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‘O’iwi – Native Sons Did Kaua’i Proud


“You have an even better than usual line-up this year.”
“This year’s line-up is outstanding! Best Ever!”
As folks stream out of the Jasmine Ballroom with that elated smile of satisfaction, we field so much appreciative feedback from our audience.

A trio of Kaua’i musicians banded together as ‘O’iwi brought to the EKK stage an evening of robust music, local humour, and several surprise guests. Our mantra is “Expect the Unexpected” and this was easily fulfilled by John Kepa Mahi, Kawai’ola DJ Yaris, and Bronson Aiwohi.

While each of these musicians do what many musicians need to do to support their musician habit; that is, to be members of several different bands, their partnership as the group ‘O’iwi is solid and promises to deliver their special brand of music for years to come. Although their alliance is relatively new, they have just recorded their first CD which will be coming out in a couple of weeks; their aunties were busily taking orders for the soon-to-be-released album.

Brother Teak Rubi-ano gave an intro from the heart for his best friend John Mahi; Teak had met John 19 years ago when he was a shy freshman at Waimea high school. John reached out to him with an unexpected show of friendship combined with a humility about his ability to play music, saying, “Nah! I not that good,” which Teak found to be a lie. Teacher’s aide Tommy Rita coaxed John to singAkaka Falls at 7:15 in the morning which convinced Teak even more that John was not telling the truth about his ability to sing. He vowed he would do whatever he could to promote his “older brother.” “John has been taking care of me all these years.”

John shared his appreciation of the two other members of his band. Bronson is the youngest and the “Bruno Mars” of the group, and Kawai’ola is one of the most humble and talented musician who can do it all — sing, play drums and so many other instruments.

Bass player Kawai’ola DJ, son of Doric and Momi Yaris who were major players in the Kauai and Japan hula community devoting years nurturing their haumana in various cities in Japan, shared a brief background of how their group evolved. Nine years ago Doric started the “pool show” at Kaua’i Beach Resort. His son DJ continued the tradition after his father’s untimely death. When they lost the talented Fred Aki, DJ asked Bronson to take his place. DJ moved to another island so Bronson asked John Mahi to fill in the vacancy. DJ returned to Kaua’i to rejoin the “pool show” and by this time they discovered that they had a good thing going and formed the group ‘O’iwi. When you watch them preparing for the show, you can tell that these three really enjoy each other; this translates into a performance that really grabs the audience. “We don’t know where we are going from here but here we are!”

Their sound is Sooooo Hot! So Kaua’i! So full! So rich! So Hawaiian! So chicken-skin! They kicked off the show with John’s falsetto, which is incredible, singing Ka Loke. Po’ai Galindo wasted no time stepping on the stage to add her hula moves to the beautiful mele. With Kawai’ola and Bronson on the lower register, John’s falsetto rings out clear as a bell. Wow! The audience showed their appreciation with an explosion of applause.

Na Pe’a ‘O Hokule’a and Star of Gladness, two songs that were sent out to the crew on the sailing canoe, were medlied beautifully. There is something really authentic about the way these three blend their voices together; there are three musicians standing there, but it comes out like one voice.

It was no surprise that a request for Akaka Falls came from the audience because it’s a well-known song for falsetto singers. Honomu, the birthplace of his late Mom, is where the beautiful waterfall is located. His Dad took them often to visit the falls, mainly for his own stress relief. To give some background about this song, John talked about the man who used to clean up the river banks below the famous falls. “The man’s name was Akaka and one day he fell . . . and that is why the waterfall is called “Akaka Falls.” What a straight face; he almost succeeded with his joke. “Even if it’s not on our playlist, we’ll chance ‘um.” They did great!

Kawai’ola explained “tagging” as a way that each singer passes the torch to the next. “Because all three of us are lead singers, we signal each other to take the lead by tagging.” They tagged the next in line with a closed fist.

