Tue, 2 December 2014
When we spoke about Hawaii Calls bassist and vocalist Jimmy Kaopuiki and his work on the show in the 1950s and 60s, I pointed out that his was one of the many voices that led off the show week after week but which Webley Edwards rarely announced. So to the radio audience Kaopuiki largely toiled in obscurity – which is the lot in life of a great rhythm section player. And Jimmy was one of the best ever.
Nonetheless, over the last few weeks I have aimed to give Kaopuiki his due (which is long overdue). Here are a few of the numbers with which Jimmy opened the radio show during the 1972-73 season.
“Tomo Pono” is an old song from the Big Island. It is rarely sung, and on the rare occasion it is, it is usually on the back porch at a pa`ina. (Which is why I was delighted to learn that the song was done once again by the group Waipuna on their album just released last month.) Hawaii Calls’ largely mainland haole audiences would not know that this is one of the most explicit of all of the Hawaiian love songs. As orthographer Jean Sullivan put it, if this song had been written and recorded in English, it would have warranted an “Explicit Lyrics” warning label. Also called “Hō`ese Pue Ana `Oe” (which means “that thing you’ve been concealing”), Jimmy says it all when he sings, “Hō`ike i ka mea nui” (“Show the big thing then already”).
“Maile Lau Li`ili`i” is a love song by former Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room bandleader Ray Kinney with an assist from David Burrows. It is a love song in which the lovers are described as various elements occurring in nature around Hawai`i – the maile vine with the palai fern, the `ie`ie vine with the `iwa`iwa frond, and so on and so forth. The metaphor here (or kaona, as the poetic technique is known in Hawaiian) is that these elements not merely co-exist in nature, but are somewhat symbiotic – often wrapping themselves around each other like lovers. Here Jimmy receives a little help from the ladies vocal trio of Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lahela Rodrigues, and Lani Custino.
“`Uhe`uhene” opens another program for a rollicking hula number in which the ladies used their `uli`uli, small, hollow gourds filled with seeds and capped with the feathers of Hawaiian birds to be used as a rattling percussion implement for the hula. The song, composed by Charles E. King, is often referred to as the “Hawaiian Shouting Song,” but it, too, is a love song which utilizes a fishing metaphor and challenges the fisherman to catch the fish of his choice before another fisherman takes his shot and their lines get all tangled up.
“Hola E Pae” is – surprise! – another love song, but not one with a happy ending. Sometimes referred to as the “Five O’Clock Hula,” this mele speaks of the gentleman who paid a visit to his lover at the appointed hour – only to discover that someone else had beaten him there. This is one of the rare occasions that we can distinctly hear the twin steel guitars Hawaii Calls always employed – in this case handled by Barney Isaacs and Joe Custino (husband of Lani Custino). In this most interesting arrangement by then musical director Benny Kalama, Jimmy splits each phrase with the ladies trio or the entire chorus, and the key goes up-and-down a half step even in the middle of a verse – very unusual for a Hawaiian song.
Now I don’t want to say that these songs were taken at a rapid tempo, but Jimmy and the gang just whipped through four songs in 4 minutes 37 seconds.
You will hear still more of Jimmy Kaopuiki as we continue to celebrate Hawaii Calls in the 1970s.
Next time: Another gentleman who joined the cast in the 1960s sticks around Hawaii Calls until the bitter end…