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What a Treat! Papakolea Party Night Was a Blast!


Parting shots from the audience: “Tonight was the BOMB! Now how are you going to top that?” “OMG! What an experience! An authentic Hawaiian party!”


Yes! The “Papakolea Serenaders” delivered nothing short of a real backyard jam … all that was missing was the fish, salt and day-old poi! Not for the performers as they were gifted with salt from Nathan and poi from Steve . . . real Kaua’i welcome!


The usual ‘ukulele lesson was not the usual little circle tucked in the back of the ballroom; the ‘ukulele aficionados sat right up front in the white plastic chairs and were treated to the dynamic ‘ukulele instructions of Cory Mau, ‘ukulele teacher for Roy Sakuma and music instructor from Kamehameha Schools, backed up by the entire Papakolea band. When the students played their final version of Wahine U’i by John K. Almeida and Aloha Week Hula by Jack Pitman, they collectively sounded like a serious ‘ukulele band at Roy Sakuma’s ‘Ukulele Festival. That was treat #1!


All cousins, related through their grandparents, the artists on stage at EKK were just the tip of the musical iceberg from the Papakolea Family Band. If all 26 of them had showed up, the stage would have collapsed. Growing up on the slopes of the Punchbowl Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Papakolea Hawaiian Community, all four generations of this extended ‘ohana grew up playing music on pakini, fiddles, saxophones, piano, ‘ukulele, guitars and every other instrument, dancing hula, sharing stories in ‘olelo Hawai’i. Many of them are multi-instrumentalists who can easily switch from ‘ukulele to upright bass to Hawaiian piano to dancing as they did tonight. They are known to party all night forming duos, trios, quartets as the moment moved them.


I asked Puka Asing, their leader, “Don’t the neighbors complain?” “No, the neighbors are all playing music, too!” “Don’t the police show up to shut you down?” “No, never!” What a wonderful place to grow up and become immersed in learning to sing, play and dance . . . truly kanikapila Hawaiian style. And this is what they shared with us tonight.


No stranger to Kaua’i, Puka’s group participated in the Kaua’i Mokihana Festival back in 2003, 2004 and 2005 when the hula judges included notables such as Ilei’aloha Beniamina, George Holokai, Wayne Panoke, and others who are no longer with us. Puka acknowledged Uncle Nathan Kalama, one of the founders and long-time coordinator of Kaua’i Mokihana Festival. Now under the auspices of the Malie Foundation, they gave EKK a great Community Hula Night last week to start the program.


Other members of the group included Jonah Kahanuola Solatorio, one-third of the award-winning trio Keauhou who I have been courting for EKK participation for easily five years. He is a Hawaiian language teacher at Kamehameha Schools which he says is hard work but very rewarding. Puka shared a tip that Kahanu and his Mom, every morning at 5:00, put on a hilarious Hawaiian language/exercise program on Instagram titled E Ho’opili Mai. Must check this out!


Cory Poliahu Mau, cousin to Puka by way of their sibling grandmothers, is a teacher at Kamehameha Schools. We already had a taste of his skillful teaching style during the ‘ukulele hour. His focus with his students is how they can contribute back to their community. A truly lofty and admirable goal for a teacher of youth.


Taneesha Hi’ilani Asing, the youngest of their family of eight siblings, Taneesha is a graduate of Punahou “Buff and Blue” and a Hawaiian studies student at UH Manoa College of Education and hopes to return to her alma mater as an elementary school teacher. By day she is a teacher; by night she is a musician. With her amazing musical ability, her students will be very fortunate to have her as their teacher.


Eddie Punua, one of Kaua’i’s greatest musical treasures is a very accomplished steel guitar player, who took a night off to share his talent at EKK. A former student of steel guitar master Atta Isaacs while working toward his business degree at the University of Hawai’i in Manoa, Eddie tabled his CPA tax commitments to be part of this wonderful EKK party. His wife kumu hula Vanessa was also present.


“Take a Visit to Papakolea with Us!” was like a giant musical wave that swept the audience off their feet. Cousin Jonah Kahanu started out with his song titled Kewalu Uka. What pipes he has! Puka and sister Taneesha demonstrated their rapid-fire double-strum licks which originally came from tapping the beat on the back of the ‘ukulele. Strumming in unison, their hands were a blur. They moved seamlessly through a medley of songs —
Pauoa Liko Ka LehuaMoloka’i Nui A HinaMauna Loa and Hula O Makee with Eddie’s awesome steel guitar pa’ani blending all the instruments. This is what I call “Power Singing and Great Harmony!” The audience was collectively foot-tapping and shoulder-swaying as they kept time with the contagious music.


Puka said their second set would demonstrate ‘ohana-kine action which translated to yet another “round robin” among the artists. The longest round robin Puka was in many years ago was with Ainsley Halemanu and Kekoa Fernandez when the artists sang non-stop for two-and-a-half hours. Not too shabby. Tonight’s medley would focus on hapa-haole music, taking advantage of Eddie’s steel guitar virtuosity.


