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EKK March 21: When Music Fills Your Soul

It was truly a kama’aina kine pardee; after nearly two years of no-music lockdown, the floodgates on gatherings opened in a truly local style and the Jasmine Ballroom at the Kaua’i Beach Resort was packed with aunties, uncles, tutus, folks celebrating anniversaries and everyone hungry for face-to-face, even with masks, celebration of Hawaiian music!

Whereas the weekly EKK attendance is normally 60% visitors and 40% local folks, the first night of EKK 2022 was an enthusiastic gathering of residents from Kekaha to Ha’ena and everything in between! There was one visitor from Switzerland, one person from Spain, no Canadians! (can’t believe that) and a smattering of raised hands from continental USA! 89% of the participants were from Kaua’i! Although many “snowbirds” are normally heading back to their homes in March, some of them managed to stay longer and keep their EKK patron seats.

Who could have been more perfect for this opening night of EKK than the lovely Natalie Ai Kamauu, her awesome husband ‘Iolani Kamauu and their amazing ‘ohana.

Natalie’s singing, which was always remarkable, has now risen to off-the-charts spectacular as her voice soared, growled, and filled the ballroom with music that ran the whole gamut from sweet and melodic to fast-paced and zesty, rhythmic and foot-tapping… it was all there in one awesome package. She and ‘Iolani not only delivered, they introduced their adoring fans to yet another segment of their accomplishments— their awesome musical family. Their beautiful daughter Sha-lei Burdett and Steele Blue, her baby who just yesterday made one-year-old, dynamic hula-dancing son Chaz and daughter-in-law Amanda, originally from Koloa, a former dancer with Leina’ala Pavao Jardin’s Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina’ala.

It was an evening for the books! It was a celebration for the undaunting love of Hawaiian music and dance that filled our souls! It was a testimony to the value of face-to-face human interaction! It was EKK Live! Yes! EKK is back!

The EKK audience was ready to show their appreciation for this gift of music as they gave Natalie and ‘Iolani a standing ovation from their very first number, Aloha Hawai’i, showing off Natalie’s soaring voice and the beautiful harmony of two voices that truly meant to find each other. Brother Chad, who was their long-time bass player and hula dancer, has moved to Sacramento, so their trio has become a duo, but tonight’s performance introduced new alliances. As difficult as Covid was for everyone, the many months being on lockdown with only family has resulted in a new kind of show for the Kamauu family.

Blossom Nani Ho’i E, the first song that she penned, is about her grandmother Blossom, affectionately called Grandma “B”. It’s a familiar mele that is an important part of Natalie’s repertoire. Fast-paced and catchy, it gives Natalie a chance to show off her soaring voice. Kaua’i dancers Linda Lester Keale and Donna Stewart could not resist doing the hula. Ke Aloha, easily one of the most beautiful hula numbers, was the perfect introduction for her two hula dancers, Sha-Lei and daughter-in-law Hiwalei.

In 2008 she received an unexpected phone call from the NFL. Yes! It was about football. With her hubby strumming cadence on his trusty guitar, Natalie involved the whole audience in her storytelling about the NFL asking her to be the first Hawaiian female artist from Hawai’i to sing a song at the NFL Super-Bowl game just before the first kick-off. She assured them that she had a song about things Hawaiian that was 2 minutes and 26 seconds long. As the deadline approached, she anxiously went to church to pray that she could come up with the promised song. It’s good to pray, but she was caught off-guard when the song came pouring down all over her as she sat in the pew with not even a napkin to write down the lyrics. She was saved! She then belted out her heaven-sent song that was full of “hula”, “grass shacks”, and other things Hawaiian. Hula Baby was so football perfect and it showed a whole different side of her singing styles.

Proud mama introduced her son Chazzy who instantaneously captured the audience attention and adoration as he stomped his way across the stage with his zesty interpretation of Cowboy Hula. His horn-waving, butt-slapping, foot-stomping moves had the crowd screaming hana hou; they went wild over Chaz’s hula antics. “He’s coming back!” she quieted the audience screams. As a youth, Chaz was a Master Keiki Hula winner. No wonder he get ‘um!

Wanting to write a song for Chaz, she asked him what his favorite flower was. It was the shower tree; not an ideal subject for a flower song. What finally became her song for Chaz was Ku’u Pua Pakalana, her favorite flower. Sha-lei, looking gorgeous in a fitted long dress sparkled up with a bling-bling bodice brought the song to life; you could see in her delivery Natalie’s adoration for her son Chaz.

