“When Kaukahi Comes to Town”

March 1, 2012

EKK 2012

Photos on Facebook for March 13 EKK #4; mahalo to Tashi:
The “WOW Factor”

Phone calls pour in each week before EKK Monday and the main question is “What is the program going to be?” My answer is always, “I never know because each week is very different and what you see is what you get….but it’s all good! Just show up; you won’t regret it.”

Some weeks you roll in your seat with laughter at the stories and enjoy the great music; some weeks you learn so much about the songs and enjoy the great music; some weeks you just sit back in awe and enjoy the great music … and so it was this week when Dean Wilhelm, Keale, Kawika Kahiapo and Barrett Awai, making up the group Kaukahi, came to share their awesome harmonies and acoustic strength.

As Kawika put it, WOW spelled backward is WOW; Keale adds to that, “WOW spelled upside down is MOM!” looking toward Mehana Blaich-Vaughan carrying her two keiki.  When Kilipaki Vaughan and his family make the long trek from Kilauea you know that it’s going to be a WOW night.

photo by Tashi

photo by Tashi

“Awesome Harmonies & Acoustic Strength”

When Kawika sent me “Awesome Harmonies & Acoustic Strength” as their week’s theme, I thought to myself, “Okay, whatevah!”, but when these four Hawaiian gentlemen stepped out on that stage, positioned their instruments and let their voices blend in the Kaukahi harmony, the words took on new meaning.  Together, they bring magic to the songs and their full rich voices fill every nook and cranny in the ballroom.  

If the harmonies were not enough, they brought a playful banter especially between Keale and Kawika that kept it all lively, and they really paid attention to my request to make it an interactive program for the audience.

Kaukahi set the mood with ‘O ‘Oe ‘Io‘, a four-voice harmony so rich and full, it swept one away in a wave of heaven-touched sound.  In his awesome falsetto, Barrett led off Nani Kaua’i speaking of Kaua’i’s wettest spot in the world and other Kaua’i’s unique places. As the other voices blended in, Mehana Blaich-Vaughan stepped on stage and blessed us with her always exquisite hula. WOW!

With Dean and Kawika on guitar, Keale on ‘ukulele, and Barrett dwarfed by my brother Claude Kouchi’s huge upright bass sitting on his lap, the instrumentation leaves little to be desired, especially when Kawika throws in the pa’ani with his awesome slack key fingering.

Moving westward to Kekaha where the menehune and the birds shout out, Keala sang Kawainui and medleyed into the universal Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a voice that oozes out of the pot of gold. Dean Wilhelm shared E Mau, written in 1941 in the jazz genre of the time by Alvin Isaacs, father of Barney Isaacs, even before the infamous December 7.  E Mau means to preserve …the nation, the language and all that is good so the Life of the Land will be perpetuated in righteousness.

Kawika said it’s always a treat to leave the urban island of O’ahu and spend time on other islands. Kawika introduced a song that honors our kupunas, In the Real Old Style, written by Keola Beamer in the early 1970’s.

No sooner did they strum the last chords to the song, the hotel staff unexpectedly pulled a surprise. Nelson Batalion stepped up on stage with a giant chocolate cupcake topped with white icing and a single candle. Janice Ishihara came close on his heels carrying a plate with three more huge chocolate cupcakes. On signal, Keale yelled out “It’s Kawika’s birthday today!” and led the whole audience in Happy Birthday in the key of G as Kawika was instructed to blow out the candle and take a bite of the cake which had warm chocolate exploding out of the center.  His eyes popped open when he tasted that.

In typical Keale fashion, Keale shouted out, “How come Bruddah get four?” Janice quickly stuck her tray of three cupcakes into Keale’s face and he asked, “Am I suppose to take a bite out of four cupcakes?” Keale, Dean and Barrett also got their initial bites of cupcakes with warm chocolate oozing out of the center. Everyone’s eyes popped open. However the show had to go on, so the cakes were temporarily retired to the sound table and the music continued.

Ulili E by Harry Naope, George Keahi and Johnny Noble is a great audience participation song as Keale encouraged the audience to clap along and shout out every time he pierced the air with his whistle. He got them so conditioned that before the end of the show, whenever he let out a piercing stray whistle, the audience came back instantaneously with their loud shout. Talk about “conditioning”! Pavlov would have been proud.

Barrett, who often hits the high notes with his clear falsetto, showed his lower range as he led The Queen’s Jubilee penned in 1870’s by Queen Lili’uokalani upon her return to Hawai’i after celebrating Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee in England. It was a song of love and aloha for the Hawaiian people. Kawika’s amazing pa’ani was incorporated into many of the songs; Kawika is one of Hawai’i’s slack key notables, receiving Milton Lau’s “Slack Key Artist of the Year” award in 2007.

