Monday, March 9, 2015

Surprises Popping Up All Night at EKK

Acknowledging Uncle Dennis

EKK 2015 season was dedicated to Uncle Dennis Kamakahi who left us right after the 2014 season. With his son David as part of the Waipuna trio, stories and songs about one of Hawaii’s most prolific composer of many of our exceptional Hawaiian songs kept surfacing all evening.

I started it with my story of Dennis at our fourth and final Koke’e Haku Mele Camp in 2012 where he, along with Keao Nesmith and Kiope Raymond, spent a whole weekend with aspiring songwriters at the Hui ‘o Laka CCC Camp at Koke’e State Park.

We launched the camp with a sunset picnic at the Kalalau Lookout where Dennis, silhouetted against the white swirling mist that often shrouds the view of the valley, gave his long unabridged version of how he came to write the song Koke’e and then sang the song as he composed it. He had actually spent many hours over a period of two days at the lookout to observe the magical mist of the mountain. It was an unforgettable experience for those lucky enough to be present. His generous presence at the camp, where he sat and strummed or sang songs all weekend between helping the writers, was topped off the final morning when he showed up from his “special time when the creative juices flow” in front of the cabin fireplace with a new song called Nani Koke’e which he sang and played for the haku mele group. Awesome!

Waipuna opened the evening with the “Tribute to Uncle Dennis” which was presented at the 2014 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards – it included three of his best loved songs — Wahine ‘Ilikea composed when he visited Halawa Valley on Moloka’i, then Pua Hone which was his marriage proposal to Robin, and Koke’e as a jazzed-up Waipuna arrangement. The trio was definitely surprised but pleased as the whole audience joined in to sing their favorite songs. Hula dancers Elena Gillespie, Po’ai Galindo, Yumi Teraguchi Locey, and Donna Stewart popped up to add their graceful hula to the songs.

We Are Waipuna

Waipuna is a young trio who are multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Award winners.  They are Kale Hannahs, Matthew Sproat and David Kamakahi. Kale is the big brother of Lihau who was recently on the EKK stage as Kupaoa. Matt is related to David Sproat of Kilauea and to the world famous Kindy Sproat from Hawai’i Island. Kindy was an EKK presenter in 1995 at St. Michael’s church to an audience of 77 people. How EKK has grown!

David Kamakahi’s first solo performance was at EKK in 2001 when we were still at St. Michael’s church parish hall in Lihu’e. I still have photos of the ‘ukulele players sitting on the floor with their feet outstretched to get close to the action. In those days, 100 in attendance was considered “crowded.” Actually, his father Dennis tagged along and joined David at the end for a duet they composed together staying up all night while on tour in California. David and Dennis have been a big part of EKK during the last 13 years. Once Dennis got hooked on EKK, he wanted to come every year. We stirred the pot so he came with different artists over the years – with Eddie Kamae, Uncle George Kahumoku Jr, Richard Ho’opi’i, Nathan Aweau, Ledward Kaapana, Stephen Inglis and often with David. David played an instrumental number he composed with Herb Ohta Jr. that won “Instrumental Song of the Year” at the Hoku’s.

Matt gave the background about their next song Ali’ipoe composed by the Reverend William Maha’ehu, and translated by Kimo Alama Ke’aulana. The seeds that make the rattling sound in the ‘uli’uli hula implement come from the ali’ipoe plant. The story goes that in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, a priest fell in love with a local woman, taboo at that time because had dedicated his life to God. He hid their relationship from the public. He finally decided that he needed to stop meeting her in secret, but he wrote this song and gave it to her before he broke off the relationship. As Hawaiian poetry goes, nothing is said directly but often just suggests in a roundabout way. The song talks about meeting her under the shade of the ali’ipoe tree. The tree stood only about waist high, so it goes without saying that they were having fun in a horizontal position. Kale suggests, “Maybe they were looking for Ni’ihau shells.” Waipuna’s music really attracts the hula dancers as Kainani Viado and four of Maka Herrod’s dancers – Barbara, Mel, Billy and Kim – were moved to get up and made the song come to life visually.

Audience really loved the hula surprises.

Papa Sia by Charles Ka’apa is a fun song on their first Mana’o Pili CD about a couple from Ni’ihau who went to the big city of Honolulu where they could do the things they never get to do. However, they had different interests so the song speaks about the “heated discussion” or beef between the wife who wanted to shop, shop, shop and the husband who wanted to eat and go to places that open until 4:00 in the morning where he could buy drinks for everyone.

Waipuna had some big surprises up their sleeves and thrilled the audience when they invited Jayna Shaffer, Leina’ala Pavao Jardin’s representative to the Merrie Monarch Festival Miss Aloha Hula competition with Waipuna as their musicians. Stunning in a royal blue draped full-length dress with a striking golden lei and two giant golden hibiscus in her hair. She danced to Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett’s tribute to the Snow Goddess Poli’ahu. Kale did the lead vocals on E ‘Ike I Ka Nani A’o Poli’ahu which is on their second CD E Ho’i Mai.

What an amazingly beautiful and gracious hula dancer!

Jayna captivated the audience with the fluidity and expressiveness of her enchanting hula. Hana hou! Hana hou! The audience wanted more!  She danced to Mana’o Pili, which is the title tract to Waipuna’s first album recorded in 2009. Kale reminded everyone to watch the Merrie Monarch Festival on television on April 9 to see the Miss Aloha Hula Competition where Jayna will be performing.

Waipuna was recording Diana Aki’s song called Mana’o Pili which speaks of the Miloli’i on Kaua’i and the Miloli’i on Hawai’i Island and how they are intertwined. Kale and Matt felt that their own thoughts were intertwined and that these words best described how they worked together. Thus it became the title of their first CD.

