Sun, 7 December 2014
Researcher, teacher, author, and musician Noelani Mahoe already made Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i with her 1965 Tradewinds Records release Hawaiian Christmas. And she does so again with an even more iconic album from a decade later on which she added “choir director” to her list of accomplishments – Mele Kalikimaka by children’s choral group, the Waimanalo Keikis.
According to musician, composer, and journalist Keith Haugen who wrote the liner notes for the album, it was recorded – as so many Christmas albums are – in July. But while this might make a difference in L.A. (Mel Torme and Robert Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” – “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” – in July in Hollywood to try to cool off during a marathon songwriting session), the weather would not be much different in Honolulu whether it be July or December. In Hawai`i, you have to work to create a Christmas mood, but those who know Auntie Noe know that she has the Christmas spirit every day of the year – making her the perfect choice to lead this choir of young people on any day in any month.
The album – only the first by this aggregation – would catapult the youth choir to heights rivaled only by the more famous Honolulu Boy Choir. As Haugen put it on his own blog:
And in 1978, on behalf of Governor Ariyoshi, we recommended the Keikis as representatives of Hawai`i for a major cultural program in Japan. The host group - Kokusai Bunka Kyokai - said "no," they wanted older students, since groups coming from other countries were all high school and college age students. But when they heard the Keikis singing at Blanche Pope Elementary School in Waimanalo, they said "YES!" For many of the touring Hawaiian children, it was the first time they had been off the Island of O`ahu. Some had never even been to Honolulu before that trip to Japan.
The Waimanalo Keikis would go on to record another popular LP as well as accompany Keith and Carmen Haugen on their beloved Chasing Rainbows LP in 1978. But unlike other children’s choral groups from which the children ultimately graduate by virtue of maturing and changing voices – never to see each other again – the group reunited 30 years after the release of their Christmas album to celebrate its rerelease on CD. As Haugen put it, “They sang together for the first time in a quarter century and, although their voices have beautifully matured, they sounded great, remembered their parts, and had fun.”
I have written here before many times of my friend, Hawaiian music stalwart Harold Haku`ole who appears on countless Hawaiian music LPs, often uncredited. I used to sit and talk to Harold for countless hours, and the conversation would invariably turn to his steel guitar playing which was immediately identifiable to other steel players after only a few notes. Uncle Harold would insist that he only played the steel in a recording studio once – for his friend Noelani Mahoe’s most recent CD, Eia Au O Noelani. And I would politely argue with him, “That’s not true because I have the albums, and I have heard you play steel guitar on albums dating back four decades.” And we would agree to disagree. But Haugen – who was in that classroom for those warm-ish July recording sessions – confirms that it was indeed Haku`ole on the steel guitar that day.
Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you and your `ohana can join my family in celebrating the season by dialing up the album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold.
Next time: #18 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Trivia: One of today’s popular supporting musicians in Hawai`i was also a Waimanalo Keiki. He has never made an album under his own name, but he has recorded with some of Hawai`i’s most popular artists of the last 30 years. Guess who? (Difficulty Rating: Hard if you’re merely guessing. Easy if you’re information literacy skills are well honed and you are near an iPhone, iPad, or computer.)
Direct download: 19_Christmas_-_Waimanalo_Keikis_-_Mele_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:12am EST