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Who’s Coming Up on Monday, February 11?

Rock Stars Light Up the Music Scene on Kauai


Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom and Jeff Peterson are rock stars in every way — musically, stage presence, storytelling — they are top notch! The interesting thing is that their style of delivery does not make you feel like you are in a crowded standing-room-only ballroom; Amy is sharing her stories as if she’s in your backyard sitting around the picnic table near the barbeque. Every so often she had to do an audience check to see if everyone was there because everyone was so quiet, hanging on to every word to be sure not to miss any stories. And . . . her stories were hilarious as she shares each incident in great detail but also with layers of meanings in the same way that Hawaiian mele have layers of kaona, or hidden meaning.

There was a WOW-ness about Monday night’s performance that words will fall short of describing, but I will try. As many times as I have listened to Amy on CD’s, there is something to be said about the real person singing right in front of you. There is no substitution for the real thing.

Amy posed the question, “What would the world be like without hula? Hula is such an integral part of Hawai’i; it’s the heart-beat of Hawai’i.” As a thank you to the Merrie Monarch who not only sanctioned hula but encouraged the forbidden art form as a way to celebrate the Hawaiian culture, Amy sang Aloha No Kalakaua in a voice so pure and exquisite that I found myself holding my breath. Composed a long time ago, the song needs a new verse because Pele’s recent eruption wiped out the beauty of Kanile’a which is in the song. She told her daughter that she is so lucky to witness the Hawaiian Goddess revealing herself right in front of her.

A stunning beauty, her long black hair framing her exquisite face, she’s dressed simply but stylishly in black and her hand motions mirror her words, but it’s her voice that transfixes all in the audience. Like a chameleon she can shift gears and move from awesome to sassy in a wink. Her tita voice clues us in to the next song. “One of my joys is to break down the song so that you can better appreciate what the composer is really saying. Many songs have five to six different layers of kaona or meaning.” She wanted to share with the audience the way to dig deep into the Hawaiian mele to understand the other layers of meaning that the composer was actually sharing in the song.

Holoholo Ka’a is about riding around in a car, but actually, it’s a lot more than that because the old couple is having a “whee-haw” time in the back of the car. As they drive across the pali and continue to have a good time in the back of the car, they see swelling humongous clouds on the other side of the pali that suddenly pop and rain gushes down, creating the beautiful mist of procreation in a moment of joy.  “Do you all get it?” was her sly and rascal query to the audience, and from all the smiling nodding faces, you knew that everyone in the audience got the kaona and no-longer-hidden meaning. Procreation is huge in Hawaiian culture. Every Hawaiian song ends with the ha’ina verse. Within this context, the first ha’ina is the first cigarette as she gestures blowing her smoke away and tossing her hair. If it was really good, you need the second ha’ina, which is the second cigarette.

“If anybody knows this hula, get your ‘okole up to the stage,” invited Amy. Feisty kupuna Arlene Kon could not resist the hula opportunity to show the audience exactly what Amy was singing about; and she should know . . . she has outlived her three husbands. She hopped on stage and danced with so much kaona in her kolohe hula while Amy snapped her fingers and belted out the verses with so much “tita-ness” in her voice. “Whee-haw! There’s years of kaona in that Aunty.”  And there you have it – a quick and hilarious lesson in the layers of hidden meaning in a Hawaiian mele.

Setting the stage for the next song, Amy talked about Hokule’a, Hawai’i’s mother double-hull canoe which just completed a three-year voyage around the world. Every island has its own double-hull canoe. Kaua’i has Namahoe, Hawai’i island has Hikianalia and Makali’i, an all-female manned canoe, and Maui has Mo’okiha O Pi’ilani. Amy’s oldest brother built the Mo’okiha and is a master navigator on the Hokule’a. Having traveled extensively along the entire Polynesian chain from Rapanui to Pitcairns, Tahiti and many other islands, “hunting and gathering” along the way. Laughingly, she shared a tongue-in-cheek scenario that perhaps one day someone will knock on my mother’s door and say, “Hi, Tutu!”  Amy is just plain fun and a master in her story-telling.