Songs with messages are powerfully delivered by Kaukahi. A song about Kaho’olawe became the rallying cry that helped to usher in the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970’s; it calls for the military to stop the bombing of the island and restore the island to its natural state. Hawai’i ’78, a powerful song sung by Keale is always a show stopper and a crowd favorite. During the break the WOW factor was evident as everyone rushed to do their usual intermission business, saying “Wow” to each other and hurried back to their seats to get as much music as they could.

The intermission is always a lively interruption as each week six names are drawn from the sign-in sheets and the lucky six get their pick of CD’s from our CD giveaway bag. This week an additional two gifts — beautifully handcrafted clutch purses — were donated by Gordon. Gordon assured me that this would continue each week. Additionally, a ten-question EKK trivia quiz was taken by old-timers who should be able to answer simple questions about EKK. Melvin Kauahi, an EKK regular, while not perfect in his answers, got the highest score and won George Kahumoku Jr’s wonderful book titled “A Hawaiian Life.”  The season-long lucky number give-away for a gorgeous Kamoa ukulele donated by Larry’s Music also gives away a weekly drawing prize of the coveted Na Mele songbook signed by each week’s artists. As if the music was not enough, so many opportunities to score something wonderful at EKK. Unfortunately this week, as folks rushed to the CD table to pick up Kaukahi’s CD, they were completely sold out of “Life In These Islands.”

One of Kaukahi’s exceptional 4-voice harmony is He Wai Wai Nui, a zesty song about the kalo plant by Kawaikapu’okalani Hewett and Kawika, which speaks of the importance of our kupuna in guiding our lives. ‘Ukulele pa’ani by Keale and guitar pa’ani by Kawika adds that welcome instrumental interlude. Shifting to a different mood, Keale’s distinctive voice takes us to the “forbidden island” of Niihau as he sang the hauntingly melancholy Ua Nani Niihau which he dedicated to his extended family.

Again the mood shifts as Barrett calls up everyone with romantic significant others and the group sang a lively jazzed up version of Hawaiian Moon. If the floor at the front of the room was any smaller, the “youthful” dancers that were swinging around would have ended up in the laps of the front row seaters.  Such a feisty bunch of significant others as they happily jump-started Valentine’s day. Barrett adds, “When midnight strikes, i better be home with my wife!” Like a roller coaster ride moving high and low, high and low, the audience could catch their breath and settle their hearts with a medley including Molokai Sweet Home, which speaks of missing the quiet lifestyle of the Friendly Isle. 

Barrett shared his story of a time in his life when he hit an all-time low, realizing that what appeared perfect on the outside was really an empty void that he was trying to fill with all the wrong choices. Falling flat on his face, he came to know true loneliness and with this harsh realization, he found his faith in something larger than himself; the song that came out of that experience is truly one of Kaukahi’s special songs —There is a Way.

Kaukahi closed their show with their signature song as only they can harmonize. Kaukahi walked away with three awards at the 2007 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, including the “Song of the Year” for Kawika’s Life In These Islands, “Group of the Year”, and the CD graphics award to Kawika’s son, Dalen Kahiapo and Todd Schlosser of Worldsound.

Many shouts for hana hou could not be honored as the four artists had to catch the last flight out. One of the difficulties scheduling the group in the first place was that each person had his own busy schedule. Finally, Kawika, the gentleman that he is, agreed to come to EKK on his birthday with his wife re-scheduling his birthday dinner to another night; however, he was trying to get home before midnight so he could spend at least ten minutes of his birthday with his wife and also usher in Valentine’s Day with her. Such is the life of a musician.

As always the evening ended with everyone singing Hawai’i Aloha. Kawika made it easy by calling out the words so that everyone could sing along. Last week’s lesson by Keith Haugen paid off in that more folks knew the lyrics better. Admittedly, Hawai’i Aloha sounds better at EKK than almost anywhere else.

Who’s Coming Up Next at EKK?

Monday, February 20, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
E Kanikapila Kakou “Legacy of Hawaiian Music 29th Season
Featuring “Vatanui” — LT Smooth, Bruce Collins, Pati Taulaulelei and their hula dancer
“Our journey of hope, faith, love in Hawaiian, Latin, folk, jazz, classical, gospel”


If you have never experienced LT Smooth, it’s about time….he can play every instrument, has an awesome voice, and his stories will touch your heart… bring Kleenex.

 If you have a disability and need assistance call Carol Yotsuda at (808) 245-2733 for Monday events.
 Contact:  Garden Island Arts Council, <giac@hawaiilink.net>

(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, www.gardenislandarts.org — “Celebrating 35 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”

E Kanikapila Kakou 2012 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 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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