Wed, 10 September 2014
Eigi "George" Matsushita was born September 10, 1934 in Tokyo, Japan. This extraordinary gentleman had a more than 40 year career in Hawaiian music in his home country - starting at the tender age of 19 with Poss Miyazaki and His Coney Islanders, then later with Takashi Kobayashi's Blue Hawaiians, and then finally forming his own group, the Island Kings as long ago as 1960.
By the 1990s, George was already long well respected in Hawai`i for his efforts in preserving traditional Hawaiian music in Japan - and, particularly, for his outstanding falsetto. And so he had the rare opportunity to make not one, but two recordings in Hawai`i with some of the greats in Hawaiian music - living legends such as Hiram Olsen on guitar, Aaron Mahi on bass, Byron Yasui on `ukulele, guitarist Sonny Kamahele, Mahi Beamer at the piano for a few numbers, and Alan Akaka on steel guitar. (I am not too proud to say here that I, too, count these legends among my best friends in Hawai`i or anywhere.) And these recordings dispel a myth recently perpetuated in the wake of the release of a brand new Hawaiian music CD in 2014.
Earlier this year, a duo considered among the young lions of Hawaiian music - husband and wife team Kellen and Lihau Hannahs Paik, known professionally as Kupaoa - recorded an album with a Hawaiian music group from Japan known as Kaulana. The two groups teamed up for the beautiful new CD entitled Na Pua Mōhala, and this CD has been getting a lot of play in my home. (Kaulana holds the rare distinction of being the first and only international group in history to win a Na Hoku Hanohano award, the Hawaiian music industry's highest honor for achievements in Hawaiian music.) However, the Mountain Apple Company, which produced Na Pua Mōhala for Kupaoa and Kaulana, refers to the collaboration erroneously as a "first-of-its-kind project." Not so. There is a long history of Hawaiian music artists from Japan collaborating with the local Hawaiian music artists in Hawai`i. So numerous are such collaborations that I don't even know where to begin. But we know that Japanese-born Hawaiian music superstar singer Ethel Nakada recorded in Hawai`i with members of the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus (including steel guitarist Jules Ah See) as long ago as 1960. (That record remains coveted by Hawaiian music collectors still today.) In 1969, Pua Almeida traveled to Japan to make a solo steel guitar recording with the finest Hawaiian music artists there. In the 1980s, steel guitarist Jerry Byrd traveled to Japan to make a series of recordings with Hiroshi Wada and the Mahina Stars. In the 1990s, singer and slack key guitarist Agnes Kimura began making a series of recordings with local Hawaiian artists including Alan Akaka, Nina Keali`iwahamana, `Iwalani Kahalewai, and others - many with Audy Kimura at the engineering console and Keith Haugen producing. Then there are George Matshushita's two CDs recorded in Hawai`i in 1998 and 2000. And, finally, in 2005, Japan's Hiroshi Okada, winner of the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest, came back to Hawai`i to record for Hula Records with steel guitarist Casey Olsen, guitarist Kai Artis, and bassist and producer Baba Alimoot. This makes the Kupaoa/Kaulana collaboration in 2014 a seventh-of-its-kind project at best.
But I digress with the fact-checking... It's just that good music can stand on its own merit and should not require marketing hyperbole.
Because we are concurrently celebrating the birthday of composer Helen Desha Beamer this week, the set opens with George gracing us with "Kawohikukapulani," the song (as mentioned previously) that Auntie Helen wrote as a wedding gift for her youngest daughter (also named Helen, or as she was known by her Hawaiian name, Kawohi). Listen as George's falsetto gets higher and clearer with each of the three or four key modulations in this beautiful arrangement by former Royal Hawaiian Band leader Aaron Mahi. This is from George's 1998 CD There's No Place Like Hawaii which - like so many recordings featured here - is no longer in print.
From the 2000 CD My Leis Of Aloha (also out of print), we hear George perform "Mahalo E Hilo Hanakahi," a song written by falsetto singer and hula master John Pi`ilani Watkins which extols the virtues of the beauty of the town of Hilo and the hospitality demonstrated by its residents. Anybody who has ever been to the Merrie Monarch Festival knows it's all true.
Because we featured a Lena Machado song sung by Joe Keawe, I thought we should also feature a Lena Machado song performed by George Matsushita. We hear him in the beautiful waltz-time number "Kamalani O Keaukaha" which Auntie Lena composed for the people of Keaukaha on the island of Hawai`i. "Kamalani" means "favored child" - Auntie Lena's collective reference to the people of Keaukaha and the impression they made on her when she toured Hawai`i. The composition dates to 1934 - making it one of Auntie Lena's earliest. This song is a favorite of falsetto singers because of its challenging melody. This version is again from George's There's No Place Like Hawaii release.
Finally, from the same CD still, the set closes with "Nani Waimea," a brief ditty penned by Sam Koki in which he describes his abiding love for home in Kamuela, Waimea, Hawai`i.
I hope you enjoyed this opportunity to hear a falsetto voice you have likely not heard before. And your blogger thanks you for indulging him in his obsessive pursuit of truth-finding about the history of Hawaiian music on record.
~ Bill Wynne