Right before the Covid lockdown, their family camped for several days on Mauna Kea. It was truly uncomfortable to camp in that harsh environment as the elements were brutal. It was the same day that her aunty, her Dad’s sister, was arrested along with many other protestors at the summit. Natalie shared her generational family tradition of taking the piko of each family member to be placed in the lake atop the sacred mountain. She wanted to share their love for the mountain with an emotional medley of Make You Feel My Love / The Beauty of Maunakea coupled with Sha-lei’s hula rendition which embodied their beliefs and emotions.

No concert featuring Natalie would be complete without her hula. ‘Iolani, full of affection for Natalie, sang The Breeze and I, in his captivating baritone She mesmerized the audience with her elegant hula. It was clear to see that she was most deserving of her title as Miss Aloha Hula 1990. What a handsome couple! What a treat!

Natalie asked, “How fast do you want it?” as ‘Iolani started singing the lively strains of E Huli M?kou. Chaz and Hiwalei flirted with each other and the audience with their fast and sassy hula. How did they find each other? They met each other in Japan while both Kamauu family and Leina’ala’s halau were on their many performing jaunts to Japan.

To show off the donated Kamoa ‘ukulele that would be given away after the intermission, ‘Iolani started strumming the song Lei Onaona, (Fragrant Garland), a traditional mele taught to the ‘ukulele circle by ‘Iolani. The ‘ukulele players joined in to play the song that they had just learned.

The Intermission was a lively interlude of eating, drinking, catching up with friends, visiting the lua, checking out the Kamoa ‘ukulele, patronizing the GIAC tables with their original art and a new wrinkle – the “Boro Boro Boutique” fundraising project to support Kathleen Ho’s mosaic mural training program.

CD’s by LT Smooth, Napua Greig, Kupaoa, Ozzie Kotani, and Keale were given away to six lucky recipients. Happy, happy, happy was Kamoa ‘Ukulele winner Connie Schwarzenegger (no relationship).

Grandma Natalie walked on stage with her beloved grandson who turned one on Sunday. Baby’s Dad loves the Steelers and Sha-lei loves the color blue, hence he was named Steele Blue. She sang “their song” from Cinderella; you could see that Steele was already very comfortable in front of a mic and trying to join in. Yes! You need to start them young.

Natalie extended her invitation to Kauaians to come up on stage to dance hula favorite Lei Nani sung by Natalie in her wondrous falsetto. Madeleine Guyett didn’t miss a beat; she was on the stage instantly. Our resident hula dancers must be so happy to return to the EKK stage where the audience so appreciate the beauty and grace they so graciously share.

In the darkest moments of the Covid pandemic she recorded music for a new CD titled Natalie Noelani; it was released on 2/22/22. Not being able to share her music was very emotional; it forced her to re-define and refine herself. This evening’s performance is proof that she has successfully done exactly that.
From the first song to the last, the crowd gave them standing ovations and applause that was so loud that backstage their kids expressed their surprise; that is the famous Kaua’i reception!

Natalie does not talk about Miss Aloha Hula 32 years ago. She said she used to sing in a Mickey Mouse/Minnie Mouse voice until she entered Miss Aloha Hula. It was a turning point in her career because she had to oli; she had to learn to use her voice. She acknowledged that the Miss Aloha Hula title is one of the highest accolades that a hula dancer can receive, but that experience was a pivotal moment in her development as a singer which actually began in 2005 when her debut album E garnered her four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and a Grammy nomination for La La La La in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. Since then she has been a formidable contender on the Hawaiian music scene.

Kaulana ‘o Hilo Hanakahi really shows Natalie’s voice off with a richness and depth as she moves from one octave to another. Out of the darkness, Sha-lei delighted the audience as she moved through the aisle up close to the audience with her sensuous hula moves.

Chaz, quick to wow the audience with his hula is bigger than life and full of charm. He danced the full-of-kaona hula called Noho Paipai, the “Rocking Chair Hula”. Full of suggestive charm, ‘Iolani belts out the song with his masculine voice.

Hanalei Moon is a beautiful Kaua’i song but when you hear Natalie and ‘Iolani harmonizing, it takes on another indescribable layer of beauty. Natalie called on a Kaua’i hula dancer, Akala Aiwohi, who happened to be celebrating her wedding anniversary with husband Bryan Aiwohi, one of the lucky winners of the CD giveaway during the intermission.

Natalie shared that she met Troy online (not that way) because her kids were bouncing around in their garage taking Troy’s Zoom Zumba Class. She invited one of Kauai’s favorite kumu hula to join her on stage for Kawainahenahe. Troy Hinano Lazaro and members of his halau were as sensuous as bamboo swaying in the breeze. Their hula choreography, so typical of Troy’s hula style, delighted the audience. My first encounter with Troy was at Nathan Kalama’s 50th birthday party when I first witnessed Troy’s dancing and immediately dubbed him “Liquid Silver.” He was so young….maybe still in high school, but a standout at that very young age.

