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Who’s Coming Next Week? Monday, March 2

‘Ukulele Takes on a Whole New Look

Using their ‘ukulele circle as the springboard for their evening on stage, the three members of NUE, a loosely formed trio of hot ‘ukulele players gave participating audience a chance to rethink the way they play their little instrument and also how they view a performance of instrumentalists.

NUE – N? ‘Ukulele ‘Ekolu – is Bryan Tolentino on tenor ‘ukulele, Halehaku Seabury from the group “N? Hoa” on baritone ‘ukulele and Kama Hopkins from the group “Holunape” on U-Bass. Friends for many years, these three musicians love getting together to share their music and passion for the ‘ukulele! They have been doing NUE for about 4 years whenever the opportunity arises. Tonight, they took on the EKK audience which happily participated in a 45-minute workshop at the beginning of the evening.

“No song sheets for the ‘ukulele circle” as it becomes a crutch to getting mentally engaged in the process of listening, paying attention to everyone around you, and really learning to play this simple and yet complicated instrument.

Step by step, the circle learned how to play one set of chords, a second set of chords, a long vamp, a short vamp, some picking, and a lot of practice that felt like not wanting to lose your place in “musical chairs.” After several rounds of mentally challenging steps — paying attention to what you had to play, what the others were playing — leader Bryan Tolentino had them put it all together. Surprise! Surprise! the ‘ukulele players found that they had learned to play four songs with the same chord structure. As the group strummed their chords over and over, the artists sang ‘UlupalakuaSusie Ana ENoho Paipai, and Henehene Kou ‘Aka. Even if I could barely keep track of what chords to play, much less keep up with what everyone else was playing, I at least got the concept of what we were trying to do. They pointed out that becoming aware of what and how each other is playing is key to performing; they asked everyone to watch for it on the stage.

Victor said it was the most instructive ‘ukulele circle ever; really blew his mind how much he learned.

Whew! I thought artists just had good fun strumming, picking, tuning and singing for the audience, but it really is a game of mental calisthenics to keep track of what each other was doing when they perform in front of an audience.

It was a most unusual program in that there were three ‘ukuleles making up the band – the baritone ‘ukulele played left-handed by Halehaku carried the melody in the middle range like playing the top four strings on the guitar, the bass ‘ukulele played by Kama Hopkins kept the beats with very low, subtle sounds like playing the bottom four strings of the guitar, and the smaller tenor ‘ukulele played by Bryan carried the melody in the higher range. Of course, each ‘ukulele overlapped with the two others so that they would sound like ‘ukulele, guitar and bass playing together. The result was not anything like a group of ‘ukulele players strumming together at a gathering or ‘ukulele stars demonstrating their amazing virtuosity. Instead, it was more like a jazz ensemble in a lounge setting playing music serendipitously, each playing off of the other musicians. Unfortunately, not being a musician and lacking the necessary verbiage and knowledge to describe the details of the instrumentation that was created, my “wrap” will just recall the songs that they performed.

The three artists wearing their sponsor’s Kamaka ‘Ukulele shirts gave a wikiwiki lesson on the different types of ‘ukulele and how they are built, their sizes, their shapes and the sounds they make.

Ka Ua Loku by Alfred Alohikea of Kaua’i was the first song sung by Kama with an ‘ukulele solo by the talented Halehaku, who can also play the guitar, steel guitar, and actually anything with strings and ended with all three singing and playing together. Then they swung over to Maui for ‘Ulupalakua. Somewhere in there they slipped in Nani Wai’ale’ale that spoke about Nawiliwili, Wai’ale’ale, Lawai, Waimea, and other Kaua’i places and Jungle Rain by David Kupele. They then moved on to the rolling hills of Hawai’i island where they sang Pu’uanahulu, a favorite of the Pahinui family of artists and Bryan who played a beautiful version of the song.

Noho Paipai, the rocking chair hula, featured a baritone ‘ukulele solo and some beautiful falsetto verses by Halehaku, joined by Kama and Bryan. Bryan reinforced the message to the ‘ukulele circle that when the musicians play together as they did, “It’s musical awareness at its finest.”

They then sang and played Lepe ‘Ula’ula (Cockscomb) which was sung by Jesse Kalima and Sons known as “One Thousand Pounds of Melody.” (What an image!) This love story from Waimea tells of a cowboy from Hawai’i island who uses his lariat to capture the object of his affection.

