“Aftermath of Aloha”
After events, volunteers are generally tasked with picking up recyclables and trash; not so for EKK Volunteers. The morning after the final night of EKK, 23 of my 40 EKK volunteers showed up at the Kaua’i Beach Resort Naupaka Terrace for a big mahalo breakfast. To the surprise and delight of the volunteers, Raiatea Helm and her two “tough” aunties joined us for the final season get-together. It was cool to see her dressed informally and in a relaxed non-performing mode. I asked each person to share with the group one specific incident of Aloha that they encountered during their ten weeks of meeting, greeting, and servicing the many new and longtime participants who make up the audiences for the Hawaiian Music Program. The stories were heart-warming and a testimony that we were doing it right at EKK. One story in particular stood out because the players are so recognizable to EKK attendees. Two guys in wheelchairs stood out as they showed up each week with faces beaming, scurrying around the ballroom at top allowable speed, dodging pedestrians and greeting all their new friends with giant smiles on their faces — Wendell Sandobal who has been coming for several years and Eric Lazar who is new to EKK.
It was a story shared by Lyn McNutt who was instrumental in securing donations of ten new ‘ukulele from the Kamoa ‘Ukulele Family who work out of Larry’s Music in Kapa’a town. Each week Lyn and Mizu accepted donations from anyone wishing to help the EKK program by buying tickets for the ‘ukulele drawing. Two gentlemen, Wendell and Eric, who each week made it a point to donate for a chance of winning the ‘ukulele seemed to have their own thing going on as they enjoyed the process of making the donation, verbalizing their hopes of becoming the winner. Sometime during the ten weeks, Wendell inherited an old ‘ukulele but he kept making donations each week. Eric, who borrowed an ‘ukulele each week, was hopeful that he would win the ‘ukulele. Lyn suggested to Mizu, “We should take up a donation and buy Eric an ‘ukulele,” only to find that some other friends had already done that during the week. Eric, however, gave his donation as usual . . . only thing is that this week he did not write his own name on the tickets; he wrote in Wendell’s name on the tickets. How’s that for true aloha?
Peter Sterne hit it on the head with his description of Eric as “a guy who is so full of life that you could not tell he is anchored to a wheel chair.” After the first-hour ‘ukulele session Peter saw him plunging his wheel chair through the cluster of white plastic chairs in order to reach Raiatea before she went on stage. Peter helped him move some of the chairs so he could get by; his huge smile of appreciation was because he got there in time to pose with Raiatea for a “selfie” on his I-Phone. At the end of the evening, he swung by me holding up his I-phone and asked me if we could take a photo. I said, “But we took a photo last week!” He flashed his irresistible smile and said, “But I have a new shirt this week!” I asked Raiatea to get into the photo with us so his big prize for the evening was his I-phone “selfie” with Raiatea on his right and me on his left.
Monday, March 24, 2014
“Ending on a Very High Note — Raiatea, Jeff, Bryan”
The beauty in the final EKK performance was the simplicity in presentation of each performer standing in the spotlight with all eyes and attention focused on their solo sets — first with Raiatea followed by Bryan Tolentino and Jeff Peterson. They then performed together with the combined power and charisma of their individual talents and artistry. No need for extra bells and whistles; there is no need to improve on perfection. That summed up the whole evening and the audience just loved it.
Raitea started off her set with songs of her birth island Molokai —Kalama’ula and Molokai Nui A Hina. Kalama’ula, the place Raiatea calls home, was composed by Emma Kala Dudoit, one of the first to receive Hawaiian Homelands. Raiatea’s soaring voice is like that of an angel reaching out over the crowded ballroom. Her twinkling eyes and gentle expression reached out to the audience from under her lauhala hat with lei papale. Dressed simply and smartly in a purple print dress with a purple scarf and niihau shell earrings and bracelets, she moved with ease and grace while strumming her ‘ukulele. The audience was thrilled to hear her sweet falsetto in the high octaves.