Puka and Taneesha started off with Aloha Week Hula, one of the songs taught to the ‘ukulele circle; they wow’ed everyone with their distinctive double-strum. Jonah launched into a lively Sophisticated Hula; beautiful Vanessa Punua could not resist swinging her hips to the sassy beat of this hapa-haole song. Puka followed with the old-time favorite Little Grass Shack, a popular hula that all young hula dancers learn early in their hula training; it’s also a very popular number that visitors experience at local lu’au events. Taneesha gave her own special rendition of another visitor favorite Hukilau. Eddie went to town on the steel guitar pa’ani adding that special old-time sound so much a part of the hapa-haole music. The band wrapped up the lively non-stop music with Papakolea.


Following the intermission, CD’s from our favorite artists were given out to six lucky persons who took the time to sign the participants survey. The big give-away of the evening was, of course, the Kamoa ‘ukulele. Surprise! Surprise! Who won the ‘ukulele tonight? None other than our favorite EKK volunteer Victor Ascuena . . . whoops of joy and happiness from all the volunteers who could not think of a more deserving winner of the ‘ukulele.


Puka took the opportunity to share information about the historical background of a special musical event scheduled for March 21, a collaboration with GIAC and the hula halau of Leina’ala Pavao Jardin. The Hawaiian Sovereign String Band was formed recently to focus attention on the early popularity of the Royal Hawaiian Troubadours known for their stringed instruments music during the Hawaiian Kingdom. Martin ‘Ukulele designed and made a special guitar for Major Kealakai, musician, composer and conductor of the Royal Hawaiian Band, which went on to influence many of the musical greats of the time. The outcome of this resurgence of interest in this significant period of Hawaiian music is a mini-orchestra including some of Hawai’i’s top musicians. We are fortunate to have a chance to host this group on Kaua’i.


The second half of the evening was a ramped-up continuation of the lively first half and took on more of the party atmosphere so typical of Hawaiian backyard parties. Puka introduced it as the FUN Join-in set and started off with the popular Pupu Hinuhinu about the shells that are gifted by the sea. Jonah gave an awesome falsetto version of the beautiful Hawaiian Island mele titled Kalapana. What a chicken skin performance!


Shifting gears Puka asked two well-known tutu to come up to the stage to do the hula. Second cousins Ihi’ihi Kaneali’i and Kamala Mersberg, related through their grandfathers who were brothers, sat at the edge of the stage with their legs dangling down doing a hula noho. Hand motions suggesting the lyrics, they treated us to the underlying story with their flirtatious eyebrows, sensuous shoulder shrugs, torso swaying ever so slightly as Cory Mau delivered Ke Aloha composed by Aunty Lei Collins, curator of the Hulie’e Palace on Hawai’i Island.


Inviting more audience participation was accomplished by singing songs that everyone had to know since small kid time, and sure enough, everyone joined in loud and clear to You Are My SunshineTiny BubblesMary Had A Little Lamb and Itsy Bitsy Spider, complete with hand motions.


Puka shared some background on the Leo Ki’eki’e style of singing. One needs to master the ha’i which is the breaking of the voice in a smooth nahenahe style of singing. To demonstrate he invited young 10-year-old Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas from Anahola to come to the stage. He started with I Ali’i No ‘Oe, Jonah and Vanessa could not resist the chance to dance the hula. Puka whispered to Kamaha’o who ramped up the speed; the hula dancers did the same. Although many present had been treated to Kamaha’o’s performance last week with the Malie Foundation Community Hula Night, there were enough new faces at EKK tonight that we could hear the same surprised collective “gasp” when the high falsetto voice came effortlessly out of Kamaha’o. As he sings, his hand unconsciously goes into hula mode because he’s as good a hula dancer as he is a vocalist.


Puka moved to the stand-up bass, Cory moved to the piano, and Jonah took on the ‘ukulele to accompany Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas with two amazing renditions of Mauna Kea and ‘Ulupalakua. The audience stood up shouting hana hou! Hana hou! Puka asked everyone to join in on Hawai’i Aloha, a sign that the evening was coming to its end. Not surprisingly, no one was ready to leave and continued to mill around and shout hana hou, hana hou . . . waiting for a hula from Kamaha’o.


“We have to catch the plane home or the students will have no teachers tomorrow,” begged Cory, but to appease the many lingerers, the artists did another musical instruments as Puka moved to the piano, Cory moved back to the upright bass, and Jonah took on the vocals for the hula favorite Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai by Hawai’i island composer Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole. Kamaha’o, who was not only an unbelievable singer, launched into his delightfully sassy hula, owning the stage with his flirty eyebrow-raising and hip-swinging hula moves; his smile showed that he was enjoying every minute of his hula. Elena Gillespie, Vanessa Punua and Mahina Baliaris joined in on the hula. Nobody was heading to the door but kept milling around near the stage and would not quit with their shouts of hana hou!


The Serenaders launched into one final hula number – Papalina Lahilahi – which brought many dancers up to join Kamaha’o, including Jonah Solatorio, Puka Asing, Donna Stewart, Andy Hamano, Po’ai Galindo, Vanessa Punua, Ihi’ihi Kaneali’I, Mahina Baliaris, Momi Thacker and Keahi Manea. That made the party a real party. What a fun evening!


Anyone planning a lu’au should consider the Papakolea Serenaders for the entertainers. No guarantee who will show up, but with 26 talented multi-instrumentalists/vocalists to choose from, you know you will have it covered.

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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.