When her brother Timmy and his crew journeyed to Japan, sailing from Hawai’i to Okinawa, they stopped in to visit Amy at Osanbashi Hall at the port in Yokohama. It’s an amazing venue where concert audiences number 400,000. Amy was standing with the Governor when suddenly the sirens went off and the entire Hokule’a crew was arrested. Apparently, they unknowingly entered Yokohama Harbor via domestic waters rather than via international waters. It was a protocol of which they were not aware. Where there is water, they will sail there. Their style of sailing was based on following the horizon, stars, tides and tiny birds that guide the ships, namely, the Manu O Ku. This song is a tongue twister sung in a Hawaiian rap style with a fun call-and-recall chorus for the audience. The audience shout out Ku’e . . .  Ku’e Ku’e … Ku’e … Ku’e Ku’e. Simple enough to learn on the spot, the huge audience sounded great and had a lot of fun.

Amy was raised by her tutu, a Royal Hawaiian Hula Dancer back in the hey-day of the “pink hotel” in Waikiki. In 1937, she traveled to the mainland with Ray Kinney to open up the Hawaiian Room at the Lexington Hotel in New York City; it was sold out for sixty years with shows seven nights a week. She spent time sitting side-by-side with the likes of Marlon Brando and Katherine Hepburn. Walter Winchell, a newspaper and radio gossip commentator was very much on the scene and wrote about everything going on there; he called all the hula dancers “Lani” because he could not pronounce their names.

Tutu was married five times. She had to because, in those days, you can’t just shack up. Her third husband was the father of Amy, Eric and her oldest brother Timmy. He played first trumpet with Tommy Dorsey. Amy once ventured to ask her, “Why did you marry them all?”  Came the quick reply, “Shut your mouth; don’t you question me! I loved every single one of them!” She was happy that she out-lived them all and lived to the ripe old age of 90. A hula dancer all her life, tutu danced right up to her last breath, her hands came down and she quietly passed on. Every so often Amy would have to stop for an audience-check and say, “You’re so quiet! Makes me nervous. Are you there?” The audience was simply transfixed by her stories. What makes it so special is that she is so real in her story-telling; she tells them as if she’s sharing them up close with a small circle of friends.

Napua, which means beautiful flower, was composed for the special woman she calledtutu. When she starts to sing, her voice simply transports you out in space where you are cradled in the beauty of her voice. Jeff Peterson, master guitarist, adds to the magic of the moment with his delicate pa’ani. What an extraordinary duo with Amy sharing her heartfelt stories and Jeff’s music sending us on this musical journey through space.

When tutu retired to Molokai at age 80, she was hospitalized. Amy visited her and discovered that the attending nurse had a black eye. “What’s happening?” she asked. Tutuconfessed that they kept telling her to take pills…pills…pills…pills… “So I knocked her out!” Tutu was sent home to Hale Pumehana in Kaunakakai the next day but cautioned about her swollen ankles from too much salt in her diet. When Amy checked out tutu’spantry, she found a stash of 200 cans of corned beef; 200 cans of corned beef hash, 100 cans of spam, and four bags of rice. “Grandma? Are we in a war? You’re eating all war-time food!” Tutu replied, “What are you talking about? It’s all ono — sardines with onion and tomatoes so ono.” Amy promptly moved tutu to Kihei where she could be closely monitored.  

Tutu’s house was like a Hollywood set with fake palm trees, fake rocks and everything fake. Amy’s recollection of tutu’s closet was hilarious. Her closet was packed with memorabilia and everything she brought back from her days on the Hollywood set. All her things were stored in boxes but for nine-year-old Amy, walking into the forbidden closet was like an adventure into the movie Narnia. While digging through the beautiful rhinestone-covered Hollywood costumes and hats, Amy came across a curious item in a large ziploc bag. It was two animals joined at the nose. “Molokai people are hunters but we don’t hang our animals in the closet.” She curiously took the animals out of the bag and draped them over her shoulders and stroked the wonderfully soft fur . . . maybe mink or fox. Her tutu came in suddenly and startled Amy who pulled off the fur and flicked it suddenly, which made all the fur fall out and all that was left was the carcass of the two animals. It turned out to be Billie Holiday’s gift to tutu. Amy apologized profusely, “I’m soooo sorry! What were they? Who is Billie Holiday?” In honor of Billie Holiday, she sang a Billie Holiday song. “I wish there was a piano here for me to sit on with long white gloves and long cigarette holder.”