Kama Hopkins shared the story about a friend who was so in love with a “Miss Aloha Hula” named Kehaulani, name of the song and the hula dancer. Unfortunately, the feelings were not reciprocal, but the song was very nice. They ended the first set with Palani Vaughan’s very popular and lively song about the train in Kahului, Ka’a Ahi Kahului.

During the intermission, great CD’s by Mark Yamanaka, Kupaoa, Waipuna, Makaha Sons, Jeff Peterson and Ozzie Kotani were won by six lucky folks who took the time to fill out the attendance sheet. We are happy that our music goes all the way to the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Minnesota, Canada and California. We were also happy to see visitors from Australia and Switzerland in our audience. The happiest winner was Carl Brust from Franklin, Wisconsin who won the Kamoa ‘ukulele.

Before they began the second set, Kama Hopkins sent out huge thanks to the many volunteers who make EKK possible. They brought us back to Kaua’i with a medley of Kaulana Kaua’i and Lumahai, a song not heard often. It’s great to hear songs not often sung by other artists.

Audience participation goes over very big at EKK as it brings an element of spontaneity and surprise to see who and what ends up on the stage. Kama Hopkins introduced the son of his classmate from Kamehameha Schools Noe Haumea. Her son is no stranger to EKK audiences as he has been invited on stage on many occasions to share his virtuosity as an up-and-coming falsetto singer. Kama pointed out that when he was a teacher at the Hawaiian immersion school where all the children learned a song written by Larry Lindsey Kimura titled Kulaiwi. Despite the title, the song is not about bones but it talks about “Us as Hawaiians.” With so many shouts of hana hou, Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas sang a second song titled A ‘Oia. He has quite a repertoire of songs because every song that he sang on EKK stage has been different from the one before. His mother shared that he teaches himself the songs. What a gift and we have been fortunate that he so willingly shares his talent with us.

Another spontaneous invitation brought up their good friend Lady Ipo who oozes with talent as a singer and hula dancer among everything else she does. She shared the story that her dad would often sing this song for all the hula dancers in their family. She spoke about Leilani, one of the hula girls in the family who decided that she wanted to be a hula dancer the first time she saw Beverly Noa dance the hula. She recently passed away. Ipo sang a mesmerizing bluesy version of Lovely Hula Girl and the lovely Polei Palmeira came up to dance the hula; Polei spent many years traveling the world with her late husband Wally Palmeira, one of Kaua’i’s finest steel guitar player. This song happened to be one of Wally’s favorite hula songs. The ‘ukulele accompaniment was so perfect to capture the mood of the song; not sure how they did that but they did.

Lady Ipo asked the audience, “Are there any Susans out there?” There were two. One of Lady Ipo’s favorite numbers is Susie Ana E which she sent out to the Susans. She started the song with just the bass ‘ukulele; it was perfect for the quiet sultry singing style of Lady Ipo. The entire accompaniment was again spot on for that song . . . as if you were sitting in a lounge with an umbrella drink.

In Ipo’s extended ‘ohana, Leilani was the designated resident hula dancer. In her honor they played the song Leilani; this gave Lady Ipo a chance to do the hula. Elegance is her middle name.

Time goes by too fast at EKK but shouts of hana hou always beg the artists, “One more song, please!” and they obliged with what they considered the perfect hapa haole song to end the night at EKK – Last Night in the Heart of Paradise. This song was really personal to long time EKK “snowbird” Carol Dick who has been faithfully flying to Kaua’i every year since the days of EKK in the Saint Michael’s Church parish hall (that was in the last century … the late 1900’s … and she said what she loved best was to watch the way the program has evolved over the last 20-plus years that she has been attending EKK. Tonight was her last EKK night and this was her last EKK season, so it’s with great nostalgia and perspective that she listens to this final song. It’s amazing how much we miss seeing the loyal “snowbirds” who have been coming for years and then we no longer see them. For many, the travel becomes difficult. We cherish the time they spent with us when they could.

This is also the last night of EKK 2020 for our faithful volunteer from Minnesota who travels 4,000 miles to be here to welcome guests at the entrance with her unmistakable gigantic Namaka Lindsey smile. We will miss that smile and her ever present hula dancing …. But she will be back next year.

