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Who’s Coming Next Week? Monday, March 9
Napua A Smash Hit at E Kanikapila Kakou
When Napua first stepped on stage, to the audience she was tonight’s entertainer. By the end of the evening, everyone embraced her as a powerhouse singer, well deserving of the “Female Vocalist of the Year” award, a dutiful daughter with her own mind, an adoring younger sister, a loving mother, a wife, teacher, a wiser politician “no longer”, a strict and bossy kumu hula, a musician who carved a niche for herself in the music world, an engaging story-teller and a lot more.
In her inimitable style she filled the stage and worked the audience with her feisty personality, her descriptive stories, her amazing singing, her alluring hula, and her zesty love of life. Accompanied by her fantastic and loyal musicians – Sean Naleimaile, Zanuck Lindsay and Wailau Ryder – she shared an evening of songs that captured the essence of her life.
She started with the disclaimer, “I have ADD so I get distracted a lot!” and waved at her friend in the audience.
Like other artists who have shared with EKK, she welcomes the opportunity to “tell stories” which makes EKK different from most other gigs; she recalled that when she came for her first EKK gig, she was advised, “We want you to share stories.” And tells stories she does…no holds barred. There is something about the way she tells her stories that makes her so relatable because she speaks the truth and reveals her thoughts in such a spontaneous and unabashed style. “If you like stories, I got stories for days….!”
True to proper Hawaiian protocol, artists open their show singing a song about the host island, so they opened by singing Na U’I O Kaua’i. She took the opportunity to introduce her musicians. Sean Naleimaile, her favorite who has been accompanying her for years, truly holds his own on the stage with his unique shoulder moves and tipsy dance steps, and a face so animated, it’s like a barometer of each song. Her cousin Zanuck Lindsey, who is one of those musicians who knows practically every song, accompanied Peter Apo years ago at EKK. Wailau Ryder, who now hails from Maui, is new to EKK and taught his first ‘ukulele workshop tonight.
She also did a shout-out to her good friend Troy Hinano Lazaro who brought all his halau dancers to EKK instead of to their weekly hula rehearsal.
As a youngster growing up in a family of musicians, she enjoyed the Sunday brunches at the Maui Intercontinental Hotel in Wailea where her mother entertained on the live broadcast. Her grandmother used to record every single broadcast which included her mom’s young voice singing a love song for her dad. Napua sang My Sweet Sweeting giving the audience a taste of her unique sound and powerful singing style.
She’s come such a long way since her first EKK gig in 2008 at Island School cafeteria. At that time she was still trying to figure out her life, having recently divorced with two daughters to raise, no college degree and no real work experience. She had just recorded her first album titled Pihana which she confessed was a really tough process. Being a kumu hula, she knew exactly what to do to prepare her dancers for a hula performance, but the recording studio was foreign ground to her. When her recording engineer was taken aback by her up-country tita language, she told him, “You need to tell me how to do it,” because recording in a studio was a whole different ball game for her. The resulting Pihana album under the tutelage and guidance of Dave Tucciarone is a collection of songs which have become a signature of her personal style.
She shared the process she followed to arrive at the final collection of titles. She and her two friends sequestered themselves for a whole week to write the songs. Out of this came Ka’iliwai, a tongue twister song, written by her cousin Manai’akalani Kalua, about Keokaha Homesteads on Hawai’i Island. Now known as Richardson’s, Keokaha is where her mother grew up.
Another halau favorite is Lawakua written for her older sister. She is one of those people who has everything so there is really nothing that one can give her. One of the greatest gifts in Hawaiian culture is to write a mele for someone, so it was a no brainer that she would compose a song for this older sister that she admired so much. Since she had already composed a song for her mother Hulu Lindsey after whom her sister was named, Napua wanted her sister to have her own identity so she chose the name Lawakua which means “backbone.” That is what her older sister meant to her. Her Mom constantly reminded her that her sister was the sweet one, just like her cousin Natalie Ai Kamau’u. “It’s not that I’m not sweet; I’m just different!”
For 17 years she and her sister worked together with their halau. Like the “good cop, bad cop” concept, she and her sister were known as the “good kumu, bad kumu”. Napua was the bossy one for whom the students dare not try to get out of doing “duck walks.” Napua is great at role-playing so you can see exactly what it was like for a haumana to be interacting with her as a bossy kumu hula.
Another funny story is about her family where everyone is a critic about her music, her halau performances, etc., and her younger brother is at the top of the list of critics. He found her version of Ho’ohaehae by Lena Machado “so junk and her voice so irritating.” Just because he said that, she recorded the song on her album for her critic brother and was delighted when his three sons loved the song and wanted him to repeat the song whenever they played the CD in the car. “It’s called ‘karma’, brother!” She invited anyone who knew the hula to come up and dance. “But let’s just make it clear; come up if you know the dance. I’m not asking for any kine interpretive dance … if you do that, you going get a GONG!” Such is Napua’s sense of humor. Like the message in the song, she pointed out that strong Hawaiian women don’t beat around the bush and get their point across loud and clear.
Having four albums under her belt, which is a huge accomplishment since her first EKK stint in 2008 at age 34, she has come a long, long way. Now age 46 she has recorded Pihana in 2006, Mohalu in 2009, Lei Kulaia Christmas Album in 2013 and Makawalu in 2017. She took a break from music to run for office before her last recording. This venture she considered her most difficult time in life, not only because of the door-to-door campaigning but because of the frustration of working with people who did not have the ability to see things with a wide vision which is how she previously thought everyone saw the world. Unfortunately, she discovered that many had tunnel vision instead. Hence, her last recording which translates to “Eight Eyes” is an optimistic hope for the future.
