. Harmonica, dobro and mandolin—several instruments not usually heard in traditional Hawaiiana—are utilized in Mihana's music. The song titles, all single words, vary from things like "Thief" to "Dream" to "Change" and are just as different in their message as they are in their rhythm. There is much here to enjoy, so take your time. (GP)
SLACK KEY GUITAR: THE ARTISTRY OF SONNY LIM
Last year marked the introduction of the Hawaiian Music category to the Grammys. The resultant winning album, a various artists compilation entitled Slack Key Guitar Volume 2, features ki ho'alu artist Sonny Lim—a member of one of Hawai'i's most famous musical families. In Lim's first solo project, Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim, we follow along the same loosened strings with Lim's unaccompanied slack key. The result is smooth and easy, introspective and peaceful—evocative of the natural beauty of Kamuela's sleepy town nestled among the Big Island's rolling hills where Lim was born and raised. (SC)
ISLAND MUSIC VOLUME TWO
This compilation is an eclectic assortment of ear pleasing music for anyone who enjoys contemporary island music, or Jahwaiian, as it's sometimes called. There are some hip-hoppy, danceable beats along with that funky reggae that makes you pick up your feet. Add fresh singers and lyrics that swoon (Hayley, Lei, Drew) as well as rap flows (Bishop, Pharaoh Papi, B.U.B), then add signature island sounds from R.J. Kaneao and Ata Damasco and it's one big, happy ohana. It's definitely worth checking out as you are sure to love some, if not all, of the songs. (HK)
A MAGICAL MAUI CHRISTMAS
At the age of nine Madeline has already recorded and released her first CD. A Magical Maui Christmas is a collection of holiday classics performed entirely by Madeline. What impressed me the most is Madeline's promise to donate all proceeds to the children of Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Center. While she initially planned to record the music for her friends and family, she soon realized that with the help of her parents, she could use her musical talents to help those in need. There's no question Madeline is a talented girl with a worthy cause, but she's still just a nine-year-old girl. For those of you who can't resist one more holiday album, consider putting your money towards a good cause and killing two birds with one stone. (AF)
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