It’s official – EKK 2011 has begun!

Mondays will be overflowing with “hula and harmony”

Kicking off the 28th season with the “Hawaiian Legends” concert featuring Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and Nathan Aweau was a huge punctuation mark. GIAC assisted Hapalaka Productions with on-site coordination for the first concert on the Hawai’i-Westcoast tour. As Dennis repeatedly says, “Kicking off on Kaua’i is the best way to start a tour.”

Talking about tours and how often things can go awry, Dennis told us that when that happens, “We need to reconnoiter!”  We all looked at him and wife Robin burst out laughing, “What kind of word is that?”  After all “reconnoiter” is not often used in casual conversation to talk about “change in plans” . . . unless, of course, you are Dennis Kamakahi. We all had a great laugh and a new “buzz” word for the day.

Little did I know that the word was prophetic for the days/week to follow, but the laugh we had over it helped me get through the first day of EKK.

EKK is on Facebook thanks to Tashi:!/album.php?aid=41403&id=173083409399035

Plan B Huge Success for Ai-Kamauu ‘Ohana

Monday morning, January 17, 7:00 a.m., my cell phone rings and caller ID tells me it is Natalie Ai Kamauu. “Uh…oh!” my fuzzy brain registers. “Is that you, Nat?” I asked. It was not the angelic voice of Nat on the other end, but a crackle (which I thought was my cell phone). “Yes” came the whisper. My brain woke up suddenly and completely, “Can you sing?”  “No, I woke up with no voice; I can’t sing! This never happened before!” Five seconds of dead silence. “Can you dance hula?” “Yes, I feel fine…I am not sick. I just don’t have a voice but I can hula,” came back the whisper. “Who’s going to talk?  Io? Your Dad?” “Yes, my Daddy can talk.”  “Okay, that’s fine; we’ll go ahead with the program!” I said, so relieved I did not have to call around for a back up team like I did when Pekelo Cosma lost his voice . . . but we had only a few hours to “reconnoiter”. Whatever program had been planned was out the window, but . . . never fear . . . being the pros that they are, they were going to come up with a Plan B show.

I called Linda Lester of KKCR and told her that Iolani Kamauu would call in for the radio interview instead of Natalie. Nat had planned to teach a special song for the evening, but since she could not teach it, Dad Howard brought in a new song and I raced around the island to make copies of the song. I went to the hotel early to set up the banner on the stage to find that the staff had just painted the support panel so I could not get that done early . . . just relax . . . just “reconnoiter”. All day long I found myself changing my plans because everything was not happening according to my “things to do” list. I kept telling myself, “Change is good; keeps things fresh and exciting…bring it on!”

5:00 p.m. and the Jasmine Ballroom was already filled with shawls saving seats and happy participants greeting each other after a whole year without EKK. 6:00 p.m. and Howard Ai and Iolani Kamauu taught the ukulele gang “Mahukona Hula” written for him by Lei Fern Lincoln. 7:00 p.m. and the program begins, What a wonderful program put on by the Ai-Kamauu ‘ohana. Natalie’s Dad Howard Ai, co-founder with his wife Olana Ai of the amazing Halau Hula Olana, along with husband Iolani Kamauu and brother Chad Ai, presented an evening of twenty favorite songs along with many little stories about each song.

Natalie, stunning in a red holoku accentuated with a white ginger lei, pink and red hibiscus lei and a huge bling bling ring, danced with the charm and grace that is the signature style of the Olana School of Living Hula and showed why she was crowned Miss Aloha Hula. Like the dancers in Halau Hula Olana, she moved charismatically in and out of the audience; she was a pro at working the crowd.

She started as a dancer in her pre-teens, but her Dad stuck an ukulele in her hand and told her, “We have a show this weekend; show up.” On Iolani’s urging, Howard divulges that he told the sound man “You don’t have to turn on her mic … I don’t think she ever forgave me for that.”  Howard redeems himself by saying, “At age 12 – 13, she never knew that she would become Na Hoku Hanohano ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ . . . BECAUSE of her Dad!” Nat calls out “I forgive you, Daddy!” That’s a title she held in 2006 and 2009.

The family banter was fun to see and added a lot of charm to their program; you could tell that this family has a lot of fun together…they sing together, they dance together, and they laugh together a lot.

Howard said he did not know Nat would not sing tonight because he never got the same phone call I got; he was surprised when he got to the airport and found Natalie had no voice.  Io says, “He might ha’ stayed home if he knew.” Howard shared his favorite songs recorded in his “Kaleihulumamo” CD — Dennis Kamakahi’s “Lei Koele”; “Honaunau Paka” about the City of Refuge where people could be safe if they did something bad; and from his small kid days in Kamuela where he waited for his Dad to come home so he could get up on the saddle at the end of the day, he sang “Cowboy Hula” written for John Lindsey, a very short but smart cowboy foreman who could get on the horse only if his wife placed a stool for him to mount; he spiced up the story with a juicy little background story about John Li’ili’i told him by his Mom. Of course he had to share “Mokihana Lullaby” by Loyal Garner because the first time he saw his wife dance it, he was “hooked”.

