Monday, March 2, 2015

WOW’ed by the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders

Email message from Nathan Kalama:  Mahalo Carol for the wonderful EKK program that Kuuipo Kumukahi and the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders presented last night.  It was excellent, professional, top notch! Her voice took us through a range of dynamics, bold, subtle, light and definitely brought some to tears at the end. All the stories told about the different Na Lani ‘Eha alone was worth it!! Maika’i loa!!”

Introducing the Players:

The Serenaders were definitely top notch and professional – they showed up early for the sound check, breezed through it efficiently, all four were fully involved with the 55 ‘ukulele players in the circle, they all stood and performed throughout the entire program shifting their musical stance to feature each musician as he or she took the lead, they all ended together and they delivered a power-packed performance that was like education on a silver spoon – so easy to take and so fulfilling.

All four are part of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders, a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit organized to  “promote, preserve and perpetuate” Hawaiian music and hula through music education programs such as Na Mele Kakou, exhibits and live performances. Commissioned in 2007 to record an album of the music of the Royal Four – Queen Lili’uokalani, King David Kalakaua, Princess Miriam Likelike, and Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku II – these musicians continued beyond the recording of the album to insure that the music composed by the monarchs, acknowledged as patrons of HMHOF, are perpetuated for future generations. The album was awarded the coveted Album of the Year at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in 2007; it is the only album produced by a non-profit that ever won this award.

Ku’uipo’s story of the award event was hilarious. They received the first award of the evening for the CD liner notes, but as the evening wore on and Hoku Zuttermeister was doing a clean sweep of the awards, members of their group started saying “bolo head,” a phrase that to fishermen meant “no fish are biting today.” They looked at each other and motioned “bolo head.” Kimo Stone began packing up everything and was heading toward the exit when the big award of the evening was announced – Na Lani Eha was the Album of the Year!  Everyone was yelling at Kimo, “Bruddah, get the award!” and signaling for the confused and stunned Kimo to get up on stage. No “bolo head” that night!

At first glance an unlikely combination of musicians but all of them passionate about their roles in the group, this Fantastic Four can really deliver. Isaac “Doc” Akuna is a dentist by day and an outstanding steel guitar player on stage; whether by dental drills or by steel strings, he likes making unforgettable sounds. Joseph Winchester on ‘ukulele has the enviable position of being a retired bank manager formerly with the Makiki Branch of First Hawaiian Bank; like all retired persons, he keeps super busy with all his commitments but definitely makes time to sing with this awesome group. “Kimo” Stone is an attorney with Coldwell Banker for his day job but his passion job is serving as the President of the HMHOF organization.  The artistic leader of the gang is Ku’uipo Kumukahi who has heavy demands on her time as Outreach Coordinator for ARC Hawai’i. With a voice like hers this “Sweetheart of Hawaiian Music” and winner of nine Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, including “Most Promising Artist” and “Female Vocalist of the Year,” definitely needs to be spending more time on stage performing and sharing the stories and music of not only Na Lani Eha but her own music as well. For the EKK performance they invited Kauai’s own Kekai Chock, a fantastic guitarist who Ku’uipo met through the late O’Brian Eselu.

Ku’uipo shared her family background. We vicariously met her parents, Samuel and ‘Ululani Kumukahi, several weeks ago in stories by Puakea Nogelmeier. His Hawaiian language mentor who loved the Hawaiian language, Sam was a manaleo (native Hawaiian speaker) who enjoyed conversing with Puakea. Her mother, ‘Ululani, the nurse for whom the song Bumbye was composed by her hanai son Puakea, is credited by Ku’uipo for her pursuing Hawaiian music. When the family moved to Honolulu for her father’s job working on H-1 and H-2 highways, Ku’uipo was introduced to her huge extended family who played music all the time. She used her Auntie’s ‘ukulele, but when they moved back to Hilo, her mother took her to buy her own ‘ukulele. Starting with her first ‘ukulele, each time Ku’uipo mastered her instrument, her mother would buy her a new instrument with the mantra, “Do the right thing! Listen! Pay attention! You need to sing, too!” Eight ‘ukulele, 13 guitars and several basses later, Ku’uipo had become quite an accomplished self-taught musician. Her father Samuel, her namesake, had a powerful influence on Ku’uipo. He accompanied her on all her early gigs as a teenager and always told her, “Be sure you sing the lyrics correctly because you never who is listening.” She is also a fantastic guitar player. Kimo said, “She plays like a man!” Ku’uipo laughs, “I come from Hilo; I can handle that!”

Music of the Royal Four:

Ku’uipo, the lead vocalist and leader of the band, was like a little “general”.  When she asked everyone to stand, the audience stood up en masse with no questions. They dove right into the National Anthem of the Hawaiian Kingdom which is now the Hawai’i State Anthem, Hawai’i Pono’i composed by King Kalakaua. Ku’uipo’s voice resonates; it made you feel like you were standing in a stadium about to watch a football game begin.