Natalie suddenly called out, “I know this person will not tell me ‘no’; Kamaha’o, where are you?” The Kaua’i audience cheered knowing what was in store for them. Young Kamaha’o quickly ran up to the stage and agreed to sing the famous seaweed song, Ka Uluwehi o Ke Kai, strumming Natalie’s gorgeous ‘ukulele. As Kamaha’o’s voice rings out sassily, the Tango brothers appeared quickly on the stage followed by a huge contingent of our EKK resident hula dancers who joined the action…all so delighted to finally be able to get up on the stage they missed for way too long.

Fifteen years into their married life, the Kamauu’s first family vacation to historic European cities was a really big deal. They marveled at the splendor and history of all the famous sites. As splendid as their family experience to Europe was, her return to the islands brought thoughts of the mountains and valleys of Kaua’i. “That is architecture! Kaua’i is magnificent! Kaua’i is extraordinary!” She then invited dancers up to dance to Nani Kaua’i. She wanted to dedicate this hula to a very special person
. . . Kumu Maka Herrod. With over 25 dancers on stage and on the floor, it was truly a chicken-skin moment and a heart-felt tribute to one of Kauai’ most beloved and instrumental kumu hula on Kaua’i.

How can anyone match Maka’s wildly playful personality when he cartwheels on stage to introduce his hula group at one of the early E Pili Kakou. His adoring fans are spread far and wide; when he steps on the stage in one of Japan’s giant hula concert venue, you can hears screams of “Maka! Maka” from all parts of the massive audience. To know Maka is to adore him. The adoration oozing from all the hula dancers and the Kamauu artists was tangible.

Kumu Maka did step up on stage to embrace and lei the lovely Natalie. Tear jerker moments! “What beautiful things are happening tonight to all of us.” said Natalie. Yes! Many in the audience were moved to tears by the surprise and the warmth of everything that was unfolding right before their eyes. Unplanned and unstifled … it was truly a Kaua’i style evening.

Natalie took a moment to acknowledge Kauai’s Linda Lester Keale who interviewed her for the EKK event on KKCR radio. “Linda not only loves Hawaiian music, she loves the people who created them and is so quick to acknowledge the music of all musicians on the radio.” Yes! That’s Linda! Another Kaua’i “treasure.”

No Waimea Ke Aloha was written by Taupouri Tangaro of Hawai’i Island who sent lyrics to her via Facebook. Natalie and ‘Io put a beautiful melody to it; this is the song they wanted to share to usher in the next big move in their life. At long last they will be getting a piece of the ‘aina to call their own … thanks to ‘Iolani’s 70% Hawaiian plus Danish and Chinese and Natalie’s contribution of Hawaiian, American Indian, Spanish, Scottish, Dutch, Irish, Welsh, Belgian and English. They are planning to build a new home on Hawai’i Island. She shared with her children that they would be moving to Waimea where her Lindsey family ties are. Sha-lei said she was moving with her as Mom needed her…. Natalie agreed. Chaz was certainly not going to be left behind; he made his intentions clear. It’s clearly a very tight-knit family.

For her final number she belted out an awesome medley of I Will Always Love You Pili Aloha. The harmony between ‘Iolani and Natalie was eloquent and emotional. Sha-lei’s hula was the culmination of generations of hula traditions. What an awesome gift they shared with all of us so hungry for this evening of sharing Hawaiian music, dance and stories. Coconut wireless trivia: I learned via Jodi Ascuena who got it from Tutu Kamala Mersberg that ‘Iolani was named by and for his great Aunt, the iconic hula legend ‘Iolani Luahine. His Mom, Hoakalei Kamauu, was also a significant giant in the hula world. No wonder hula oozes through their veins.

When everyone stood up, held hands and started to sing the final
Hawai’i Aloha, it was obvious that both Natalie and ‘Iolani were so moved at the sight of a whole audience swaying and singing at the top of their voices. ‘Iolani later told me several times, “This is something you would see only on Kaua’i . . . everyone singing Hawai’i Aloha at the top of their voices and knowing all the words… not just moving the lips pretending to know the song.”

Text Message:
Aloha & Mahalo Carol for such a beautiful evening!!!
Once again Mahalo….Mahalo….Mahalo!!!!
Iolani & Natalie Kamauu

*** Photos courtesy of Mike Teruya ***

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Funding for E Kanikapila Kakou 2022 Hawaiian Music Program is made possible by Hawai’i Tourism Authority, with support from Kauai Visitors Bureau, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, National Endowment for the Arts, the Kaua’i Beach Resort, Kamoa ‘Ukulele, Kauai Festivals and the Garden Island Arts Council supporters.