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Covid-19 has shut down many programs but these “value-added masks” made from last year’s EKK tee-shirts remind us of all the wonderful memories we have enjoyed all season.
LT Smooth & Keale – Artists with Message in their Music
Without the weekly adrenalin pump that I get when I am trying to pull together each Monday night’s EKK program, the unexpected and sudden aborting of our ten-week Hawaiian Music program put me into mental hibernation as I sadly experienced atrophy of the brain. As it turned out, the final two nights of the season had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 directives but that does not take away from the previous eight spectacular Mondays. After some time to rest and reflect, I thought the EKK audience deserved a review of the shortened but unforgettable EKK 2020 season. (see last section of this “wrap”).
The final night turned out to be a shared-stage performance by LT Smooth of Kona, Walt Keale from O’ahu, and Kaua’i guest violinist Kimberly Hope.
Most artists, due to their busy schedules, have only enough time to zoom in to Kaua’i and fly out on the earliest flight. Sometimes the rare opportunity presents itself that I am actually gifted with a few hours of personal talk story time with the artists; such was the case with these two gentlemen musicians. I invited LT and Keale to spend some downtime relaxing at my pastoral home until their hotel rooms were ready; it was an amazing few hours that I was treated to. How I wished that the whole EKK audience would have had the time to really hear the story of their lives, their commitment, and their life’s mission. Instead, the truncated time at EKK afforded them only time to share the “Readers Digest version” of their mission and their music.
By virtue of his extraordinary gift of music, LT Smooth, born Simiti Leon Toomata O’Sullivan, is able to reach mass audiences and world leaders that many have no access to. Except for a month off, he spends the year traveling globally with his band to play music for audiences, big and small, spreading his message of hope. “If I can save just one life tonight, I have done my job.”
LT opened the 8th night of EKK 2020 sharing four songs that capsulized his message.
Growing up in New Zealand as a son to an Irish “gangbanger”; he and one other brother were taken from a family of 11 siblings to live the life of drug dealers, raised on breakfast of cocaine and heroin since age nine. “All I could do was weep and cry because I’m only human” with only the consolation of music to help himself. After ten years of this brutal life, he was finally able to remove himself from the drug scene with the help of his mother and has been clean for 26 years, reminded daily that music healed his life and helped him to see “how short and precious life is.” He lived for seven years in Idaho working in prisons for youth. “I want to help someone else ‘get through it!’’’ Today he lives his life as an ambassador of music traveling the world to each day “save a life.”
A recent stint in Davos, Switzerland at a gathering of world leaders afforded him the opportunity and privilege to witness Jane Goodall challenge every President to “save our planet” by planting a trillion trees in 2020. My message tonight is, “If we don’t make a change now, our generation will suffer.” And with that he treated a spell-bound audience to a magical experience by singing four songs meaningful to him. He invited young Kaua’i violinist Kimberly Hope to the stage to accompany him; she wielded her instrument with such grace and confidence and added just the right accompaniment to his guitar and singing.
Oh Danny Boy was dedicated to his father; it was sung with so much heart and passion, the audience was visibly moved. He shared Waterfall from his latest album, a perfect song to play with Kimberly as together her animated playing on the violin and his amazing mastery of the guitar collectively captured the sounds of a cascading waterfall. LT plays 19 instruments professionally and his latest challenge is to teach himself to play the fiddle, sitting late at night on the toilet with his I-Pad to compose and master the intricacies of the instrument. They look like they had been playing together for years.
One long “W-O-O-O-W!”
LT played twice at the White House, once for President Obama and recently for President Trump who saw him playing in SF and sent a messenger to invite him to play at the White House along with Stevie Wonder and Mary J Blige. LT told them he wanted to fly Hawaiian so he could collect miles and that he had to bring his wife, but the White House had another agenda and sent nine secret service agents to pick up him and his wife. True to form, there was the usual motorcade fanfare, but his wife had to take a bus tour around the town while he played music at the event. While they waited in the green room, Trump walked in and said, “I’m going to change the program; you all three need to perform together.” They ended up singing Amazing Grace, which is what LT wished to sing tonight.
He shared the background of the song written in 1772 by Englishman John Newton, a slave trader who was captaining the slave ship which sank. He wrote the lyrics on the dashboard of the vessel while listening to the anguished sounds from the belly of the ship. Newton survived to tell the story and later became an Anglican clergyman and put his lyrics to music in this song of forgiveness and redemption. LT sang it with the passion of the message and Kimberly was lost in her own world of making her instrument sing.
One of the most gifted slack key artists, LT puts his own spin on many songs and so it was with Hi’ilawe, about the lovers who ran away to the waterfall in Waipi’o Valley. His singing is powerful and bursting with life so he sounds like a whole Hawaiian band.
