Mon, 7 January 2013
From time to time we will look at two versions of a Hawaiian song from different periods to see how they compare and contrast. But what if the versions were recorded nearly 40 years apart and yet are practically identical?
Singer Leinaala Haili recorded Bina Mossman’s composition “Ku’u Home Aloha” for her No Ka Oi album on the Makaha Records label in the mid-1960s. We have been talking a lot about the changes in Hawaiian music during this period. One of the leaders in this “new sound” in Hawaiian music was arranger Benny Saks. When you listen to this version of the song, you will hear the indelible stamp that Saks left on his kind of Hawaiian music. Besides the drum kit (which was a stranger to Hawaiian music until this period), you also hear a departure from the typical introductions and endings. In the hula ku’i form, you would typically hear the three chord vamp (II7-V7-I or A7-D7-G in the key of G) that signals the transition from one verse to another. This three chord vamp had doubled as an introduction and ending to most Hawaiian songs until this period. But the chords that Saks chooses for his introduction come more from the R&B and doo-wop idioms. (Listen closely and you might be able to superimpose the melody of “Blue Moon” or “Silhouettes” over those chord changes.) Then listen again and you will notice that Saks goes even further by doing the introduction and (what would ordinarily be) the vamps between verses in an asymmetrical time signature. Try counting it out and you will find a pattern of beats something on the order of 3-3-2-4. He is moving from waltz time to march time to the typical hula tempo. But because of this pattern of beats typically foreign to the hula ku’i form, this can no longer be considered music intended for hula. Finally, the series of chords used in the introduction comes not from the Hawaiian music tradition but, rather, from the type of small combo jazz being put forth by the George Shearing Quintet. Even the instrumentation mirrors that of Shearing’s classic combo - piano, vibes, bass, guitar, and drums. Saks even mimics the Shearing arranging style by having piano, vibes, bass, and guitar play in unison. Simply add Billy Hew Len’s steel guitar for a slightly more Hawaiian touch, but those steeply trenched in tradition may ask anyway… Given all of these variations from the norm, is this even Hawaiian music?
But that is a debate for another day. The question really becomes… Is it really possible to top such beauty? The answer appears to be “no” since the song has only been recorded once since Leinaala Haili did it. And when Raiatea Helm and her producers took it on for her Sweet & Lovely album, they wisely decided on an arrangement that would ultimately be an homage - a beat-for-beat, note-for-note faithful recreation of the Leinaala Haili/Benny Saks original.
To this day, I have wondered how many of today’s generation recognized this homage since we so rarely hear Leinaala Haili or this version of the song anymore? But what better occasion than Bina Mossman’s birthday to hear these two beautiful voices in agreeance on the beauty of the mele and how to present it?
This is Bina Mossman’s “Ku’u Home Aloha” - then…and again.