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Who’s Coming Next Week? Monday, February 24

Kupaoa Shares a Giant Shot of Aloha

A Thank You Message from Kupaoa:

Aloha Carol,

Mahalo nui for allowing us to come to share our mele, hula, and Mo’olelo at EKK this year! EKK continues to be one of our favorite venues to play and we are so grateful that you continue to include us in your stellar line-ups. Each time we play is a different experience, each one special in its own way. The legacy you have been able to create over the past 37 years with this program is incredible! What a gift you give to both Kaua’i and the musicians who participate in your programming. Mahalo nui for all that you do to support live Hawaiian music and the musicians who make it.

Me ke aloha, Lihau

Always nice to be appreciated by those who gift us with their talent!

Lihau opens the program with, “We’re at our BEST at EKK because of all of you; EKK is definitely a great audience!”

Yes! All the artists who appear on EKK stage agree that the EKK audience is very special because they show their appreciation for the gift of music that all artists share with them. Tonight was no exception.

There is something special that can be said about watching someone “grow up” and that is somewhat the situation with Kupaoa’s connection with EKK. When they first appeared on the EKK stage they were two singles finding their voice together. This year they return as first-time parents to a delightful little girl named Jemma, aka “Kellen, Jr”. Lihau shared a story that an audience member told her — she’s been at every EKK performance by Kupaoa, even back at Island School cafeteria where Kellen (supposedly) proposed to her on stage and she turned him down . . . at least that time. Kellen pointed out that it was more romantic than the actual proposal.

And therein lies some of the Kupaoa stage charm that has entertained us over the years … watching Lihau and Kellen, aka “Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson”, “Sonny and Cher”, each telling his or her own version of the same incident but with very different points of view, is often quite hilarious.

Lihau reminded me that I asked them to participate in EKK 2019 because I always have them in the “odd” years. She begged to hold off until EKK 2020 because they had a new CD in the incubator. That wasn’t all that was in the incubator as they appear on stage this year with 5-month-old daughter Jemma. Another interesting fact is that within their small circle of close music and hula friends, five couples had babies within a two-and-a-half month span. Wonder what they were eating?

When Kupaoa sings Lei Kupukupu by Uncle Dennis Kamakahi, it’s a harmonious gift from heaven. They like this song so much that they taught it to the hula circle and the ‘ukulele circle the last time they did EKK. A song on their second last album, it is the perfect song to show off their great voices. Lihau plays a bass and Kellen is on guitar. They are a handsome couple with Lihau looking elegant and composed in her blue long dress and Kellen in his matching shirt singing with unbridled exuberance. Never mind that baby Paik spit up on her dress just before they came on stage. They face new challenges in this new phase of their life together as the popular singing couple is so much in demand on Hawai’i stages.

Another constant in their performing lives is their long-time connection with the Ke Ala Aumoe Hula Halau who have performed with them on many occasions. Dancers come and go but the two die-hard kumu hula, Frank Kaanana Akima and Eleena Helenihi, are ever-present.

Sweet Moonlight (Kiss Good Night), taught to them by the late Bill Kaiwa, was recorded on their Ho’okele album. Written in the 1800’s by Prince Albert Kunuiakea, the illegitimate son of Kamehameha III who was reputed to be quite a lady’s man, this song gave Frank Akima, who oozes flirtatiousness, a chance to show off how flirtatious he can be when he dances. He flirts with every facial expression, especially his eyebrows, his swaying hips and foot action. The big surprise was when he jumped off the stage and plunked a big kiss on Sandra Rice’s lips. I guess that is why she always sits in the first seat in the first row at every concert. “If someone is going to get that kiss, it had better be me!”

Ke Anu E Ko Mai Nei, which translates to cold, chilling wind, is a beautiful waltz tempo song by Queen Liliu’okalani about her discreet observation of somebody’s love affair in her court. Interestingly, there are some Spanish lyrics in this Hawaiian song. Those Mexican paniolo really get around … fence or no fence.

Kellen and Lihau often play a game called “Random Flip” in which they go through the blue Na Mele songbook, picking a song to explore. One day they realized that one of the songs they often passed over, Kaua I Ka Huahua’i, was a song they actually knew by a different name. In the 1930’s and 1940’s the song known as Hawaiian War Chant with the Big Bang up-tempo beat so popular in Hawai’i. They gave it a try and found out that it was actually a love song; they decided to bring back the love song by slowing down the tempo of the current melody. The original melody has likely been lost over time. Eleena danced the hula to this beautiful love song, but you could still make out the Hawaiian War Chant in it. Written by Lihau’s favorite Na Lani Eha composer, Prince Lelei’ohoku, Kaua I Ka Huahua’i, had some hidden meanings in the interpretation “You and I are here in the spray of mist.”