LT then introduced Walt Keale who has played at EKK many times and treasures every opportunity to do so. He earlier taught the ‘ukulele circle and had participants chanting and playing their instruments. On stage, he showed off bags of poi gifted to them by Hanalei Steve who treats all the visiting musicians with Kaua’i-style aloha.
Keale took the Mo’olelo portion of our 2020 theme to heart and spent most of his stage time sharing stories about growing up with his extended ‘ohana where every other summer all the uncles, aunties and cousins camped out the entire summer on Makua beach with Sunday set aside for church services. The church services started at 7:00 am until 9:00 at night where singing, wala’au, eating, napping and praying took place in their car porch “church”; one of the highlights was music by the original Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau as the worship band. Growing up with such experiences has left an indelible mark on Keale.
He carried the church service into the audience and had the entire audience singing along Hele Mai followed by Nani o Ka’ala, a song he composed about the “eye of the Creator.” He topped off the first half of the program with a spontaneous White Sandy Beach on the Kamoa ‘ukulele that was donated by Kamoa ‘ukulele. After the intermission, Naoko from Santa Cruz was the lucky winner of the instrument.
The second half of the program was rich with songs as Keale, LT and Kimberly jammed together on the songs they loved.
Looking at Keale today, one would never guess that he was born premature at six months and weighed a mere 3 pounds 2 ounces. With a caring grandfather who looked after him for the first two years, he survived to take his place among the elders, uncles and aunties who schooled him about the old cultural sites and practices in Hawai’i. Today he carries his responsibility with his recognizable rich voice singing a medley of Hawai’i ’76 and Bruddah Iz’s In Dis Life. By request he also sang Hosanna/Ua Mau (Grandpa’s Song); these songs are very special when coupled with the richness of his voice, a gift which he imparts to all who are present to hear him.
Motherland, by alternative rock singer/songwriter Nathan Marchant, focused on the importance of calling mountains by their native names by which the indigenous people called their sacred mountains. Today many native peoples are moving to reclaim their mountains by calling them the original place names.
LT shared a nostalgic moment crediting his mother for raising the ten boys and one girl in his family and singing songs to them that he remembers fondly even today. One of them was John Denver’s Country Roads/ “Almost Heaven” which struck a major chord with the audience as they all started singing along with a lot of zest in their voices. Another song that makes him think of his mother was also the first song that he heard when he arrived in Hawai’i at the Honolulu airport, Bruddah Iz’s version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star rang out throughout the airport. He loved it so much he had to record it on one of his CD’s. He started with a quote in Maori and sang the song with so much passion that it touched everyone in the audience; Keale joined in with the Hawaiian lyrics, adding a whole new dimension to an old favorite. Kimberly was so moved that her solo pa’ani was magical with lyrical, graceful, elegant movements on the violin. The mood of nostalgia was so thick that it could be felt by everyone there, and it carried on into the next song.
Artists normally open their program with a song from the host island, but tonight the musician’s ended their program with the Kaua’i favorite Koke’e by Dennis Kamakahi! What a dynamic and magical version of this song as the artists were truly in sync with their guitar, ‘ukulele and violin instrumentation accompanying their rich and lively singing. LT’s pa’ani is always amazing and hula dancers filled the aisle with their hula. The crowd went wild with Hana hou! Hana hou!
Keale obliged the audience request for Kanaka Waiwai, and LT, who said he did not know the song, came up with yet another amazing pa’ani on his guitar.
LT jumped right into a second hana hou with ‘Ulupalakua, and the audience started clapping furiously as young Kamaha’o Haumea-Thronas jumped up on stage to do his fabulous hula. We didn’t know it at that time that this would be the last song for EKK 2020, but it was wonderful that he was able to squeeze in one last hula to the audience’s delight. Kamaha’o had been present all season sharing his wonderful falsetto singing and hula dancing; the audience just could not get enough of his remarkable performances. He lives up to his name which means “wonderful, astonishing, marvelous”!
Everyone held hands and sang Hawai’i Aloha, not aware at that time but we were actually saying goodbye to everyone for EKK 2020.
Message from Walt Keale:
I feel very honored & blessed to have made it into EKK during this crazy, momentous year, Auntie Carol. There is a lot of sadness around us but to see Kauai arts gotta shut down…It’s one of the hardest realities for this epidemic–life & joy on hold & frozen in its tracks! I look forward to the thaw in late-May & June & appreciate your optimism. It was wonderful to move from all the red font to black again. Many blessings!
(Walt was referring to call the “cancellations of events” listed in RED)
REFLECTING ON THE EKK 2020 SEASON
We kicked off EKK 2020 with our ever-popular Malie Foundation Community Hula Night. “We should start with Community Hula Night every year; it’s like a huge party with everyone so happy to be there!” “Wow! Opening night was so wonderful I could not go to sleep after I got home; it was such a ‘high’ with so much going on and so many surprises!” It was an exciting program with hula lessons by Kumu Hula Puna Kalama Dawson, Vanessa Punua, Beverly Muraoka and Uncle Nathan Kalama accompanied by the fabulous nine-piece “Kauai Pop-Up Band.” The second half of the evening was a wonderful and playful hula free-for-all where any and all dancers could step up to the stage to dance to the many irresistible hula favorite songs requested by the audience.