Molokai Nui A Hina is a fast-tempo upbeat song that brings to mind the stunning pa’u riders in the Aloha Week parades. She sings it effortlessly with impeccable pronunciation of the lyrics, something that is not a given these days. Raiatea likes to perform her favorite songs, most of them popular in the ’20’s, ’30’s, ’40’s and still much loved to this day. She loves the music of Lena Machado, John Almeida, and Helen Desha Beamer — songs which focus on and reflect their life of hospitality, Ho’okipa, and their embrace of Hawaiian values.
Kimo Hula is a great example of this hospitality as Helen Desha Beamer composed it for her friend James Henderson, a Scottish gentleman who lived in Pi’ihonua near Hilo. The songs help her to vicariously live the moments of hospitality in which the songs were composed. Everything about Raiatea shouts out the Hawaiian values that she dearly embraces.
Raiatea introduced her good friend Bryan Tolentino and expressed her appreciation that he could fit her into his busy schedule. As a Downtown Honolulu postman; “he has to go to work after this performance at 2:00 a.m.” With his dimpled smile, Bryan joked, “I was going to sing all the songs that Rai sang, but since she is doing such a excellent job, I will just stick to my ‘ukulele.” And that he does very well as he has been around for quite awhile finding his own voice with the little instrument. Bryan is of the generation that preceded the current ‘ukulele explosion among the younger set; there is a certain quiet finesse about how he picks and strums his favorite instrument. Close your eyes and his instrument paints a sound image of the subject matter. When he played Akaka Falls, you can hear the water fall rippling and cascading all the way down. Pu’uanahulu conjures up a musical picture of the rolling hills of Kamuela on Hawai’i Island. He played his own version of the very popular Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Even with all the riffs you can definitely get the melody; his timing is awesome. He must have loved this first EKK stint because he asks the audience, “This is kinda fun, yuh?” They sure loved him.
Jeff Peterson needs no introduction to the EKK audience as he is one of the EKK favorites and has appeared on this stage many times – first with his cowboy dad Bard, once with a String Quartet, once as a solo artist when Chino Montero, the other artist, could not make it, several times in concert, once with Nathan Aweau with whom he cut a CD called Mamo. One of the songs on that CD is a kiho’alu number written while visiting Olinda above Makawao Town. ‘Aluna Ahiahi is a traditional song with new arrangements. Ka Wai o Kaupo is a song about a place in Maui for which Uncle Dennis Kamakai wrote lyrics but Jeff never recorded it with the lyrics because it was so good as an instrumental, he decided to leave it as it is. He acknowledged Uncle Dennis and his wonderful spirit when they worked on a CD called Amy Hanai’ali’i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai’i.
He recalled his first EKK in the Island School cafeteria and expressed his amazement to see how much EKK has grown since those early days. He shared with the audience, “Events like this do NOT happen on other islands, this is very SPECIAL!” From his Maui On My Mind CD, the song Hawaiian Skies is one of his compositions included on the sound track of the movie The Descendants. However, in order for the song to fit what was happening in the movie, he was asked by the sound editor to rearrange the music; this is the version that he performed for us.
The three performers are separately so good that all they needed to do was straight forward playing with no extra tricks or embellishment; they are that good. Together they performed Ka’ano’i and Pua Mae’ole (Never Fading Flower) by John Squeeze Kamana, a beautiful falsetto in which Raiatea sang in the ha’i style, holding her breath very, very long. It was really quite thrilling as many of the first-timers had not experienced this type of singing before. The pace of the program was relaxed and enjoyable; I guess you can take the girl out of Molokai, but you can’t take the Molokai out of the girl.
