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‘Oiwi Plays the EKK audience
When I asked John Mahi to send me his set list, his reply was, “I so sorry but we don’t have one we usually just go with how the crowd feels. I hope that’s ok.”
It was not only “ok”; it was stellar! ‘Oiwi went with the crowd and had everyone up on their feet dancing hula, dancing kachi-kachi and shaking out those nasty pandemic-infused cobwebs that had stiffened our joints and dulled our brains . . . it’s just what the doctor ordered. It was truly impossible to resist the urge to get up and dance with all the rest of those happy gyrating bodies. Thank you, ‘Oiwi!
‘Oiwi, or Native Sons, was slated for the final night of EKK in 2020 when everything abruptly shut down for an unknown duration. Finally, after nearly two years of everyone lock-down to keep safe, Garden Island Arts Council, with the help of our supporters, brought back a shortened version of EKK to an event-hungry community. Of course, to pick up the threads as best as we could, we invited ‘Oiwi to perform at EKK. Good choice!
John Kepa Mahi begins by acknowledging and thanking all the folks that helped to make this 39-year event possible and expressed his gratitude to be part of this program; he also acknowledged the ‘Oiwi team — the very talented Kawai’ola DJ Yaris, who inherited his musical talents from his parents, Doric and Mori Yaris, and the new kid on the block Bronson Aiwohi. Bronson is an upcoming songwriter who has been nominated for multiple Na Hoku Hanohano awards. Although all three lead separate careers as musicians, they keep the candles burning by playing music at least once a week for their gig at Troy’s. He also acknowledged his wife who is a first responder at KVMH; she and their new daughter are virtually attending on his I-Pad.
Introducing their unique ‘Oiwi sound on the instrumental Pandanus, they moved right into Catching the Wave with the golden-voiced Bronson on the vocals. Continuing with their lively ‘Oiwi sound, they treated us to their version of Koke’e with John as the lead vocal and the other two as harmonizing back-up singers. Great harmony.
If you see John in public, step up and introduce yourself. He likes to tease the kupunas who greet him in Costco, pretending to be someone else, until they walk away apologizing that they thought he was John Mahi. Fun guy.
John’s sprinkled in a lot of amusing anecdotes with his amazing gift of gab with that delightful Portugee flavor on illegal parking Hawaiian-style, Ledward Kaapana’s boots, walking away from a party with “new” slippahs, and the perennial discussion on “aging” and “weight.” A wonderful skill to have on stage; never a dull moment or down time for the audience.
A lively song about the Hawaiian sailing canoe was Na Pea/Hokulea and the Star of Gladness. An early chant by Prince Liholiho, Kamehameha II, Kalena Kai was later turned into a now classic song that John sang in his fabulous leo ki’e ki’e. John acknowledged his team who makes it look easy.
Our volunteers took a moment for a pleasant interruption of lei’ing the musicians. The amazing Polei Palmeira, our resident lei maker, who turns all the blossoms in her garden into a profuse bounty of scented gifts, brought enough lei to deck the artists, the entire team from KVB and our guests Bob Leathers and Cheryl Nickels who spear-headed the many decades of building the fantastic Kamalani playgrounds at Lydgate. Tommy Noyes, the unrelenting champion of the Lydgate parks who oversees that the parks are always kept in tip-top shape by community volunteers for the enjoyment of Kauaians and visitors, was also recognized. Thank you, Polei, for helping us to honor these special folks.
image by Sol Kanoho
Huge applause followed Kawai’ola Yaris’s version of a beautiful Hawaiian classic, Ku’u Hoa, followed by another favorite, Ei Nei, by Bronson in his crooning best.
Earlier in the evening, the group had taught the ‘ukulele circle the hula favorite, Papalina Lahilahi, so John invited the ‘ukulele players to join in the song and invited the hula dancers to come up to the stage. A hula opportunity like this was not to be passed up as ten dancers ran up to the stage to join the action. This song was dedicated to the late legendary kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho. The room came alive with dancers sprouting up all over the room.
Do you remember the days of Gladys Knight and the Pips? Changing his voice into the style of Gladys Knight, John started to sing The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. With Kawai’ola pumping out the bass, John and Bronson stepping it up with the guitar, and all three harmonizing, they really killed it. Two couples got up to the dance floor and began cutting up the rug with their enthusiastic ballroom dancing.
Lyn McNutt brought the Kamoa ‘ukulele up to show the audience what a great gift was being given away tonight; the group started a traditional chant, No Ke Ano Ahiahi, with rock style instrumentation . . . that was pretty unusual, but unusual seemed to be the order of the night by ‘Oiwi.
After the Intermission, it was time to do the CD give-away to those who had taken the time to fill out their sign-in sheets — Stephanie Jalinda from Germany, Lorraine Acosta from Elkin, Laura Salo from Santa Rosa, Tom Berg from Minnesota, Sharon Gonsalves from Princeville, Vickie Hartley from Kapa’a, Diane Gerard from Lawai. Tonight’s ‘ukulele winner was one very happy lady as she jumped up and down and raced to the stage to pick up her beautiful Kamoa ‘ukulele. Kim from the state of Maine. Lois Kay Cole from Gassaway, WV, was recognized for her very generous support of EKK.
John also recognized Kumu Dennis Chun, who had just stepped into the ballroom, taking a moment from his weekly gig in Shutter’s Lounge. Dennis was one of the three leaders responsible for the building of the Kaua’i voyaging canoe Namahoe; John also pointed out that the Hokulea has just embarked on their new journey to Tahiti.
