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Monday, February 23, 2015

“The Keale Magic is Alive and Well”

A Comedy of Errors:

Here is the backstory which I did not find out about until after the performance hanging with the artists in Shutters Lounge; it reads like a Shakespearean comedy of errors  . . . more hilarious because the players did not realize what all was going on until it was all played out in the final act. We all figured it out and our individual parts in the plot and had a good laugh and a stiff drink (Walt did) about the whole thing.

The week before, Kellen and Lihau Hannahs Paik came to support and enjoy Mark Yamanaka’s music and ended up on the stage singing in their grungies. In all the closing down commotion, Kellen asked me if Chris Lau was backing up Walt on the upright bass, BUT I heard it as, “ Does Walt need a backup bass? Anyway, I coming next week.” So in all the usual commotion, I heard wrong (but I did not know that then).

I sent email to Walt, “Hi Walt. Try calling Kellen Paik. He came last week to EKK to hear Mark Yamanaka. He said something about backing you with bass. He lives in Kilauea on Kaua’i.”

To which the always busy Walt sent Mike Keale a very brief message, “Kellen! Upright!” Mike thought that Walt was asking him if Kellen was an UPRIGHT person, so he called me to inquire about Kellen. Not knowing what Walt had said to Mike and rushed as usual, I interrupted Mike and said that Kellen is coming and offered to play upright bass. At which point, the soft-spoken very gracious Mike calls up Kellen and thanks him profusely for offering to back them up on the bass, and Kellen replied, “I am?” but being the nice guy that Kellen is, he chuckled and said “Okay.”

So after their 8:00 am KKCR interview, they descended on the Paik residence. Kellen thought they dropped in for coffee, but the two cousins stopped in for a rehearsal.  The Paiks went along and together they planned the playlist for the performance. Both Keale cousins, not being good with lists, asked Kellen to write a list on paper for the evening. He almost forgot it when leaving for EKK, but Lihau reminded him and he ran back into the house to get it. On stage he held up the paper and said, “But I wasn’t going to bring it because the Keale’s would never follow the list anyway.”

And they did not; it turned out to be a fabulous, heart-warming, spontaneous evening of music, fun, hula, stories and remembrances of Uncle Moe, and audience members that were beside themselves with appreciation.

Very early Tuesday morning Walt sends email: “Thank you Auntie Carol for a wonderful time last night! It was hard to fall asleep with the adrenaline.” I, too, could not fall asleep with so much excitement from the program; I had to stay up and write this story before I could fall asleep. Mike emails: Hi Carol, just wanted to thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of E Kanikapila Kakou.  Seeing the joy in peoples faces and hearing the comments of joy and happiness makes it so special.

Uncle Moe was a very special Hawaiian man.

Uncle Moe Keale definitely left his imprint on his two nephews because the evening was rich with the same warmth that he exuded in his lifetime of sharing music. This was revealed as the Keale cousins shared their music and stories about their famous Uncle – musician, beach boy, fisherman, deejay, electrician and actor. Amazingly, my records show that Moe Keale was the guest artist at EKK on April 10, 1995 to 70 participants and on April 8, 1996 to 143 participants; EKK was held then in Saint Michael’s parish hall. He would be very surprised to see the 2015 audience of over 400 people who experienced “Tribute to Uncle Moe” at Kaua’i Beach Resort.

Moe was born Wilfred Nalani Keale, nicknamed “Animal” in his Beach Boy days, and later known as Moe. He was the youngest of seven surviving Keale siblings and Walt’s Mom Momi was just above Moe. All his hapa-haole nieces and nephews could call him Uncle Wilfred (pronounced Wooferd for some unknown reason) but none of the local nieces and nephews dared to call him that.

Walt Keale, a veteran performer on the EKK stage, opened the program with a set of songs that were close to his heart. He was backed up by none other than Kellen Paik, the very upright “resident upright bass player.” As the Keale’s hail originally from the Island of Ni’ihau, Walt sang in his haunting tones ‘Ua Nani Ni’ihau. A tall statuesque blond hula dancer originally from California, Ina Legins, took to the stage as Walt’s magical voice filled the room.

Walt sang the title tract of Uncle Moe’s first solo album South Sea Island Magic. It was a song reminiscent of the Hawaiian songs of that era with romantic lyrics and that special sound so popular in those days. Walt said that Uncle Moe sang Hawaiian songs in his public performances, songs for his non-public audience which you don’t want to sing here tonight, but his na’au music was actually country, jazz and blues . . . these were the songs that he sang at 1:00 in the morning while sitting on his couch at home. He sang the ballad Kern River written by Merle Haggard, Uncle’s favorite country musician. Fern Merle Jones stepped into the spotlight and danced the hula; the surprised and delighted Walt joked, “Just like we rehearsed it, guys.”