Following the intermission, the three artists performed together doing a set of traditional favorites such asAmazing Grace,Taking a Chance on Love, At Last, and Dreams.The audience really dug Raiatea’s rendition of these classics and jazz numbers. Bryan’s delicate ‘ukulele instrumentation was the perfect accompaniment for Amazing Grace. It was amazingly beautiful. Taking a Chance on Love was a lighthearted jazz number from Raiatea’s third CD; Jeff and Bryan both accompanied her on this song. At Last was sweet and sensuous with great pa’ani by both Bryan and Jeff. Dreams is a song she performed when she was with a rock band on Maui about six-seven years ago. She admitted she did not know or recognize a very tall drummer she met, until he asked to meet her. It turns out he was Mick Fleetwood. He started the Mick Fleetwood Island Rumours Band with the Barefoot Natives Willie K and Eric Gilliom; Raiatea did her stint as a rock band singer and went the whole nine yards on dressing the part.
One of the most beautiful songs of the evening is a song that she had sung with Keola Beamer from a play called “Dr. Doolittle.” I Kilohi Aku Au (Look Into Your Eyes) is a chicken-skin haunting melody and Jeff’s masterful guitar stylings captured the mood of the song. She loves songs by John Almeida. Because of his blindness, he writes about the scent of women rather than how they looked. Maile Swing is a lively song Raiatea loves to perform as it brings back the memory of her uncle George Helm, one of Hawaii’s greatest falsetto vocalists, who was actively resisting the bombing of Kaho’olawe island with the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana. Unfortunately, he disappeared in 1977 while protesting the bombing, but his music lives on.
The anticipated ‘ukulele giveaway minute arrived; Raiatea teased the audience with some suspense. The lucky winner for the final instrument was Rick Copeland. Big cheers for him. Ten weeks of tickets were shaken in the bottle and the lucky winner of the Na Mele Songbook signed by all the 2014 artists was Greta Ephraim of Montreal, Canada.
Raiatea sang Kauoha mai (Keyhole Hula), a lilting kolohe song by Songbird Lena Machado. Lena’s CD was the first recording given to Raiatea by her Dad. She has been in love with Lena’s songs ever since and singing this song is her way of honoring the old songs with their lilting falsetto. Growing up in Molokai as a tomboy hula dancer, Raiatea knew nothing about Hawaiian music until she attended the Kamekameha Song Contest where her brother attended high school. They were honoring Aunty Genoa Keawe, Alfred Apaka and Nina Keali’iwahamana that year. When she heard Nina singing, she fell in love with Hawaiian music and told herself she wanted to sing like that. At age 15 she asked her parents for an ‘ukulele for Christmas. She said they were irritated that she just locked herself in the bedroom to practice the ‘ukulele; it wasn’t until she sang at her Mom’s birthday party that they even had a clue that she was able to sing. The rest is history. Next year she would have been singing Hawaiian music for half of her life and her growth from age 15 to the way she sings today is pretty phenomenal.
The One They’d Call Hawaii by Lloyd Longakit is a song Raiatea loves because it’s simple and you can really get the message; she invited the audience to sing along. “We can’t take for granted the message of this song”. She obliged a hana hou request from the audience; she admitted it was a tough song to sing because it’s the signature song of a wonderful woman who put her stamp on it. But she agreed to perform it in honor of Aunty Genoa Keawe and the ha’i style of singing. Jeff and Bryan were so in sync with Raiatea, letting her shine as she sang Alika.
As everyone joined hands for Hawai’i Aloha, tears were flowing. It was a very special evening with a very special performance and everyone there could feel it. It’s always good to end at the peak; it leaves everyone hanging in anticipation for what is to come the next season. Of course, everyone’s parting shot was “When is EKK 2015 going to start?” or “Now what am I going to do on Mondays?”
Who’s Coming Up for the Next Week for EKK? — Monday, March 31, 2014
I went to the hotel on Tuesday morning, April 1, and the friendly valet walked up to me and said, “Guess what? Some guys showed up with their ‘ukulele cases last night. I asked them if they were there for EKK and I had to tell them that last week was the final week! They were disappointed. I’m glad I caught them in time before they got to the empty ballroom.”
(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, www.gardenislandarts.
E Kanikapila Kakou 2014 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.