The story behind the song Sweet ‘Apapane was told in their humorous “Sonny and Cher” style banter. When recording their second album, they had finished 12 songs and needed one more. Kellen described Lihau’s old spiral-bound yellow notebook in which she kept all her notes about songs, ideas … it was basically her notepad where she explored and recorded her thoughts, trials, seeds about songwriting. He asked her if she had anything in the notepad that might work. She said she might have something that she wrote as a 16-year-old about a bird. Kellen’s response was, “A bird? That’s really shallow.” “But since then Lihau has had years of Hawaiian language studies and has become an amazing songwriter.” So Kellen asked her, “Can you give it a polish?”

Lihau worked on it and morphed it into a new song, which they gifted to a very good friend who used to show up at their “Akubon” gig with his guitar, sit in the corner in the dark and sometimes play music with them. Their teacher told them that the greatest gift you can give someone is a song. Kuana Torres Kahele, whose beautiful falsetto voice was likened to that of the ‘Apapane bird in Sweet ‘Apapane was the result. When Kellen first came up with the melody, Lihau was not excited about it, but it became one of the most popular songs on the Ho’okele album. Lihau confessed, “It just goes to show, I’m not always right.” It’s really a sweet song with a catchy melody that beautifully blends Kellen’s high voice and Lihau’s lower register.

Ha’ena was written eight years ago based on the stories shared with them by Frederick “Bruce” Wichman, Jr. who was passionate about capturing everything about Kaua’i, the places, the landscape, the people, in his books – Kaua’i Tales, More Kaua’i Tales, Polihale and other Kaua’i Legends, Kaua’i: Ancient Place Names and Their Stories and Pele Ma: Legends of Pele from Kaua’i. What a great resource to have as a friend. For this song about the north shore, they featured their sweet and sensuous hula dancer Pohaikauilani Campbell; long-time friend of Lihau whose parents are her godparents. Tiny in stature, Pohai is an amazing volleyball player who Kellen first met at the Akubon Restaurant. Kellen shared that “Pohai is the friend who never left,” which for him means a great deal as she wasn’t here one day and gone the next. In fact, she is visiting Kaua’i for a week with her own new baby Mamo.

Wa’a Hokule’a, a song by Larry Kimura about the Hokule’a, the first double-hull sailing canoe that navigated the oceans using only traditional sailing methods and no technology. They wrote it for the captain of the maiden voyage to Tahiti and back, Kawika Kapahulehua from Ni’ihau who really knew the waters well. Often, the focus is on the navigator but the captain is the person they focused on in this song. They came to know him as a native speaker in their Hawaiian language classes at the University of Hawai’i. Frankie and Pohai danced vigorously about the canoe’s maiden voyage.

Lihau wanted to share the story of the next original song which was written 13 years ago at the end of January 2007 and presented on February 1st as a birthday gift for Kellen. They had been dating for a couple of years by then. She had no money to buy Kellen a gift and knowing that there is no greater gift than to write a song for someone, she decided to write a song for Kellen that honored the place he’s from. It’s about the sweet and lasting scent of the Mokihana berry as a metaphor that she could see a lasting future with him. Kellen remembers it as a dark beautiful romantic night with stars. Lihau reminded him that it was daytime when she gave him the song. He recalls it was midnight in Alaska. …and so they spin their separate tales . . .

Lihau also chose to remind Kellen that he has yet to write her a song. His excuse was, “The computer crashed and I lost everything on it.” The other excuse for not writing a song for Lihau is that “words cannot describe what he has to say about her,” which Lihau says is really overused. Over the years their relationship has evolved. So has their music but what remains is their unique “couple’s stage banter” which endeared them to the audience years ago and still is very much a part of their expression that we enjoy so much.

Lei Mokihana, which is on their new album, is a beautiful song from lyrics to melody to the way they harmonize. It speaks of a love that will last like the scent of the Mokihana berry and shows the preciousness of the relationship they share and the abundance of love that they have to share with all of us.

Ka Lei Moana, the title track for the new CD with lyrics by Puakea Nogelmeier and music by Kellen Paik, was written for the Lantern Lighting and Floating ceremony in Honolulu on Memorial Day. The powerful message of the song is that many rivers flow together and become one ocean and is a metaphor for all to come together. Earlier during the hula circle, many dancers learned the chorus of this hula. They were invited to come on stage and perform along with the three halau dancers plus Eleena’s daughter Hi’ilani who had joined the team just for tonight.

The second half of the program began with the weekly CD giveaway to the lucky winners whose sign-in sheets were drawn. CD’s by Ozzie Kotani, Ku’uipo Kumukahi, Makaha Sons, Waipuna and Jeff Peterson will be enjoyed by happy winners from Mexico, Vancouver, Minnesota, Hanalei, Washington and ‘Ele’ele. The winner of the Kamoa ‘Ukulele is Shirleen Palacio of Hanapepe – none other than Bo Kamala’s mother. Bo does the step massage in the back of the ballroom with donations that go to support the Malie Foundation Scholarship fund for kids to attend Punana Leo. Many good things are happening at EKK each week.

