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A special video titled “The History of E Kanikapila Kakou” recaps many special moments of the past 38 years of EKK that every fan should watch before coming to EKK on Monday. It took all of 2021 to organize this video but it’s finally here for you to view on YouTube.
How Ledward Keeps It Fresh
If you see Led in concert 25 times, you see 25 different concerts. How does he do it? Each concert is a fresh new show for Ledward because he plays for each audience and each audience helps to create the show by how they respond to his music. Same thing on Monday night as Led stepped up on stage with his trusty young bass player Jesse Gregorio.
Ledward Kaapana needs no introduction to the music fans of the world but it’s good to share that among his many honors, this very special artist received a Grammy for the Best Hawaiian Album of the Year in 2010; the following year in 2011 the National Endowment for the Arts bestowed on him the National Heritage Award, the highest honor in folk and traditional arts in America.
Before the main program began, a small circle of ‘ukulele players were gifted with an ‘ukulele sing-along with Led – a private mini-concert just for them. What a gift!
From the first sound of the pu by Onio Punzal until the last refrains of Hawaii Aloha, the full house EKK audience, many of them kama’aina, sat spellbound by the irrepressible music of Led Kaapana.
Since his last visit to EKK three years ago when bass player Jesse Gregorio made his first trip to Kaua’i, Led’s been on an extended vacation … like the rest of the world. Until his recent mainland tour, He has been playing on Facebook, but it’s just not the same as playing for a live audience. So he’s very happy to be at EKK.
Led considers himself lucky to have grown up in Kalapana on Hawai’i island with its no-electricity primitive lifestyle where the 2:00 alarm clock was his uncle playing Pu?uanahulu . . . it’s time to get up and light the lanterns and listen to uncle play. Led takes us back to Kalapana with this song. Their home had two bedrooms, a porch and a kitchen for his large family of six boys and five girls…some of them, including Led, slept out in the yard. Another Led favorite is Radio Hula / My Yellow Ginger Lei; he was just hoping that no one falls asleep … but then, he considers someone falling asleep is actually a compliment.
Solomon Aikau used to play Kolomona Slack Key, a fast-paced instrumental with his always unexpected surprise ending; every time the audience thrills to his new surprise ending, he sends out his signature “giggle”. If you listen very carefully, he has many different “giggles”, each one a response to different audience applause. Someone suggested that he needed to record all his “giggles” one day.
His lilting and effortless falsetto, so pure and beautiful, to the hula mele Nani composed by the late Auntie Alice Namakelua brought Auntie Ihi’ihi Kaneali’i to the stage with her trusty walker; although he saw only Auntie’s backside, he certainly could read her enticing come-on gestures sent out to the audience. “Awesome! Mahalo! I am thankful to learn from my parents to play from the inside so I can really feel the ‘chicken-skin blessing’ when the aunties come up to the stage to dance.”
Leonard Kwan’s slack key number ?Opihi Moemoe is always a crowd pleaser as Led acknowledged artists like Ray Kane, Sonny Chillingworth, Palani Vaughan and others who paved the way for the younger artists.
He recently recorded Hele Wawae which he composed while walking the 3-mile stroll with his friend at 4:30 every morning. He pointed out that everybody was passing them, but his friend reassured him that they were just walking for comfort, not speed. He takes his walks really seriously as some of his online videos show the paths that they walk along. He also takes the viewer around his yard of precious plants that survive his being away on tour because of his helpful neighbor.
When he was in California playing a Graziano ‘ukulele, a man walked up and invited him to breakfast the next day. He offered Led his ‘ukulele “no strings attached.” He calls it the Moore Better ‘Ukulele because his name is Chuck Moore. With Led’s flying fingers, the ‘ukulele was elevated to “Moore Moore Better” and we are the witness to that.
A song that Led really loves is Stevie Wonder’s Lately; it was just plain beautiful. He confessed, “We laugh and smile because every time I play the song…it’s the same song but sounds different every time. Because I play with feeling, the song comes out different every time.” Yes! That is a typical Ledward strategy that keeps it fresh for him. And Jesse seems to be able to keep right up with the changes. Although a man of few words, he did say to Ledward, “You step my toes all the time.” Led shared his appreciation for his bass player. He took Jesse to Las Vegas where Jesse took an unfortunate miss-step and fell to the ground and sprained his ankle. Although he bounced right back up, his ankle got really swollen so he was stuck in the hotel room. Jesse’s come-back, “Really saved money!”
