Sun, 21 December 2014
While December 21st will be much like any other day in Hawai`i in terms of average daily temperature or the length of the day (in terms of sunrise and sunset), for many in the Northeast the winter solstice can be the saddest day of their year or their happiest – and, occasionally, both. It has already been cold for weeks here – sooner than in recent years – and the winter solstice is often called the “shortest day of the year” in terms of sunlight – awakening in the dark and a sunset well before 5pm. (Scientifically speaking, it is, in fact, the longest day of the year around the world since this is the day the earth is furthest from the sun in its elliptical orbit and, therefore, the decreased gravitational pull means that the earth rotates more slowly – the day actually being about 24 hours and 30 seconds long, your watch becoming a little more wrong every day, the earth catching it up when the days shorten to 23 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds over the summer to come that we all eagerly anticipate.) And while it was completely unplanned – Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i having been compiled in November – Keali`i Reichel’s Maluhia is the perfect album to warm these cold, dark days. It is the winter solstice album from Hawai`i.
Kumu hula and master chanter Keali`i Reichel did not burst on to the Hawaiian music scene but, rather, snuck in furtively in 1994 with Kawaipunahele, a pre-Kickstarter self-funded CD that took Hawai`i by quiet storm. And there is a thread that connects every one of his mega-successful, multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award-winning releases since. It is something indefinable. I might even go so far as to say “magical.” You listen and a peaceful tranquility falls over you – even the up-tempo numbers managing somehow to slow your heart rate.
In this way Maluhia – Reichel’s first holiday offering (and, I suspect, it certainly won’t be his last) – is thankfully like his previous work. The title means “peace,” “quiet,” “tranquility,” or “serenity,” and this is not merely marketing hyperbole. One could argue that he chose a title and then worked to fulfill it. But I think it is simply that Reichel knows no other way. He is the embodiment of peace and tranquility, and therefore – without having to try – the embodiment of this season. For nine seasons now since its release, my family has lowered its collective heart rate – ever rising with the madness of holiday shopping, the hustle and bustle of combining work and play, cookies baked on a deadline, and Christmas lights that worked yesterday but failed the morning after – with Maluhia.
Combining traditional Christmas hymns with new original lyrics from Ben Vegas, Keola Donaghy, and Puakea Nogelmeier, Reichel struck the balance so many seek at this time of year – a yearning for the past, a hope for the future. My favorite is the cover of The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” in which popular group Ho`okena plays the role previously played by a choir of a thousand overdubbed Carpenters. But the Christmas miracle here is “Nū `Oli” which immediately sounds like a choir of a thousand angels but which, in fact, follows The Carpenters template – only four voices overdubbed seemingly infinitely, Keli`i getting an assist from Sky Perkins Gora, Nālei Kanoho Harris, and Maila Gibson.
Maluhia was nominated for a whopping seven Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in 2007 and yet somehow lost to a far less deserving album, Caz Christmas (the Brothers Cazimero’s third holiday release and nowhere near as fine as either of their two previous efforts). But it certainly warrants this high position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. You can hear the entire peace-inducing album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com.
Next time: #4 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…