The “Papakolea Serenaders” delivered nothing short of a real backyard jam … all that was missing was the fish, salt and day-old poi! “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 Kewalo Uka. What pipes he has! Puka and sister Taneesha demonstrated their rapid-fire double-strum licks; strumming in unison, their hands were a blur. They moved seamlessly through a medley of songs — Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua, Moloka’i Nui A Hina, Mauna Loa and Hula O Makee with Eddie Punua’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.
A highlight was when two well-known tutu came 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.
Two consummate musicians – Jerry Santos and Kamuela Kimokeo — and a standing-room-only crowd of adoring fans and new faces eager to become fans is the recipe for an evening of shared experiences that will go down in the books for all present. Starting with Jerry’s distinctive voice that we have all come to love through years of “groupie” attendance at his many gigs and playing our worn-out tapes and CD’s since the early days when Jerry sported long hair and sang with his partner Robert Beaumont and others collectively known as Olomana. Add to that the musical genius of Kamuela Kimokeo on his “aladdin-mat” guitar which can sweep you away with breathtaking riffs that can go on and on forever!
Two extraordinary voices – Jerry’s in a lower register and Kamuela’s multi-octave voice gliding up and down with such ease — soaring and filling the entire room from wall to wall with the sounds that have brought us such joy for so many years. The whole evening was a gift of appreciation about what we enjoy in this place called home. Audience applause was tangible evidence that everyone appreciated the music.
The audience sat transfixed as Michael Pili Pang shared the story of the origin of hula which started on Kaua’i at the Ke Ahu A Laka hula mound on the slopes of Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena with the Godly encounters between Madame Pele, her “human” boy toy Lohi’au, and Pele’s younger sister, the Goddess Hi’iaka. The first half of the performance was a fascinating revelation of the encounters between Gods and mortals as they acted out their emotions of love, passion, jealousy, anger and revenge.
If the powerful hula kahiko first half kept everyone captive, the light and colorful second half of hula ‘auana was both entertaining and instructive as Michael narrated in English the lyrics of the Hawaiian mele; understanding the fluid moves of the hula choreography became so clear. It was simply wonderful! Michael brought the fascinating hula tradition to life as he masterfully chanted, narrated, and translated the lyrics of the mele so that even the novice could understand the meaning of the hula movements. The entire evening was a fascinating visual and auditory storyboard that was artistic, emotional, exciting and informative. He took us on a time-and-space travel through the genealogy of traditional hula ku’i. Mahalo Michael Pili Pang!
Surprises at EKK are common occurrences as we are often treated to unplanned happenings but tonight pulled the plug out from under me. Michael called me up to the stage to help him and proceeded to read a letter from Kahu Kenneth Makuakane, a frequent presenter at EKK and currently the chair of the “Lifetime Achievement Industry Award” selection committee for the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Artists. Michael announced to an ecstatic EKK audience that EKK would be the recipient of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in October 2020. The Halau dancers ended the first half of the program with the powerful Hula Ma’i (procreation chant) He Ma’i No ‘Iolani which Michael stated would be appropriate to see that EKK enjoys continued procreation.
Kupaoa – Lihau Hannahs Paik and Kellen Paik
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.
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. 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. Victor said it was the most instructive ‘ukulele circle ever; really blew his mind how much he learned.
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.
When Napua first stepped on stage, to the audience she was tonight’s entertainer. By the end of the evening, everyone embraced her as a powerhouse singer, well deserving of the “Female Vocalist of the Year” award, a dutiful daughter with her own mind, an adoring younger sister, a loving mother, a wife, teacher, a wiser politician “no longer”, a strict and bossy kumu hula, a musician who carved a niche for herself in the music world, an engaging story-teller and a lot more.
In her inimitable style she filled the stage and worked the audience with her feisty personality, her descriptive stories, her amazing singing, her alluring hula, and her zesty love of life. Accompanied by her fantastic and loyal musicians – Sean Naleimaile, Zanuck Lindsay and Wailau Ryder – she shared an evening of songs that captured the essence of her life.
‘Imi Au Ia ‘Oe, by Charles E. King, a song often sang at funerals, was really the icing on the cake as her hana hou performance. You could hear a pin drop as the audience held their breath as Napua danced. This is pretty amazing because it takes so much energy to sing with a mic and she was singing without a mic and moving gracefully on the stage to an amazing hula.
According to audience feedback, she was one of the hands-down favorite performers for 2020.
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Info at www.gardenislandarts.org — “Celebrating 43 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”
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.