Chad Ai is one of the principal dancers in O’Brian Eselu’s “Ke Kai O Kahiki” so they meet once a week in Wai’anae. He sang “He Aloha No ‘O Wai’anae” by Larry Arieta. Dad Howard suggests, “We should ask Chad to dance.” Chad smiles but mutters something to his Dad. Howard grins and tells the audience, “He said I was dirty. That’s not something you say to your Dad.”  But Chad obliges with a brisk hula to the pleasure of a happy audience. O’Brian Eselu will be back on Kaua’i for the February 7 EKK with some of his male dancers…not to be missed.

After her first hula to “Pua Lili Lehua”, Iolani kids Nat, “Would you like to sing?” Nat whispers into the mic, “I want to sing for you, but I really don’t have a voice,”   and poked Iolani playfully in the tummy before exiting. Iolani turns to the audience, “I might have to walk home. Does anyone have an extra room in their house?” Iolani, like Nat, comes from a family that sings and dances, so he shared a song about Kona where he grew up “Po Mai Ana Ka Makani” by Lydia Kekuewa. His hula treat for the audience was a very masculine hula about riding a horse or a bull…or maybe it was an elephant … his snort was perfect. And he even got money thrown to him on stage!

Iolani and Chad sang a medley of “Henehene Kou ‘Aka”, a courtship song, and “Pauoa Ka Liko Lehua” composed by Sam Kanahele and Charles Booth and given to Emma Bush. Talking about courtship, when he first took Nat home to meet his family in Papakolea near Punchbowl Cemetary, she rolled up the window and locked the car door as they went over the bridge; only later did he realize why she did that. “It’s the Hood! However, they do the best Halloween trick or treat with treats like ‘musubi’ or ice cream float instead of candy. They even have the best fireworks show there.”  Howard pipes in, “Yea….homemade bombs!” Iolani loved living there, looking down onto the beautiful Pauoa Valley. Papakolea must have been proud to see one of their own as the 2010 Aloha Week Moi Kane along with Natalie as the Moi Wahine and their children as the Prince and Princess. What a stunning royal family they were.

Iolani was beginning to love the mic; he took us from island to island in song. Hula dancers were everywhere and many were so moved by the singing that they popped up on the stage and wow’ed the audience.

Vern Kauanui, of course, could not be kept off the stage as he thrilled the audience with his graceful moves to “Beautiful Kaua’i”, the fast-paced medley of “Kalalea/Anahola” and many others. Howard was impressed with his agility. When Iolani sang the love song “Beautiful Hanalei,” Troy Lazaro, easily one of the most sensuous male hula dancers on island, thrilled the audience. The first I saw him at Uncle Nathan’s 50th birthday party, I dropped my jaw… the whole evening….and he gets better every time. Troy is liquid silver.

Wahine dancers were not taking a backstage to the kane as Yumi Teraguchi, Sabra Kauka, Tamara Leonard, Fern Merle Jones, Holly Namaka Lindsay and Fran Nestel all danced to hula favorites like “Kauluwehi o Ke Kai”, “Wahine Ilikea”, and a beautiful song about Keaukaha sang by Chad, one of the places where Howard grew up. The Solid Gold Dancers left Iolani speechless.

It may have been an unexpected stretch for Howard, Chad and Iolani to “reconnoiter” from backing up Natalie’s extraordinary voice to stepping up to the vocal plate but they sure did not disappoint with their funny stories and zesty male harmony; it’s always good to step out of the norm and take on a new challenge and they were awesome crowd pleasers with a wonderful variety of songs.

But the moments that stood out most was when Natalie captured the stage with her graceful and effortless hula, flashing her irresistible smile and bringing to life words like “…for every grain of sand at Waikiki, a love affair becomes a memory …” and “…in a little village church in an old Hawaiian town, I met the girl of my dreams…”, and most of all “Aloha Oe….until we meet again.” Mesmerizing … sums it up.

It’s moments like this that live on in the memories of those who are for the first time witnessing the melding of hula and harmony by artists with that special gift of making aloha so tangible … and they are forever held hostage to the beauty that is Hawai’i.

A bit of EKK trivia along this line:  Jodi Ascuena who weekly records all the information from attendees pointed out to me, “There are so many folks who last year marked “New” on their attendance sheet who this year are marking themselves as “Regular.”  Yes!  Once you experience EKK, you are hooked….and why not….look who’s coming up next:

Monday, January 24, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.

E Kanaikapila Kakou “Hula and Harmony” 28th season

Featuring Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Hawaiian cultural leader, kumu hula of Kuhai Halau O Kawaikapuokalani P ‘Olapa Kahiko, and composer extraordinaire shares his hula compositions and smooth-as-silk dancing at Kaua’i Beach Resort Jasmine Ballroom, Nukoli’i (next to Wailua Golf Course)

If you have a disability and need assistance email Carol Yotsuda at <> by January 24 for the January 31 event.

(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, — “Celebrating 34 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”

E Kanikapila Kakou 2011 Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, and Garden Island Arts Council supporters with support from Kaua’i Beach Resort.

Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Hawai’i State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.