Prince Leleiohoku, as the hanai son of Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani, brought great joy to the Monarch; she got the Prince a horse and carriage to ride around Honolulu any time he pleased. Princess Ruth left her extensive land holdings to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop which today comprise the Kamehameha School Estates. As a monarch, each royal needed to be a leader and administrator but was also expected to compose songs because poetry was regarded as one of the highest benchmark of accomplishments possessed by a leader; it was a way to preserve the history of the last dynasty. Leleiohoku’s songs are happy and joyful; Moani Ke ‘Ala put everyone into a happy mood. 

Ku’uipo asked why a person from Hilo, a quiet place that has one road in and one road out, would be living in Waikiki, a place that has one way in and no way out?  It is important for her to understand what the ali’i saw in Waikiki that they would make that their favorite place of residence. Princess Pauahi lived where the Royal Hawaiian Center now stands. Another significant place in Waikiki, formerly known as Ainahau and the home of Princess Likelike, husband Archibald Cleghorn and daughter Princess Kai’ulani, is where the Princess Kai’ulani Hotel stands. Ainahau translates to “land of hau trees” or “the cool land”. Ainahau, one of the most beautiful songs by Princess Likelike, captures the sound of the era –romantic, elegant, and poignant. Ku’uipo’s rich voice, accompanied by the sound of the steel, the strong harmony of the group and outstanding pa’ani by Kekai, brought chicken skin and tears to many. Although Princess Likelike did not write as many songs as the others, she supported every Hawaiian music performance in Hawai’i.

Queen Lili’uokalani left the largest legacy of Hawaiian music. Working with Henry Berger who put her poetry to music, she left the largest collection of published Hawaiian music as her legacy. She experienced the brunt of political changes of the time and was expected to right the kingdom against enormous odds. Realizing that she could not win against the military, she abdicated her throne to prevent bloodshed and to protect the people in her kingdom. She found solace in her songs which  reflect her experiences — many are tender, bittersweet and political. One of her songs, He Ala Nei E Mapu Mai Nei (Ahe Lau Makani) speaks of the gentle breeze of Waikiki; it reflects the popularity of the waltz at that time.

Kimo shared that the songs could be as simple as waking up in the morning or as big as a war of thousands. Hula interpreted the poetry but for a period of time was taboo. Hula was not the Christian ideal; missionaries regarded the hula as a “lascivious dance” at best. They banned the hula, and although several monarchs tried to restore it, it was not allowed until the beloved and larger-than-life King Kalakaua invited all the Hula Masters to dance on the grounds of the ‘Iolani Palace for his coronation. Today the Merrie Monarch Festival continues as the legacy of King Kalakaua’s love for the hula. One of his best known songs was written for his Queen Kapi’olani on the occasion of her trip to England, together with Queen Lili’uokalani, for the Queen’s Jubilee. In the song E Nihi Ka Hele he tells her to go and see but be careful and don’t touch anything because we do not know these people; you must keep in mind that you are the crown jewel and center of our island kingdom.

Until recently men were the only hula dancers….especially men with hair. Ku’uipo loves to play with the audience and injects some of her humor as she called for floor lights and asked everyone in the audience with same hairdo as Kimo, meaning bald, to stand up. “You can all go home tonight with a Hawaiian name.  You don’t even have to pay for the name! Your name is “No Hea” (which means handsome).

Our Ali’i had to be one with the people and everything must be in harmony to function properly. Princes Likelike composed the song Ku’u Ipo I Ka He’e Pu’e One, a song of love. Everyone was in love, not necessarily with their husband or wife, but in love.

The ali’i were much loved by their people so chants were written about them. One such chant, probably composed by a court chanter and later put to music by J. Kalahiki, is a very loud and zesty song about Kalakaua’s favorite fishing spot. Ku’uipo called on her oldstyle Hawaiian singing voice, much like Gabby’s, to sing He’eia.

Many songs were about people, places and events, but one very important song was the mele ma’i or song about the sexuality or sexual prowess of the monarchs as it was important for the Ali’i to be happy, prosperous and productive. Probably composed by a court chanter, ‘Anapau  is a mele ma’i for Queen Lili’uokalani. It describes the motions of the horse – “Left! Right! Up! Down!  and the horse has silk underwear!” Ku’uipo throws in a couple of heavy “sighs of satisfaction” at the end of the song.

To give the audience a sample of how the give-away Kamoa ‘ukulele sounds, they shared a couple of songs that were composed by other favorite Hawaiian composers. The very talented “Doc” Akuna sang Hanalei Bay by Alfred Alohikea in his very, very low voice.  That was definitely an unexpected treat. He can play steel, play ‘ukulele and sing a mean tune. What a talent!

Introducing other composers:

After the intermission, guess who won the Kamoa ‘ukulele? None other than our own resident from Lawai, Dr. Larry Magnussen who swore publicly that he would now take ‘ukulele lessons. That will change his life, for sure!

