A Pua Curiosity

These three songs are from a 1959 G.N.P. Crescendo compilation LP released on the mainland entitled “Hawaii - A Musical Memento of the Islands” - which is a curiosity on many levels.

G.N.P. stood for “Gene Norman Presents.” Norman was a jazz impresario whose Crescendo label released recordings by such legends as Lionel Hampton and Charlie Shavers. What would such a jazz promoter want with Pua Almeida, Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, Benny Kalama, or Ray Kinney? What commercial value would they have to him? Apparently, Norman knew better as he released three records of Hawaiian music between 1957 and 1961. The label still banks on these recordings, too. Although they have not been continuously available, they have been available in almost every format from the LP to the cassette tape to the CD and now MP3 which can be found on such reputable download services as iTunes and Rhapsody.

But what of the origins of these recordings? How much credit does the jazz impresario deserve for assembling this talent into an all-star cast for a stellar recording from end to end? Perhaps none at all! As mentioned on this blog previously, during this period it was becoming more and more common for the small labels in Hawai’i to license their masters to larger record companies around the world - not merely for the additional revenue, but for the greater purpose of spreading Hawaiian music as far and wide as possible. Hula Records licensed recordings of Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and Genoa Keawe to London International Records, Bell Records licensed Alfred Apaka and George Kainapau masters to Urania Records, and on and on and on. So it may have been with these G.N.P. releases most of which have their provenance in 10” LPs from years earlier released by Terna Hawaii Recording Co.

This might require further exploration. When the long playing record was introduced in the late 1940s, it was the same 10” in diameter as the previous 78 r.p.m. format. Playing at the 33 1/3 r.p.m speed, it could hold multiple songs as compared to the 78’s single song format - hence the term “long playing.” The LP employed the 10” size of its predecessor because turntables were being built to accommodate both formats. Had the LP increased in size - as it later did after some experimentation at Columbia Records - manufacturers of record players would have needed to redesign their turntables for the larger size record (and, ultimately, throw away a lot of parts inventory).

So the 10” LP had a short period of popularity from about 1948 to 1955 when the 12” LP as we know it overtook it in popularity. This means that songs by Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, and Ray Kinney released on Terna 10” records predate 1955 and, therefore, long predate their appearance on the 1959 G.N.P. label to which they were licensed.

But this only accounts for a few of the artists. What about Pua Almeida? The songs by Pua which appear on the G.N.P. Crescendo album do not appear on a previous Terna release or - for that matter - any release from Hawai’i. Were these recorded for Terna and locked up in a vault somewhere? Were they released as obscure Terna 78 r.p.m. singles? (I have seen a few of these from Haunani Kahalewai.) Or were they recorded fresh by Gene Norman for his 1959 release? This is an issue of tremendous interest since it would help us not only date the recordings, but also help us elucidate whether they were recorded on the mainland where Pua spent much of the mid-1950s or in Hawai’i where he had already returned by 1959 and was the featured entertainer at the Moana Surfrider Hotel.

Either way, the one element that binds these disparate recordings by Haunani, Andy, Ray, and Pua into a cohesive whole is the hula. The Terna Records titles from which most (but, now we know, not all) of these recordings came were labeled “Hawaiian classics for the hula.” This means that much of the experimentation we heard previously in Pua’s music would not be possible in music for the hula which relies heavily on repetition of such elements as the vamp (or transitions from one verse to another). So perhaps because this is music intended for the hula, we hear a much more traditional Pua Almeida here. To assert his uniqueness, Pua must rely on certain other signatures to achieve his “sound” -  the tight vocal harmonies and rhythmic arrangements which this time around rely not on elements fromt the Latin Americas, but rather on traditional Hawaiian percussion found in the ipu (or gourd), pu’ili (split bamboo sticks), and 'ili 'ili (lava rock stones). We hear two of the three selections from the G.N.P. release here - Maddy Lam’s “Ku’uipo Onaona” and Lilian Awa’s “Mahina O Hoku.”

In these recordings we also can begin to understand the key to Pua’s success on the entertainment scene in Waikiki during this period: He could do it all, from traditional music for the hula done in his own unique style to music for couples dancing under the moonlight. Such was the magic that was Pua Almeida…

Next time: When the new sounds of exotica met the traditional sounds of Hawai’i and some Pua Almeida you’ve likely never heard before…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_4.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:07pm EDT