Amy was transformed once again as she belted out God Bless the Child, and Jeff was so rad on the guitar that Amy had to commend him with “Show Off!”  Yes, Jeff is so amazing on the guitar that he can’t help but show off every time he strums that instrument. I was not sure in advance exactly how Amy and Jeff were going to structure their EKK gig, but we could not have asked for anything more special as the two artists were so much in synch, it looks as if they have been playing together for decades. The packed house was captivated by the artistry of Amy and Jeff together.

As one of the star ki ho’alu guitarists not only in Hawai’i but worldwide, Jeff has been working on a new CD about the ki ho’alu style of playing called Ka Nani O Ki Ho’alu – The Beauty of Slack Key. It is a tribute to the many older ki ho’alu musicians who have left their imprint on the development of this genre since it first got its start in the 1830’s on Hawai’i Island. In the early days no one would teach you how to play ki ho’alu; this was Jeff’s experience on the ranch.  One had to just watch and learn. On his website,, he is transcribing many of the old ki ho’alu songs of the musicians who are now gone because we need to document the old music before it gets lost. In his research, Jeff has spent a great deal of time getting information from those connected most closely with ki ho’alu. He spent time with Melodia Kane, wife of Ray Kane, who shared a tidbit of information:  Uncle Ray’s payment for a guitar lesson was a five-pound can of Hormel’s ham. (real salty stuff!) Jeff played Pu’uanahulu in the style of Gabby Pahinui. Huge applause!!

Certain songs are connected with specific artists perhaps because the way they sing it is so unique and special that it eventually becomes a signature song for that artist. Such a song is Haleiwa Hula, a song written in 1937 by tutu. Unable to resist the opportunity to dance the hula with Amy singing it, Mako Shirato from Chiba, Japan, hopped on stage and captured the hearts of the audience with her sassy hula movements. Many hula dancers from Japan are haumana of kumu hula from Hawai’i; Mako’s kumu hula is Leilani Rivera Low of Kapa’a.

Jeff was asked to demonstrate the Kamoa ‘ukulele that would be given away after the intermission and boy! can he make that ‘ukulele sing! Amazing! He played a jazzy version of Blue Moon complete with all that fancy picking. Amy can’t refuse jazz and again did her chameleon move to switch from one style to another and rendered a very sultry Blue Moon. In her very early musical career she focused on her jazz repertoire before she gained the spotlight as one of the top divas in Hawaiian music. Bob McKelvey of New Hampshire was the lucky winner of the Kamoa ‘ukulele.

Jeff opened the second half sharing information about the upcoming Mokihana Club concert featuring Keola and Moanalani Beamer with Jeff Peterson. Each year the Beamers continue their tradition of the Aloha Music Camp, now held on Kaua’i, started many years ago when Nona Beamer was the leader of the pack. Jeff fondly recalls the early days of Borders Books and Music when anyone could stop by and listen to any one of 40 million songs on tapes. When he heard the Brothers Cazimero were doing the intimate Border’s gig, he had to go and was amazed to find Leonard Kwan there and was able to pick up a Dancing Cat recording of ki ho’alu music. A good friend of his grandfather, Leonard Kwan has many tunings. Jeff wrote Song for Keola in the “Leonard’s C” tuning. Jeff considers Keola to be one of the greatest slack key artists, composer and beautiful person. Jeff has a unique style of gently bobbing up and down as he plays and often throws his head back with his eyes closed as if he is floating away to the place in the song.

“My mother is a staunch Lutheran from Wisconsin, and my father was Mormon. It was an interesting household. The good thing about being in Hawai’i is that there are churches everywhere.” When Amy was recording with Willie K, she was upset about a church being bull dozed so she wrote a song titled Down by the River. It has a touch of gospel, lot of humming and even the Amy growl for some religious emphasis. Jeff’s guitar picking is so full of surprises that no one can fall asleep in this church.  Amen. Amen. Amen.  Amy blessed everyone.