Another surprise — a stunning ‘ukulele number by David Kamakahi left everyone speechless with awe and admiration. Kale said that the theme of their last CD was Love – all kinds of love. One song was about David’s love for music; he asked David to tell the story. At age 15 David was secretly teaching himself to play the ‘ukulele but put it away each time his Dad came home until one day his Mom ratted him out . . . and the rest is history.

According to David, this song was a long time coming as it took him 15 years to be able to finally play this song. It was difficult because every time his mentor Ledward Kaapana played it, it was different. He attended every performance by Ledward and sat right in the front seat to watch him and taught himself to play it. He recently went to Kona Brewing Company to give Ledward three cowboy boots that his father Dennis wanted to pass on to him. Led told him, “Hey! Jus’ Press! (Ledward’s mantra), so David finally got up the courage and had a chance to play for the master. He shared that Ledward gave him his very first nickname — “Damn Keed!”  As David was winding down on the song Jus’ Press! (12th Street Rag and Sweet Georgia Brown), Kale calls out, “Damn Keed!”

Without missing a beat, they went right into the next song, Lepe ‘Ula’ula. Kaua’i is definitely the chicken capitol of the state, so it makes sense for Waipuna to share their rooster song while on the Garden Island. Kale said, “When we think of Kaua’i, we think of the beautiful rain, the mountains and the roosters.”

One more surprise that thrilled the audience was a call for Lady Ipo Kahaunaele to show us how the electric ‘ukulele from Kamoa sounded. She got it zinging with her version of Suzie Ana E. It’s always a treat to see this “’Ukulele Lady” show her stuff.  She and Nathan Kalama, along with Haunani Poopi Kaui and the musicians of Tamatea Nui ‘O Kaua’i, will be some of the presenters for the final night of EKK, dubbed “Community Hula Night.” That is definitely not a night to miss.

After the intermission, CD’s were given away to eight lucky folks who had taken the time to fill out the attendance sheet. The Kamoa ‘Ukulele was then given away to a lucky and very enthusiastic Sherry Jakubik from Oxford, Michigan.

The second set was just as full of surprises. They sent the next song out to the ‘ukulele circle. They sang Willie Kahai’ali’i’s song, Malama Mau Hawai’i, about perpetuating things Hawaiian. Surprise! Surprise! Who should come up to dance?  None other than the inimitable Maka Herrod, always a breath of fresh air. Maka just returned from Japan today, went to his hula class, and then showed up at EKK. Kale said, “He is still on Japan time which is one day ahead and five hours back, so it’s 3:30 in the afternoon for him so he’s good for another hula.” Audience called for a hana hou so he requested Lepe ‘Ula’ula, the song about the preening cocky rooster. Waipuna once again sang that song and this time we really got what the song was about. Maka has definitely been watching roosters every chance he had because he really got the right moves.

Waipuna’s latest CD was to perpetuate songs by Dennis Kamakahi. David shared his recollection about the early days when Dad never had enough money to buy gifts for his wife and was always away traveling on gigs; he would write her new songs as a gift. As an anniversary present, he presented Robin, who had infant John in her arms, with Kou Aloha Mau A Mau about a love that goes on forever. It made its debut in 1980 at the Volcano House on the Big Island. David said that Dad would also write a song to apologize to his wife whenever they had a little fight. So it was fight, new song, cool down, fight again, another song, cool down. When she was really mad, she would curtly say, “Oh, that’s nice; keep writing.” Kale chimes in, “Wow! He wrote 7 00 songs!” (pun intended)

In spite of their ups and downs, their love lasted 37 long years before his Dad passed away. His Mom was always supportive and made sure that Dennis always had a wonderful home to come home to after his many tours and trips around the country. David appreciated that he was always surrounded with every kind of music – big band, heavy metal, Cuban, Mariachi, Portuguese, country, and on and on; he said he always knew when his father came to pick him up after school because he would be blasting Metallica on his car radio.

On the CD titled Amy and the Slack Key Masters, which had a theme of Love, Dennis recorded a E Mau Ke Aloha about how love continues and endures. Chino Montero did the guitar solo for this. Written as another anniversary gift, E Mau Ke Aloha is definitely a catchy song that has a lasting appeal. It’s one of my favorite Dennis songs and was shared with the whole audience as a sing-along. Waipuna chose that as the title song for their CD which was dedicated to the memory of Reverend Dennis Kamakahi and David “Chino” Montero who died within the same week.

‘Ainahau by Princess Miriam Likelike, won for Waipuna the Na Hoku Hanohano “Single of the Year” Award in 2012, the same year they won the coveted “Group of the Year” Award.  E Ho’i Mai was awarded the “Island Music Album of the Year.” They sent this song out to the Paik ‘Ohana all the way from Kilauea. Their entourage with so many aunties and uncles had came to support Kellan and Lihau Paik, Mark Yamanaka, the Keale Cousins, and Waipuna at EKK and had blessed the trio with Kaua’i hospitality and a home away from home. So they wanted to share this song about the home of this royal family.

Their hana hou song was about a boy growing up in Kaka’ako who went to the harbor by the Aloha Tower and stumbles into a fish auction. He decided that when he grew up he wanted to be an auctioneer at the fish market. This is one of the few places in the world where an active fish auction is held. The Tsukiji fish market in Yokohama is world famous, and the fish auction as sung by Matthew Sproat sounds like a very lively place to be. They started slow but ended up singing the tongue-twisting call of the fish auctioneer at top speed. The song had a moral to it; if you follow your dreams, you will end up doing what you really want to do. It seems like these musicians are following their dreams and doing what they really want to do.  It was an evening of full of surprises and great enjoyment for everyone there.

 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.