In the early days of learning to play, the elders referred to the chords with made-up names such as “second G” or “second F”, etc. When he was playing with Hui ‘Ohana, his fellow artist asked him to play a C7, and Led said he didn’t know what a C7 was. When Led showed him the chord on the ‘ukulele, the other artist said, “That’s a C7!” Led told him that the elders called it a “second F”. After that incident he made it a point to learn the correct names of each chord so he could be on the same page with everyone else. Led acknowledged his loyal “Led-Head fans” who are currently attending Keola Beamer’s week-long workshop at the Courtyard in Waipouli. He played Lady of Spain with his special flair for his loyal fans.
Back in the day, when he was playing music in the high school band, he kept hearing a note in his head so he played it. “Stop!” the band teacher silenced the rehearsal and asked Led to show him where the note is on the paper? Led confessed that the note was in his head, not on the sheet. Band teacher told him to just play the notes on the sheet. He asked Led to stay in after class and asked him about the notes in his head. “You know what that means if you see all these notes in your head? It’s called a gift!” And thereafter, he let Led play all the notes that were floating around in his head even if it did not show up on the song sheets. Wise Teacher.
When they were living in the boonies of Kalapana, they had a small transistor radio that played nothing but humming static. His brother had the bright idea to tweak the transistor with some copper wire tied up to the top of the coconut tree. To their delight they were able to catch the radio station on ‘Oahu; one of the songs he heard and loved was Love Is Blue. The way he played it was definitely not what they heard on the static-filled transistor radio, but that was the Ledward magic at work…input one way and output totally “da bomb.” His fingering is impeccable as he cradles his ‘ukulele and make it sound like a whole orchestra playing the song. He topped off the song with, “I gotta make sure I don’t hit the wrong note, huh?”
Mizu steps up to the stage with the Kamoa electric ‘ukulele that was being given away tonight. Led plugged it in and with just a few loving strokes on the instrument he put it into action as only he can. I had earlier asked him to provide the music on the Kamoa ‘ukulele for our mini runway fashion show. He was happy to oblige.
During lockdown, our ladies have been busy creating upcycled garments for the “BoroBoro Boutique”; sewing mu’umu’u for themselves was one of the projects. Showing off their stylish mu’umu’u were master seamstress Bev Montel, former fashion designer Jodi Ascuena, glamourous Dona Cunningham, mu’umu’u princess Shannon Hiramoto, neophyte seamstress Rieko Miyata, stylish Eve Neibel, our westside queen Mizu Sumida, and in-sync Cheryl Shintani wearing a Sonny Ching original topped off with a colorful lei po’o made by Firipi Salas.
It was short and sweet, especially with the instrumental E Ku?u Morning Dew on the electric Kamoa ‘ukulele. When the ladies exited the runway, he continued the favorite Eddie Kamae song with his awesome singing. Ihi’ihi’ Kaneali’i, of course, did not miss the opportunity to accompany the awesome lyrics to a loved one with her expressive hand motions.
Intermission is a short but lively time for the audience to get CD’s and signature from the artist, try their luck to win the Kamoa ‘Ukulele, frequent the many concessions and talk story with old and new friends.
A young lady all the way from Turkey, Peggy Kemp of Kapa’a, Wendy Brian from Vancouver BC, Stacy Gills from Canada, William Swanson and Larry Nager from Kalaheo were the happy winners of the CD Giveaway. Carol gave kudos to Peggy Kemp for her important role in helping to format and send out the bi-monthly GIAC E-calendar which everyone follows to know what’s going on on Kaua’i. For a year-and-a-half the calendar was really empty but suddenly it was full of great events including EKK.
Now was the time to draw one name for the winner of the ‘ukulele. Because all the volunteers had entered, the name had to be pulled out by Ledward. A huge cheer went up when Onio Punzal was announced as the lucky winner; Kamoa ‘Ukulele Owner Sam Bonanno presented the electric ‘ukulele to ecstatic Onio.
Awwwrai-i-i-i-i-i-i-i….Led went right into action with his slack key guitar with one of his favorite songs — Koke?e by his dear friend, the late Dennis Kamakahi. Dancers immediately raced up to the stage to show off their choreography. Never fails! Koke’e is definitely a Kaua’i favorite hula mele.
Kumukahi Lighthouse written by his aunt, the late Grace McBride, tells the story of the now legendary lava flow in Kapoho which flowed all the way down to the lighthouse and then split in two and went around the lighthouse. At an earlier EKK, one of the artists gave the full story about how the faithful lighthouse keeper would not leave this treasured beacon even as the lava came snaking toward the lighthouse. Fortunately, the miracle took place and the lighthouse was saved.