Talking about volunteers, EKK volunteers are practically legendary because all the artists who appear on our stage are properly impressed with their hospitality, their efficiency and their loyalty in making sure that the program goes on each week without a hitch. Let me take you backstage with the volunteers to see why EKK clicks.

The 2019 EKK season was a particularly rough one for me to pull off because I was undergoing chemo-therapy and radiation during the entire run of the season; besides being bald, some weeks I could barely stand up. None of the artists knew. Nearly all of the volunteers had no clue about this, but they all faithfully carried out their individual tasks plus anything else that was thrown their way. Others like Lady Ipo stepped in to assist as requested and the 2019 season came through with flying colors.

It never occurred to me until Jerome Koko of Makaha Sons asked me about the volunteers and what they did when they were not EKK volunteers. I was surprised when I replied, one of my “chair cops” is a brain doctor from Boston who keeps in touch with his medical colleagues through long distance meetings, and the other is a retired owner of one of the largest commercial printing business in Fresno. That got me thinking about the anatomy of the volunteer crew and why it works so well.

The tasks are many but basically they fall into groups such as the physical set up which includes bringing the sound system and all the physical ukana needed each week for the program, meeting and greeting the guests and being sure they come happy and leave happy (JOB #1) and taking care of any and all gripes, big and small, that arise each week, taking care of the “business” of EKK to be sure we get enough audience support to keep the program going and be sure we collect all the necessary information required by our funders, including the publicity and marketing of EKK. We have several teams who handle the concessions – ‘ukulele circle, CD sales for artists, ‘ukulele give away, sale of tees, art work, leis, and step massage – and the hospitality needs of the performing artists.

My welcome team of greeters who sign in people, collect donations, take care of artists’ needs, put up the decorations are not too shabby where their day jobs are concerned. Among them are a mechanical engineer and energy consultant for international companies, one of the founders of Santa Barbara infrared industry company, practicing lawyers, retired lawyers who used to teach and work with Legal Aid lawyers in inner cities all over the country, electronic technician and IT specialist at military base, retired aerospace engineer and computer science specialist, program integration specialist for Northrup Grumman, retired orphthamology surgeon and professor, educational consultant, long time director for comedy and variety shows and Movies and Mini-series at ABC-TV and CBS-TV, professional entertainers who traveled the world….and on and on.

Volunteers who organize and operate the concessions include long time grant development coordinator who was a research professor at Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska in a previous life, visual artists, educational administrators and teachers, retired fashion illustrator and owner of clothing company, concierges and “most valuable workers” at other resorts, health workers, youth counselors and many more fascinating people.

Our technical crew who sets up and operates the lights, the sound, the videography, are devoted to doing their job as well as they can and have the same commitment as all the volunteers. They are recording engineers, lighting and sound designers, computer consultants, entrepreneurs and even a former Olympic gymnast.

One thing they all have in common is their love of Hawaiian music and the joy they get from meeting and greeting so many happy people here to enjoy this program. Several times I overheard some folks from the mainland, when asked for a donation, saying things like, “Where I come from, I have to drive four hours on the freeway and pay $75 to get to see a show like this!” Yes! EKK is a great deal and we want to keep it that way.

Facebook message from BryanNUE had such a great time at E Kanikapila Kakou on Kaua’i Monday night! Mahalo nui aunty Carol Kouchi Yotsuda and your hui for always putting on a great event! We were blessed to have join us 10 yr. old Kamaha’o Thronas share his beautiful leo and also the smooth as buttah Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira with her so cool vocal stylings! I so wish we could perform with you more often. We had a great time Kaua’i! Hana hou!

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Email Message from Frank O. Hay, Hawaii Museums Association, in support of our upcoming concert on March 21 – Hawaiian Sovereign String Band:
One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was Sovereign Strings at the Honolulu Museum of Art in January 2019. I saw a poster today at Wilcox Hospital, and would like to publicize the event on the Hawaii Museums Association website. I don’t see it on yours, but if you send me a .jpg or a .pdf file, I’ll post it on our FB page and get it out to the Museum community.
Me ke aloha,
Frank O. Hay Treasurer, Hawaii Museums Association (808) 635-3226

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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.