As his intro to one of the really awesome falsetto songs, John talked about his visit to one of the hottest places in the world, Kona on Hawai’i Island. What a chicken-skin version of I Kona by one of Kauai’s most amazing falsetto singers. Honestly, Led Kaapana should have been here to hear John sing this song.
Calling up his good friend and well-known cultural treasure on Kaua’i – Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira, John sent out hau’oli la hanau wishes to the Queen of Hula decked out for her birthday with three full strands of puakenikeni leis. She was elegance in motion as she started to hula to the wonderful song, Aloha Kaua’i. She was joined by Sabra Kauka, Madeleine Guyett, Eleni Gillespie, Aunty Bev Muraoka, Lei Kirkpatrick and 10 other hula dancers. Too much fun!
Once again, John Mahi pulled up his country music voice to celebrate the country music by Lady Judds. The song called Country Lady and Grandpa (Tell Me Bout The Good Old Days) got the dancing couples up to dance to the nostalgic music. They really got the music of the good ol’ days down pat.
Lei Ho’ohena was composed by Lady Ipo’s daughter, Kainani Kahaunaele, the award-winning Na Hoku Hanohano “female vocalist of the year”. Kawai’ola took the lead on the vocals and did a fantastic job of capturing the haunting lyrics of this song by a one-time Anahola resident. Ha’a Hula/ Shall We Dance brought up several hula dancers who you could call “wallflower” dancers as they hung out along the wall.
With help from “Uncle Google” and “Aunty Siri” to make sure he gets his lyrics right, John adjusted his I-pad to get ready for the next song which he had not sung for awhile; he must have been saving all his “juju” for tonight. It was an absolute chicken-skin moment when his falsetto rose to the ceiling singing Kalama’ula. His falsetto is breathtaking
Aunty Bev Muraoka slowly trudged up to the stage…. “Is she going to dance to this song”, I wondered? But NO! she tossed a handful of green bills onto the stage. Audience started screaming. I had a handful of bills that had been falling out of my notepad all evening, so I walked up to the stage and tossed the green stuff onto the stage. Right after me, the gorgeous Sue Kanoho stepped up and tossed her greenbacks; that opened the floodgates as, one after the other, audience members started running up to the stage as Kepa’s voice rang out higher and higher and longer and longer. It was “a crescendo moment!”
Kepa said, “Can you believe, this song was a request and see what happened.” He turned his I-pad around facing the floor of the stage and talked to his wife on the other end, “Honey! We can go to Vegas!” He thanked GIAC once again for inviting them to be part of this program; EKK features many performers that he has admired over the years.
Kawai’ola then called upon his ‘ohana from the westside to come up and dance the halau hula Ke Kau’oha Kumukahi, a song that was composed by his mom back in the day. It’s so wonderful to see the ‘ohana carrying on the tradition of hula and music that Doric and Momi had set in motion.
In the early days folks used to confuse John with Darren Benitez, another outstanding falsetto singer from west Kaua’i. “I will borrow one of his songs since he still owes me money.” He then launched into the rapid-fire Palo Palito. Suddenly, the entire floor was full of kachi-kachi dancers and the audience was a sea of bodies bouncing in their seats. “More! More! More!” Came the shouts from the audience. Quick to oblige with his tongue rolling and grunts in his throat, he continued with another catchy latino-beat song. The audience was just eating it up!
“Mercy! We have to take this down a notch! We will now feature Bronson with his original Kauai On My Mind.” His song named all the well-known favorite places on the island.
“I’m going to borrow a hit song from country music’s Chris Stapleton.” John’s voice took on a whole different ambiance as he sang his own version of Tennessee Whiskey, complete with his falsetto wailing that made this John Mahi version truly memorable. He once again showed his versatility and command of so many styles of music. What a voice! What a guy!
John credits his accomplishments on his upbringing. When you Portuguese, you get the slap between the shoulder blades that puts you in your place growing up. It’s a Portuguese trick. “For all those with country in their blood, I dedicate this Hawaiian Cowboy yodeling song.” Yodeling is something of a mystery to me. How can singers do that with their vocal chords? I have heard yodelers many times but listening to John is quite an experience . . . he goes on and on and on with his waggling tongue going ninety miles an hour. . . and the crowd just loved it. Screaming and yelling and jumping all around, the crowd was just beside themselves with happy vibes.
The audience loves to end each program holding hands and singing their favorite Hawai’i Aloha, but one could hear the difference when they are so pumped up with adrenalin; the room was so rich with voices it was like being in church singing this beloved hymn.
We have one more Monday with our regular EKK program featuring the Malie Foundation and their selected kumu hula, Maka Herrod, Troy Hinano Lazaro, and Wailana Dasalia to lead the audience in their favorite Community Hula Night. Chanel Flores will be teaching ‘ukulele, and music will be provided by Garrett Santos, Chanel Flores, Anuhea Kaauwai Herrod and Lady Ipo Kahuanaele-Ferreira. All audience members are invited to come early at 5:00 and learn a hula with their favorite kumu hula and perform on stage.
We take a short break and finish the season with a concert on May 30 with Makana as host and many presenters honoring the “Musical Legends” who need to be remembered for the legacy they left with us.
A Note from ‘Oiwi: Miss Carol the boys and I would like to send a huge Mahalo to you and everyone at EKK. Our deepest gratitude to you for allowing us to share our music and our humor. Thank you for all that you do and for all the years that you have done it. Thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts.
***Photos courtesy of Kathleen Ho & Mike Teruya***
If you have a disability and need assistance for Monday events, email Garden Island Arts Council at email@example.com.
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.