Ku’uipo took this visit to Kaua’i to refresh, driving to Polihale in the dark and then crossing the island all the way to Ha’ena. She sums up the Kaua’i experience, “Kaua’i has great mana. When you are on Kaua’i, nothing else matters.”  Yes, we know! She also recapped on her past EKK experiences.  She came right after she released her first solo album; at that time EKK was at Saint Michael’s parish hall. She was surprised by her grade school teachers, Franciscan nuns then based on Kaua’i, who came to hear her sing.  The next time she came to Island School; I remember she shared a whole spread sheet of Hawaiian songs about the different winds in different places.

Lena Machado, inductee into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, composed Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi, a song that modulates step-by-step up the ladder and when you reach the top, you take a graceful dive down. You can tell that Ku’uipo loves Hilo as she calls out the many challenges that Hilo has survived – two hurricanes, a major tidal wave, it rains every day and now the lava is coming down. Sounds like the song. They then launched into a medley:  Hilo, My Home Town, prelude by Joe Kalima, together with Hilo Hula. I always felt that Hilo was a bit sleepy but not the way these four sang the song with each person taking a pa’ani to show off how good they were with their instruments.

During the first ‘ukulele hour, they taught two songs to the circle. Ku’uipo called up the students to play because they sounded very hot in the circle. Not all of the 55 ‘ukulele players came up but they sounded good anyway. Wahine Hele La (‘O Kaiona) written for Princess Pauahi Bishop by Prince Leleiohoku is today known as the Kamehameha School Founder’s Day Song. It’s about guiding the lost ones to a brighter future.  The second song, Manu Kapalulu by Queen Lili’uokalani is so beautiful that it is hard to believe that in the song the Queen is actually criticizing another person who had no clue that she was the subject of the criticism. Vern Kauanui’s hula resembled that of a flighty bird flapping around her wings.

Kilakila  Na RoughRiders, a traditional Hawaiian melody honoring the award winning cowboys from the Parker Ranch on Hawai’i Island who swept the World Championship Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming was so brilliantly sung. Like a lot of cowboy songs they squeeze a lot of words into a small space. Ku’uipo tops that by not only singing fast but throwing in a lot of whistles, cowboy “yeehaws” and “giddyups”. As Ku’uipo whistles and yelps, you could feel the dust kicked up as they rope the cattle to the ground. Kimo asked Ku’uipo. “Where did you learn to whistle like that?” She confessed that small kid time, when her father wanted her to get home from the neighbor’s house, she got the whistle and that unmistakable hand motion that says a whole lot more than any amount of words. She demonstrated and we all knew exactly what that meant.

“Doc” shared the history of the steel guitar instrument. In 1885 Joseph Kekuku, a student at the then all boys Kamehameha school, was trying to make sounds like his cousin’s violin on his guitar when the happy accident at the railroad tracks helped him create this new sound.  In the evening all 37 poor Hawaiian boys gathered together to sing and Joseph Kekuku’s new sound lit the fuse that has since traveled worldwide and became the signature sound of the Hawaiian Islands. Quite by coincidence, relatives of the Kekuku family were in the audience, John and Sandra Eng. Kekai Chock, also a relative of Joseph Kekuku shared a bit about how the family is making efforts to keep his Hawaiian name alive with the new generation. Doc played Sand, the Steel Guitar classic song by Andy Iona which was composed in the 1930’s.

Ku’uipo also recognized Jerry Kaiola, an EKK regular, who at one time worked on the movie set of South Pacific when he was living on the mainland. She dedicated the song Happy Talk to Jerry. Kealoha, a hula favorite by Lei Collins and Maddy Lam, brought the dancers to the stage. Yumi Teraguchi Locey, Mahina Baliaris and Vern Kauanui each danced their own hula choreography to this beautiful song.

Ku’uipo pointed out that the top windows of the ‘Iolani Palace are blacked out; this is where the Queen was held for nine months as a prisoner in her own home. She abdicated the throne with the thought “Lead not our people to bloodshed.” She traveled to the continent to ask President Cleveland to restore her throne. When she returned, she was found guilty of treason and placed under house arrest.

Paoakalani by Queen Lili’uokalani is about the young boy who brought her flowers from her garden in Waikiki, wrapped up in the daily newspaper so that she could be kept apprised of what was going on outside of the walls of the Palace. The young boy was Johnny Wilson who later became the Mayor of Honolulu and for whom the Wilson Tunnel was named. The County has a Royal Hawaiian Band largely due to the actions of Johnny Wilson. The delivery of this song was stellar, beginning with a quiet solo by Ku’uipo, joined by the others and filling the ballroom with a powerful message in song. They ended with one of the most significant songs in the repertoire. Aloha ‘Oe by Queen Lili’uokalani is the most popular Hawaiian song ever written and ever recorded.

As everyone joined hands to sing Hawai’i Aloha, the audience showed appreciation for the moving experience. The evening was a history lesson in song; it was a legacy passed on to the greater audience that there be a better understanding and appreciation of the messages in the songs of the Royal Four.

 If you have a disability and need assistance please email Carol Yotsuda at <> for Monday events.

(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, — “Celebrating 38 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”

E Kanikapila Kakou 2015 Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, and the Garden Island Arts Council supporters with support from the 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.