Genoa Keawe – Still Singing For The Hula

It is potentially dangerous to say that Auntie Genoa’s next two CDs follow the same template as all of her previous full-length recordings going all the way back to 1965’s Party Hulas. Because this somehow sounds like a bad thing. It’s not. Auntie Genoa continued to play her critically important role in Hawaiian music. It was the role of people like Richard Kauhi and Lena Machado to revolutionize and push the boundaries of Hawaiian music. It was Auntie Genoa’s role to ground Hawaiian music firmly in tradition. That does not mean that she would not perform a song from outside of her comfortable milieu. But even when Auntie Genoa would sing such an unexpected number as “You Are So Beautiful” (made popular by Joe Cocker) or Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” it was still somehow uniquely Hawaiian.

What was unusual about In The Hula Style and Hula Hou was that they were recorded in Hawai`i but produced by Japan’s Yasuhiko Ariga. This no doubt requires some explanation… Yasu is an ardent fan of Hawaiian music. In 1987, he began importing the finest musicians, singers, and hula dancers from Hawai`i to perform in some of the finest Hawaiian productions Japan has ever known. He has since branched out to take these shows around the world and – most interestingly – to the mainland U.S. in a series of concerts at famed Carnegie Hall in the 2000s. And at some point in between, U`ilani Productions, Inc. (as Yasu’s production company is known) began producing recordings of Hawaiian music – first of legends like Genoa Keawe, and later by Japanese superstars of Hawaiian music such as George Matsushita (recorded in Hawai`i with local Hawai`i musicians) – primarily for distribution in Japan. This is why you will find different versions of the same U’ilani Productions CD with different cover art and different copyright dates: One would be the original Japanese edition, and the other the U.S. release. (This explains my confusion when so many sources cite Aunty Genoa’s In The Hula Style as being released in 1990 despite that the copy in my collection is copyrighted in 1996. This also solves the mystery behind my confusion of why Hula Hou – which appeared to me based on copyright dates to be released first, but which was in reality released second – had the “hou” (which means “again”) in its title. It was, in fact, the follow-up to In The Hula Style, and so the “hou” means “encore.”

In The Hula Style and Hula Hou feature Aunty Genoa’s working group of the 1990s – largely the same group that was with her until the very end of her career in 2008. It included such mainstays of Genoa’s groups throughout the decades as her friend, Violet Pahu Liliko`i, on bass, her niece, Momi Kahawaiola`a, on rhythm guitar, and her son, Gary Aiko, with his silky-smooth baritone voice, but with the addition of steel guitarist Alan Akaka. (Gary would replace Auntie Violet on bass when she passed away in 2001.) While the others may have been around longer, Akaka became the anchor of this incarnation of Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians because he was a chameleon of the steel guitar who could mimic the styles of Aunty Genoa’s previous steel guitarists – from Benny Rogers to Joe Custino to Herbert Hanawahine – while retaining a style uniquely his own. Akaka is considered the finest steel guitarist in Hawai`i of the last 30 years, and that is evidenced on this recording. Listen again to the clips from Party Hulas or By Request and here how the legacies of Rogers and Custino live on in the steel bar and fingerpicks wielded by Akaka on these two dozen cuts.

In speaking of Aunty Genoa and her music (and, for that matter, numerous other artists who perform in a similar style as her), I have not in the entire history of Ho`olohe Hou used the term chalangalang. And that’s because at various points in the history of Hawaiian music the term has been considered somehow derogatory. It does not appear in George S. Kanahele’s Hawaiian Music and Musicians or in the newer edition of the same edited by John Berger, but that does not necessarily delegitimize it as an ethnomusicological term (especially in the absence of any more acceptable official term). But when it was in common use, chalangalang meant a style of Hawaiian music featuring swing-type rhythms suitable for the hula and a particular instrumentation – specifically the combination of rhythm guitar (played on a flat top acoustic or archtop electric guitar) and `ukulele (sometimes more than one at a time) – which when strummed in the hula rhythm produces a sound not unlike the name of the style when said aloud (making “chalangalang” one of the few onomatopoeia in Hawaiian music). I have never understood why the term was considered offensive even when it was in more common use – most musicians preferring the term “hula music” – but I raise the issue now because these two CDs were not merely quintessential examples of chalangalang-style Hawaiian music, but Aunty Genoa was still performing and recording this style of music during the 1990s when almost no other Hawaiian music artist was. Therefore, in the mind of this writer, these two recordings bridge a gap in the story arc in the history of Hawaiian music and made it acceptable for musicians to make this style of music in the future. And by the 2000s this music was being heard again in profuseness throughout Hawai`i.

In this set you hear selections from these two CDs including a composition by Aunty Genoa’s mentor, John Kameaaloha Almeida (“Kapi`olani Paka”), a song by John Keawehawai`i, father of singer/comedienne Karen Keawehawai`i (“My Yellow Ginger Lei”), two from falsetto singers who also happened to be songwriters (Danny Kua`ana’s hula standard “He U`i” and Bill Ali`iloa Lincoln’s “Pua `Iliahi”), and, finally, a composition by one of Aunty Genoa’s long time musical associates, Vicki I`i Rodrigues (“KHBC”). I have offered up these tunes in low-resolution MP3 format with the hope that you will invest in In The Hula Style and Hula Hou in the much higher quality CDs which remain in print and available for purchase.

Not merely a footnote to this story, but Hula Hou garnered Aunty Genoa her first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Female Vocalist of The Year at the 1995 ceremonies. (Some argue that this is her second Hōkū Award, having taken home the Sidney Grayson Award – the Hōkū’s first iteration of its Lifetime Achievement Award – in 1980. But technically the award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1995 was Aunty Genoa’s first Hōkū Award for a specific recording work as opposed to a body of work.) Another Genoa Keawe recording garnered a Hōkū the same year, but the award went to the CD’s producer, Don McDiarmid, Jr., for compiling the anthology Hana Hou! – Volume 1 featuring selections culled from Aunty Genoa’s two Hula Records releases, Party Hulas and Luau Hulas.

Sadly, Hula Hou would be Aunty Genoa’s last recording sessions for a full-length album. But she would return to the studio a few more times for guest appearances on recordings by other artists.

Next time: A new generation of musicians in Hawai`i honor Aunty Genoa by inviting her into the studio with them…


Direct download: 12_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:49pm EDT