Each song was delivered with so much power and harmony as they sang the beautiful hula mele Ku’u Hoa. John Mahi recognized Bronson’s Mom and Pop in the audience, “You guys raised a very good boy.” Youngest member of the group, Bronson is also one-third of the trio known as “Homestead” gaining much popularity playing music at many events on Kaua’i.

Two surprise numbers were introduced as they sang Ulupalakua with a feisty hula by young Kalaraya followed by his little sister Hilinahi who danced her hula to Kipu Kai, a popular Kaua’i song by Mary Kawena Pukui and Maddy Lam. Whenever Mahi launches into a falsetto, you can’t help but wonder “Where in the world does this sound come from?” When the three harmonize, it’s also hard to tell which singer is singing which part because their blend is so in sync.

Bronson sang Tenehehehe/Maui Girl, one of the songs which will be on their album. Their next song was as smooth as the subject itself . . . Tennessee Whiskey . . . which John dedicated to his Uncle Jack Daniels. Earlier in the evening the three musicians taught the Hawaiian alphabet song, Kaililauokekoa, to the ‘ukulele circle. ‘Ukulele players and the entire audience had a chance to join in on the song. This gave John a chance to show off the Kamoa ‘ukulele which was going to be given away after the intermission. The beautiful ‘ukulele was won by an elated Greg of Lawai, “I’ve been trying for four years!”

As a tribute to all the musicians, songwriters, and composers, past and present, who have shared their music and talents, they sangWhite Sandy Beach by the Makaha Sons of Niihau. They followed this with a popular hula number called Papalina Lahilahi. Some songs are like magnets as 13 hula dancers popped up on stage and everywhere around the room. One of the male dancers was asked to stay on stage for the next hula, the feisty song about picking limu kohu by Auntie Edith Kanaka’ole . . . Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai. But . . . is the songs really about picking seaweed or something else? That song is loaded with kaona.

Another surprise guest on the program was Ruth Naomi Tabonair, winner of last year’s Kaua’i Mokihana Festival Composers’ Contest. Naomi shared the story behind the song. When her father Frederick Camelo passed away in 2016, Naomi wrote a song titled He Lei Awapuhi with the help of Kale Kaui. She asked John to help her with the musical arrangement. The result is a beautiful mele with a complex arrangement that melded their voices in an extraordinary three-part harmony. The falsetto is simply beautiful!

Another song that they composed and arranged for their new album is Ahulili. Someone told them, “Oh, that song is naughty!” John said, “Oh yes, that fits us perfect!” They followed this with a song John wrote last year with such romantic translations — Pua Male, My Wedding Blossom — about the exotic stephanotis flower. “I dedicate this song to my Mama.” Huge applause! Kawai’ola then called up two sisters to the stage to dance the hula to Ha’a hula. These guys are full of surprises.

A song written by Moon Kaukahi of the Makaha Sons calledKaleohana about John’s home town called Keokaha on Hawai’i Island. This was followed by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s In This Life. John expressed his appreciation for their friends, family, the staff and management of Kaua’i Beach Resort, and the whole GIAC team who work so hard to bring EKK to the community. Hana hou! Hana hou! The audience wanted more. John came back with, “No, I’m not Darren Benitez so don’t ask me,” and sent out another surprise treat that got the audience on their feet to boogie to Palo Palito/El Burro Socarron . . . zesty kachi-kachi style music. What a fun way to end the evening.

Not taking anything for granted, John took the time to give a brief history on everyone’s favorite finale song Hawai’i Aloha. Although most of the audience knew the song, for the benefit of the many new-comers who show up at EKK each week, John shared such inspirational words about the importance of the sentiment of this song; he called out the English translations to the Hawaiian words as everyone stood to sing. This worked well not only for the new folks at EKK but it gave added zest to the singing as the audience came through loud and clear with pockets of harmonizing throughout the ballroom. Always a great way to end an evening of great music and much aloha.


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Funding for E Kanikapila Kakou 2019 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.

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