Ka Ho’okele, one of their original songs, honors all those who guided them through the years as “steersmen who navigate our way”. They recalled their EKK gig at Island School when half the audience was their huge ‘ohana from Anini. They still all come to support the couple, but their little pond is now as vast as the ocean.

They shared a hilarious story about their paddle boarding excursion up the Kalihiwai River. Lihau became enamored of this river as she did not have the luxury of experiencing the meeting of the river with the ocean where she lived in Honolulu. Kellen’s version is that when you do standup paddle, you don’t stop because when you do, you go off balance and the board turns, so it’s better to keep moving. Lihau, on the other hand, is more about the process rather than the destination so she stops to pick up every red blossoms floating in the river. “The flowers are dead and we can’t eat them so don’t stop to pick them up!” Their friend Pueo Pata, who loves the song Pua Hau ‘Ula, shared with them the life cycle of the hau blossom as it changes from yellow to orange to red; when it’s red, it’s dead. Kellen asked Lihau, “Did you know that? I thought there were two trees…one with yellow flowers and one with red flowers; I didn’t know where the trees with the orange blossoms grew,” to which Lihau pointed out, “Kellen has many talents but botany is not one of them!”

Kellen and Lihau have close ties with the Kilauea Social Club, a community group that performs annually at their Kilauea Christmas concert. On their CD, they sing a song titled Beautiful Sunday which someone learned in Kwajalein island. The song was popularized by a one-hit wonder group in Japan. Kupaoa found it uplifting so they learned the Japanese translation and recorded their own version it on their album. When they performed in Japan, they were really caught by surprise with the audience reaction. Unlike the Hawaiian songs they sang, when they started singing Beautiful Sunday, the place erupted and the entire audience sang along with them.

Evening Song was written by Mark Yamanaka several years ago but he did not record it because he thought it was cheesy. “We like cheesy,” replied Lihau. She asked for just one more verse and go the lullaby route. Perfect timing for this song. Not sure if the song came first as a precursor of what was to come, or if the action came first, but within their small circle of close friends, they have collectively given birth to five babies within a two-and-a-half-month period. Mark’s new-born daughter is the youngest of the five.

When Mark Yamanaka was working on his third CD, he asked Kellen to ask Lihau to write the lyrics for the title track to Lei Lehua. He requested a song with fewer words that would work better for falsetto. Lihau said that songwriting does not work that way, so what she gave him was a song with many lyrics. He put the four verses to beautiful music and recorded it as the title track to Lei Lehua. Happily the final falsetto version was so beautiful that it garnered the “Song of the Year” award at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Lihau commented, “Mark’s not always right either.”

Written in the 1950’s by Mary Kawena Pukui and Noelani Mahoe, Hula celebrates the hula. Eleena danced the beautiful hula number with her usual graceful expression. Lihau did a shout out for Fumi and Loui Cabebe of Pua Hina for being their clothing sponsors and always making them look awesome on stage.

In December I asked Frank if he would be doing hula to Puakea Nogelmeier’s Mele Koki when he came to EKK. He assured me that he had already hung up his frog outfit and would no longer be dancing it even if it was everybody’s favorite and their most-requested hula. Kellen said, “Even we can’t get him to do that!” so he was surprised when Frank said he was going to dance Mele Koki as requested by EKK Snowbird Walter Levison who always sits in the first row at every concert. Frank and Walter struck a deal that Walter would have to stick his tongue out every time Frank did, and he also entrusted the continuation of the hula by passing the frog baton to young Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas who was sitting front and center on the floor. This special song, though fun, says that we need to be aware of things that seem harmless but can threaten things we honor and love.

Aotearoa E on the new CD is the result of Lihau’s long love affair with New Zealand. She first traveled there at age 16 and has been back there over 12 times to study as an undergraduate and later for her graduate degree. She even has a hanai family and the names of her sisters and nieces are woven into the song. As a student of the Maori language, she wrote the lyrics and checked her lyrics to be sure it was linguistically and culturally correct; she wanted to honor their music and point out the connection between Maori and Hawaiian music. NZ seems to be far ahead of Hawai’i in their music influences by other genres of song. When they shared the song with their team, the song turned out to be everybody’s favorite.

Bumbye is a song that they like to include in their EKK playlist as its important message is to not take things for granted and do what you need today because tomorrow may be too late; it’s not good to do things “when I get to it because yesterday’s ‘bumbye’ is today!” Frank, Pohai and Eleena danced to this favorite Nogelmeier composition.

The song taught to the ‘ukulele circle, Take Aloha with You, has a message
for the audience, “What we do for others, we get it back ten-fold!” That is perfect not only for EKK but for everywhere in the world. So, as we held hands and sang Hawaii Aloha, we all felt so uplifted by the positive music and actions of Kupaoa and their halau dancers.

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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.