Amy touched on the topic of Hawaiian genealogy, called Mo’oku’auhau which is important among Hawaiians. Many of the early chants are genealogical chants that relay entire family lineages. In New Zealand they also have their own genealogical traditions calledWhakapapa, pronounced Fakapapa. Because her daughter’s father is Maori from New Zealand, she composed a genealogy song titled Mo’oku’auhau. It definitely had a very different tempo from the Hawaiian songs.

Jeff pointed out that Amy has an incredible line of wines. One of her latest sparkly wines is called Tiny Bubbles for which she received blessings from Don Ho’s trustees. In April she will be launching the PR for her new line of wines and she’s excited about driving around California in a wine tour bus with bubbles coming out of the back of the bus advertisingTiny Bubbles. They will have full recording capabilities inside the bus so that they can capture live images of wine tasting as part of the PR. The Chardonnay sales will go toward supporting autism and the Sparkly sales will support Native Arts and Culture. Amy and Jeff shared news about their mainland tours which begin end of April to places like Saratoga, Sacramento, Portland. The tour schedules can be found online.

Jeff suggested that she sing He Ali’i No ‘Oe as Amy is best known for reinvigorating the Hawaiian tradition of female falsetto singing known as ha’i in which the female voice hits the rafters with very high and prolonged notes. She also incorporates her unique guttural “growl” which is so uniquely Amy. Jeff is right in there with his lively guitar accompaniment. Amy also sang Hanaiali’i Nui La Ea for her cousin Kiani who was in the audience. Their great grandmothers are sisters.

Another one of the songs for which Amy is best known is Palehua, or Sacred Gateway to Heaven. As an intro, Amy gave the audience a quick description of the place called Palehua. If you go to Nanakuli, Makaha or Wai’anae, be sure you don’t go past Ko’olina unless you have a friend with you or an Auntie who lives in that area . . .  for your safety. She and Willie K went to the mountain top at Makakilo to record albums in the R. Alex Anderson studio. Anderson wrote Mele Kalikimaka. It was a challenging place to record because there were train tracks all around so it was too noisy from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. Jeff recalled the challenge of trying to record their Christmas album in the middle of summer, wearing Christmas hats and drinking eggnog to get into the spirit of Christmas while outside there were sky divers who were being dropped off from the planes; they had to wait until the planes went by before they could record. Our most treasured hula beauty, Madeleine Guyett, danced so gracefully to this mele.

Talking about stage fright, Jeff fondly recalled his first EKK gig held in the Island School cafeteria. His father Bard Peterson, rugged ranch boss of the Haleakala Ranch, joined Jeff on stage dressed in his cowboy boots, spurs and cowboy hat. He was the picture of confidence until a few minutes before he stepped on the stage and then he was gripped with stage fright. He said, “Now I know what an astronaut feels like on the space shuttle . . . once he’s there, he can’t back out!”  Amy shared the stage fright experience of her eldest brother Timmy, world traveler and captain of the sailing ship. He wanted to be on one of Amy’s recordings so they set him up with headphones which totally confused him, and when he had to sing his one line of the song, his voice came out as a high wavering squeaky sound. It had to be cut. Amy said she never let him live that moment down. It happens to the best of them.

Responding to audience request, Amy delightfully sang Etta James’ At Last. You could see that this was the kind of song that really turns Amy on because she just moved in that groove and swept us all away with her performance. Jeff is so hot on guitar improvisation so he really went to town on the jazz beat. WOW!

“Hana hou! Hana hou!” The audience wanted more! On a somber note, Amy talked about taking the night tour at ‘Iolani Palace where Queen Lili’uokalani was sequestered when her throne was taken away from her. Amy was so emotionally touched when she entered the Blue Room that she could not stop her tears. On her drive back to Kane’ohe, she composed this song in honor of the Queen, Hale Ali’i O Waimaka, or Palace of Tears. A beautiful melody, this tribute to the Queen is a very deep and endearing song that captures the feeling of grief and mourning. With that touching finale, all stood up to sing Hawai’i Aloha, collectively sending out vibes of appreciation for the gift of music by two of Hawai’i’s most celebrated artists.


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Funding for E Kanikapila Kakou 2019 Hawaiian Music Program is made possible by Hawai’i Tourism through the Community Enrichment Program, with support from the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, the Garden Island Arts Council supporters and 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.


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