Walt’s own background was that he transplanted at an early age to the mainland so he could live with his grandparents. Except for summers in Hawai’i with the extended ‘ohana, he was pretty much raised by Mexican wolves in the San Joaquin Valley. He recalls that Uncle Moe had in his home a much-treasured five-string Cuatro, the Venezuelan cousin of the ‘ukulele. When he was checking out the internet for Cuatro tuning, he came across a photo of Moe Keale playing a Cuatro style ‘ukulele. With this intro, he sang a Hawaiian classic Hi’ilawe with a Mexican tuning and instrumentation. It definitely changed the character of the song; I could not picture hula dancers dancing Hi’ilawe with Mexican shake ’n bake rhythms.

Mike Keale joined Walt and Kellen on stage and asked audience to give Walt the Hawaiian Monk Seal applause with loud “woofs” and seal flipper claps.  Mike said, “I used to show up with 4 – 5 folders with all my songs and a music stand, but now I have everything in this IPad…oops, it’s upside down.” I thought, “This is going to be a fun evening!”

Remembering Moe Keale, Mike also referred to his South Sea Island Magic CD and sang Scotch and Soda in his wonderfully mellow voice; Mike is definitely the Hawaiian Crooner a la Frank Sinatra. His singing makes you want to dance with a partner. Those who want more of Mike can go to Tahiti Nui any Monday evening or to Hukilau Lanai lounge area every Tuesday evening from 6 – 9.

Between the two Keale nephews, one begins to get a sense of who this giant of a musician was. Mike and Walt actually never met until they attended the funeral for their cousin Israel Kamakawiwo’ole in the late 1990’s.  It was a huge Celebration of Life party in Waianae for Bruddah Iz. It’s a well-known “understanding” that nobody leaves his/her car unattended in Waianae because it may not be there when you are ready to leave.  The main “security” boss of the ‘ohana named Buffalo Keaulana carries a lot of weight in that community; he had the word out that NOBODY TOUCH THE CARS as a warning to those who tend to “borrow the cars and not give it back.” Uncle Moe’s pride and joy was his favorite ’67 Volkswagen Bug called “Bruno” which he drove to the funeral. After the party, he could not find “Bruno” anywhere so Uncle Moe was advised to catch a ride home with one of the Pahinui’s.  Early the next morning Uncle Moe woke up to find his favorite “Bruno” in the garage.  On the VW bug was a note that read, “Dear Uncle, Sorry we did not know it was Bruno.” It’s a good thing because he was very attached to that little car.

Whenever Uncle Moe wanted to get away from the crowd, he went up to Mount Ka’ala on his horse. The sun was setting, it began to drizzle, a rainbow filled the sky and he was feeling very happy. He did what any cowboy does when he is happy; he began to yodel to the song Uluwehi O Ka’ala. Even while yodeling Mike does not lose that crooner touch so he sang a very gentle smooth and not-so-fast yodel in this song.

Uncle Moe always tried to introduce the kids in the family to all his friends so they could enjoy the same friends and happiness that he experienced. He especially wanted Mike to meet Kihei de Silva, a wonderful composer and the husband of Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva. Before he passed away, Moe told Mike to visit them in Lanikai, originally known as Ka’ohao. “Look for the red van in the garage.”  Unfortunately, Uncle died before Mike had a chance to visit the de Silva’s. One day he woke up and decided to go and visit them. Sure enough the red van was in the garage, but not being sure what to expect, he knocked on the door, and was greeted by Kihei, “Keale! Keale, eh? We’ve been waiting for you.” They asked Mike to play something on the ‘ukulele, so he sat down. “That is where your Uncle used to sit and play music for the halau.” Mike sang Kihei de Silva’s Hanohano Wailea, a song that is significant because it gives the correct names of the places in that area; it is sung by the children at Lanikai Elementary. (Read Kihei de Silva’s notes about the composing of this song at Kalaimamani Literary Archive.) Mike looked around and shouted, “Come play ‘ukulele, cuzzin!” Walt joined Mike on stage and jumped right in without missing a beat on his ‘ukulele.

When Walt was asked to play the give-away Kamoa ‘ukulele, Mike said we’ll play several love songs. He introduced Makee Ailana with a story about how Kapiolani Park was a swamp at one time with many small islands in the swamp. One of these islands belonged to Captain Makee. According to legends about this song, it was a place that lovers like to frequent. Po’ai Galindo and Mahina danced a beautiful hula as the cousins sang. They followed this with a very mellow version of E Ku’u Morning Dew composed by Eddie Kamae with lyrics by Larry Kimura. Mike blanked out on the words to the next song, so he looked into the audience and asked, “Where’s My Honey? Linda, can you come up to help me?” Mike’s wife, Linda Lester Keale, had earlier in the evening taught a group of dancers the hula Nani Kaua’i. All the hula dancers came up and filled the dance floor and stage with the lovely hula about the many special places on the island.

After a short American break, CD’s of our favorite artists were given away to six lucky folks who filled out attendance forms. The lucky winner of the Kamoa ‘ukulele drawing was L. Steve Cameron of Seattle, Washington. We acknowledged Lyn McNutt for her efforts in getting the ten ‘ukulele donated by Kamoa ‘Ukulele and also Fran Nestel who each week makes about fifty leis to be given to our first time visitors. So many hard working and dedicated volunteers at EKK.