Ka Malanai Song is a song that started as a chant about winds; songs about winds means the relationship is about to come to an end. Her cousin Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing helped her write words so the song which started as a chant is now a beautiful soaring melody which is really awesome with her falsetto.
Napua talked about the panini cactus flower, which is like a combination of kiwi and watermelon. When compared to people, the panini is “hard to get” and takes a lot of skill and know-how to pick. As children they used to pick it, clean it, bag it, chill it and take it to an appreciative grandmother. Panini Puakea, a song taught to the ‘ukulele circle by Wailau Ryder was presented to the audience by the EKK ‘Ukulele Band; brave students came up on stage to play the song that they learned earlier. After the group finished playing on stage, Napua spotted 10-year-old Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas among the ‘ukulele players and practically pounced on him with adoration. Last year, Kamaha’o was presented as the hana hou number at the “Maui Divas” Concert featuring Napua, Raiatea Helm and Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom. She asked him if he wanted to sing and of course he happily obliged. She also acknowledged her classmate from Kamehameha School Noe Haumea for raising such a wonderful son.
Kamaha’o gave a rousing performance of Lepe ‘Ula’ula, asking the musicians to go higher and higher at the end of each verse. Screams of hana hou from the audience prompted him to follow with another rousing falsetto rendition of I’ Ali’i No’oe. Vanessa Punua came up to dance. It’s so great to see her and husband Edward Punua who has to run away from his tax deadlines to take a relaxing night off at EKK.
After intermission six lucky persons received great CD albums just for signing in at the door. Clint Ashton was the happy lucky winner of the Kamoa ‘ukulele.
An oversight on my part at the first audience welcome was that I forgot to have our local Hawaiian speaking Brit give the ‘olelo introduction of Napua. Jodi Ascuena came up and delivered her introduction in Hawaiian. She talked about her serendipitous opportunity to see Napua and her halau give a smashing performance to an overflow audience crowded into a tiny museum in Aotearoa. Jodi felt so proud of Napua’s concert.
“Our second half is full of friends,” announced Napua as she told kumu hula Troy Hinano Lazaro to get his halau dancers ready to perform since they were missing their weekly rehearsal to attend tonight’s EKK. “I don’t want to be irresponsible for your dancers missing their cardio in preparation for their ho’ike in October.
She shared the story of her Merrie Monarch experience when her dancer Manalani Mili Hokoana English won the title of Miss Aloha Hula 2013 as the representative of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka. Napua sang the song at the Merrie Monarch competition.
E Pili Mai by composer Larry Kimura is a song about fire and the cliffs of Makana, a song that Napua loved. However, it had only one verse and she wanted to have three verses so she could use it for the Merrie Monarch entry. She was hesitant about asking her uncle Larry to write two more verses. Her cousin Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing, on the other hand, is more gutsy than Napua is, so he went to ask Larry to write two more verses “and hurry up because she has to submit papers early for Merrie Monarch.” Larry came through with the two additional verses and the result was the beautiful mele about climbing the treacherous cliffs of Makana and tossing the spears of fire from the top of the mountain. Kukuni is the sparks that come out of the fire and new love is intense and constantly sparking with fire. Napua invited anyone who knew all three verses to come up to dance the hula; Kaua’i dancer Mahina Baliaris came up to share her hula.
It’s always a treat to see dancers from Troy Hinano Lazaro’s Halau Kapa Hula O Hinano perform and tonight was no exception. They danced the popular Papalina Lahilahi and you can be sure they gained many instant fans among the audience. Napua asked Hinano’s dancer Kekoa to stay on stage and dance Noho Paipai. The three musicians went to town on this lively song. Napua said, “We love the images in our ‘olelo” suggesting the underlying meanings inherent in the rocking chair hula; she even imagined she was getting her first “hot flashes” by watching Kekoa dance.
For a change of pace she Introduced her classmate from elementary school and first duet partner from intermediate school, Dunes Awai, with whom she sang a duet, Music To My Eyes, from the movie A Star is Born starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. “We going try try…” said Napua in her proper Maui pidgin. For his hana hou, Dunes sang Waika and Napua slipped out of her high heels and danced the hula. What a sensual dancer!
For her first CD Pihana, her record producer David Tucciarone advised her to keep her album to Hawaiian music because that is what would be expected of a kumu hula, but now after her three CD’s and a Christmas album, his advice to her is “sing whatever you like” and she finds that her choice of music now is toward “Country Western.” Born and raised in up-country Maui, it’s no wonder that she has such a love for country music.
As a touring artist, she goes on a December tour and misses Thanksgiving with her family. She shared her story about her six-year-old son who, whenever she prepares to go on tour, cups her face in his little hands and tells her, “Mommy, you need to stay here with me on Maui forever.” While she is on tour, she misses him terribly and wants to be home with him, so for this she sang the song Home Is Where the Heart Is. It has been recorded for her next CD but she sang it live for the first time tonight. You could just feel her love for her child as she sang this original song.
Just as they honored Kaua’i as their host island for the opening song, they closed their performance with a song from their home island, Kilakila ‘O Maui. With shouts of hana hou, Napua honored the wishes of the audience as her Mom taught her growing up. “If the audience wants a hana hou, you better sing until you can’t sing anymore.” Well taught!
‘Imi Au Ia ‘Oe , by Charles E. King, a song often sang at funerals, was really the icing on the cake as her hana hou performance. You could hear a pin drop as the audience held their breath as Napua danced. This is pretty amazing because it takes so much energy to sing with a mic and she was singing without a mic and moving gracefully on the stage to an amazing hula.
Once again, the audience held hands and sighed, “Another superb evening!” and they closed the program with Hawai’i Aloha.
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Funding for E Kanikapila Kakou 2020 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.