Sat, 20 December 2014
I wrote here previously that it was difficult to write about Hapa and their holiday album because while the album certainly has merit on any number of counts, I am not a fan of Hapa. Conversely, anything I write about the Makaha Sons might be just as easily dismissed as these gentlemen have been my friends for over 20 years. Perhaps this is why listening to their Christmas Day in Hawai’i Nei is like spending the holiday with old friends.
Sometimes I feel like the Forrest Gump of Hawaiian music – being there (perhaps accidentally) for many pivotal moments for local Hawai`i musicians. For example, I was there when Moon, John, and Jerome performed in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. – the first Hawaiian music group to do so – for the annual Kamehameha Day lei draping in 1993. The event was closed to the public, so Jerry told me to carry his guitar and he would tell everybody I was his roadie. I was there when they bowed at Carnegie Hall in 1994 (the performance which became part of their release On The Road – Live). But I was not merely in the audience. I was on stage opening for them, and I was backstage with them the rest of the time. I remember sitting in their dressing room, sharing with Moon a mele inoa that I had written for the birth of a friend’s granddaughter. As a Hawaiian, Moon might have admonished me for attempting to write a song with such little foundation in the Hawaiian language. But as a Hawaiian language teacher and a gentle spirit, he suffered me gladly and gave me an important lesson in directionals (iho, aku), and he proceeded to structure and edit until I had a song suitable for a gift. And then we went to one of New York Chinatown’s finest restaurants and jammed until the wee small hours.
The last time I saw them – in New Hampshire in 2009 – was the last time I would see John Koko. John was everybody’s friend – that guy who lived to make sure that everyone smiled at least once a day and belly-laughed as often as humanly possible. He would do anything to make that happen – including making himself the butt of the joke (literally and figuratively). At Christmas especially, I always ask why God always seems to take the best and brightest from us too soon, and I pray for our collective loss.
Most of the Hawaiian music-loving world knows the Makaha Sons of the stage – aiming to please, quick with a joke, but deadly serious about their music, their harmonies, and the use of the Hawaiian language. Those were their hallmarks. But off stage, it was a slightly different version of the boys – the music coming second, life and love coming first, waxing philosophical and spiritual on the topics nearest and dearest to their hearts, always leaving you thinking about your own life, your own direction, your own purpose. And this is why Moon retired from the Makaha Sons in July of this year – to help other young creative people discover their direction and purpose. The group did not merely exist to make music. Together, Moon, John, and Jerome had a mission, and they continue to evolve to fulfill it and will not rest until they do.
It is difficult to listen to Christmas Day in Hawai`i Nei – or any Makaha Sons album, really – without thinking about those times, life and its hardships, and battles fought (and often lost). While the album is filled with joyous moments, for me there is a hint of melancholy – bringing thoughts of life the way it could have been. And, at the same time, as I listen, I hear the hope that I can right the wrongs I have done and change my direction. After all, this is what the holidays are about.
Not merely because they are my friends (and I will always speak about John in the present tense), but because their musicianship and love for their fans, friends, and family is unparalleled, the Makaha Sons’ Christmas Day in Hawai’i Nei ranks #6 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. But judged on a far more personal rubric, the album ranks #1 in my heart. You can hear the entire beautiful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com.
Next time: #5 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Direct download: 6_Christmas_-_Makaha_Sons_-_Christmas_Day_in_Hawaii_Nei.mp3
Category:90s and 00s -- posted at: 5:09am EST