He fondly recalled the days when the neighborhood parties at their home in Kalapana went on for months … not weeks … but for months. It was potluck heaven and his mother always sang the song Wai Olu. In his relaxed nahenahe style so reminiscent of backyard kanikapila, he shared his Mother’s favorite song in both Hawaiian and English with his lilting falsetto and amazing pa’ani. It was like a hymn and a love song all rolled into one. So much feeling pours out when he sings these old-time family songs. Silver Strings Among the Gold is slack key virtuosity at its finest as Led picks and strums effortlessly through the song with many other melodies intricately woven into the basic song.
Led changes the pace with a Kaua’i favorite Hula O Makee; the beautiful Mehana Blaich Vaughan, gracious Sabra Kauka, and the irrepressible Ihi’ihi Kaneali’i doing the noho hula from her trusty walker lead the hula charge on the song about Captain Makee’s macho adventures. Led medleys into Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai while hula dancers pop up all over the ballroom. Seeing the audience response got Led so turned on . . . you can just hear the kolohe oozing out of his singing as he grunts, growls, and laughs the feisty lyrics of the famous seaweed hula.
Hana Hou! Hana Hou! Audience shouts for more of the same. You can see by now that Ledward had really got into the Kaua’i hula groove. Jesse kids him, “Working hard, eh?” All of a sudden, he starts favoring his leg which had unexpectedly cramped. “I going dedicate this song to me because the cramp in my back is killing me slowly. What’s good for cramps? Mustard!” he answers his own question. He twists and turns to adjust his back with obvious discomfort on his face, but like the trooper that he is, he starts the sensitive picking and strumming for the classic Killing Me Softly. That did the trick!
No concert would ever be complete without Ledward’s signature playfulness with his unmatched Chicken In A Straw. “It’s a small chicken; you know how small a straw is, eh?” Yes, but it’s a huge song with a great beat and awesome pa’ani all the way through with those recognizable ditties woven into the song. “I love to play ‘ukulele … easy because only four strings.” Yes! He makes it all look so easy.
He announced his next song as Spanish Eyes and somehow started playing Dr. Zhivago’s theme song Somewhere My Love instead. After the song ended, he turned to Jesse and apologized that he put Jesse on the spot because somehow he started with the wrong chord and ended up playing a song that he had not played for quite awhile. Jesse followed Led’s lead with no strain, no stress. When we asked Jesse later how he was able to follow along, he said that he remembered they had played Dr. Zhivago several years ago so he remembered the song and was able to switch gears with no problem. Back to the intended song, he launched into Spanish Eyes effortlessly and Jesse followed right along. Without stopping, he played the easily recognizable Never On a Sunday with a Latin beat moving up octave after octave with a lot of modulation. He loves to tease the audience with his trick endings; you can really tell when he is having fun because he gives a huge laugh instead of a giggle.
“I love this song!” Yes, Sanoe is one of those unforgettable Hawaiian melodies that sticks with you once you hear it, and so it is with Ledward. Nahenahe is really where it’s at for him; it’s his comfort zone; it’s his bedrock. Led shared that it was so sad that this was such a short visit “but it’s really worth the trip to see all you EKK guys”. He thanked everyone who made it possible for him to return to Kaua’i. He acknowledged Jesse once again and revealed that Jesse had asked him to teach him how to sing. I guess that calls for another concert in the future.
One day a man came to Led’s house because he wanted to learn to play Radio Hula/My Yellow Ginger Lei. The man wanted to write down the tabs so he could play it later; he diligently took notes as Led played the song. Because Led plays with feeling, the lesson did not go as the man wanted. Every time he wrote down a note, the next time around the note was different. Led apologized, “Sorry but if you play with me and I play a song ten times, I going play it different ten times.” So frustrated was the gentleman that he said, “Okay, let’s go to the movies instead.”
Shifting gears, Ledward turned on his Ray Kane voice and sang Wai o Ke Aniani to honor the late great Ray Kane. Shifting gears again, he launched into John Cruz’s popular storytelling song about the way we do things in the islands, Island Style, and ended with his characteristic ‘Weehaw” but the audience screams hana hou! hana hou!
“Okay, all the hula dancers come up and dance,” he invited as he started his awesome falsetto, I Kona. Sure enough, dancers whose dream it was to dance a hula to Led’s singing came up to the stage. Like hitting the magic hula button, he started singing Hanalei Moon and hula dancers sprouted up all over the ballroom like flowers in a pasture. What an awesome sight! What a moment to treasure!
Ledward started with gusto Hawai’i Aloha but as the audience joined the song, he moved to singing the echo and let the audience carry the ball to their favorite closing song. What an unforgettable evening!
***Photos courtesy of Kathleen Ho***
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Info at www.gardenislandarts.org — “Celebrating 44 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”
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.