Walt started the second half with the song In My Dreams for his mother Momi. The day before he had for the first time visited Polihale to scatter his Mom’s ashes. Polihale is the closest place on Kaua’i to the island of Ni’ihau.

As they did the week before for Mark Yamanaka, special guests Lihau and Kellen Paik came up and shared their songs and stories about Uncle Moe. In 1908 the World Championship Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming was attended by several contestants from Hawai’i. The Purdy Brothers, Ikua and Archie Ka’aua entered and, although given the worst horses and gear, pulled off the remarkable win at the rodeo. Ikua won the championship, Ka’aua took third place, and “Rawhide Ben” Low took sixth place. In those days, telegraph was the fast communication available so a telegraph was sent to Hawai’i that the Hawaii contingent had won the Championship. Uncle Moe wrote the songs Waiomina to commemorate this ground-breaking event. Of course, audience screams, “Hana hou! Hana hou!”

When Kellen first moved to Honolulu to attend school, the first CD he bought was at Borders titled Uncle Moe Live in Waikiki which had 17 songs on it. He was thrilled at his find because it’s rare to find live performances on recordings.  They sang Aia I Ka Maui, a song about a steamer ship that transported people and stuff back and forth from island to island. How special it was for Kupaoa to share their singing once again.

Hale’iwa Hula by Jennie Hanaiali’i Wood and John Noble was taught to the ‘ukulele circle. Walt asked everyone to join in playing the song from wherever they were. Vern Kauanui went on stage to play his ‘ukulele but ended up dancing to this mele. The next song composed by Albert Nahale’e and sung by Uncle Moe on the Sons of Hawaii Album was about a father who witnessed the birth of his child. He was so happy to watch this child grow up. The waltz tempo song He Punahele No ‘Oe (You’re My Favorite ) was sung by Mike with backup vocals by Walt.  Beautiful!

At this point Walt asked, “Maybe should we sing one of the songs that we actually practiced.”  Walt said that there are some songs that you just don’t touch because they are perfect as they are, and he encouraged Mike to share the story of this song.  They bantered back and forth as to who would tell the story, but Mike finally took the lead. I have heard many versions of this story from simple to elaborate, but Mike’s version is definitely the winner . . .  even tops that of Uncle George Kahumoku which in itself is a pretty big feat. Of course, Mike embellished it with a touch of fantasmagoria, but since the story has reached the status of “legendary”, a bit of magic is allowable.

Moses Keale of Ni’ihau, their great-great-grandfather (he was not sure how many greats) lived in Kalalau Valley in the early to mid 1980’s. One day his wife asked him to go catch dinner so he took his gun and went up the mountain to scout for a goat.  He saw an unusual pure white goat – white horns, eyes, hoofs, everything white – so he followed it. The goat kept stopping to see if Moses was following until finally they got to a place where the goat could go neither up nor down so he stopped and looked at Moses. He got ready to shoot when suddenly the goat disappeared. Guess who’s stuck now?  Moses could go neither up nor down, so he looked up and spoke to Akua, “I’m going to jump off this cliff; if you are really out there, it’s up to you. If I live, I will dedicate my life to you.” And he jumped. He lived because the pandanus leaves broke his fall on the way down. He woke up with his hunting dogs licking his face. He lived to build a church in Ni’ihau which still stands today and the Hawaiian Church in Waimea across from the Fire Station where the Ni’ihau ‘ohana swell the church walls with their wonderful singing every Sunday morning. Walt gave us chicken skin as he sang Ua Mau – Hosana, one of the most beautiful Ni’ihau hymns written by the Reverend Moses W. Ka’aneikawaha’ale Keale.

My high school classmate was Moses Keale, his older brother was also Moses Keale and worked for OHA, and I believe they had another five siblings each named Moses Keale. That’s efficiency when calling everyone to dinner. Not sure how they are related to the Reverend Moses Keale, but I bet my bottom dollar that they are.  That is one way to make sure a name lives on.

One of the most heart-warming songs written by Danny Lopez for Uncle Moe was called A Part of Me, A Part of You or The Hospital Song which Uncle Moe used to sing for the terminally ill patients at Queen’s Hospital every day before he went to work at Sheraton Waikiki.  This song won Uncle Moe the Na Hoku Hanohano Award in 1987. The richness of Mike’s crooner voice was perfect for this song.

Walt said, “When Papa used to go and throw net by the reef, he used to sing a simple song by Aunty Pilahi Paki,” often called the “keeper of Hawaii’s secrets” and one of the most significant proponents of the word Aloha and composer of the Aloha Chant;

Walt closed the evening with Uncle Moe, a song written by Del Beazley about this great Hawaiian man. The audience joined in on the singing. That unmistakable yearning in Walt’s voice comes from deep within and was perfect for this special song honoring a special man.

By the time everyone held hands and raised their voices in song for Hawai’i Aloha, many were wiping tears from their eyes and still yelling hana hou. Such a perfect evening with just the right amount of singing, stories, hula, and a tubful of good humor.

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.