Genoa Keawe - Hidden Treasures

We have been discussing the beginnings of Genoa Keawe’s recording career and the more than 140 sides she released for 49th State Records. If, like me, you have spent a lifetime trying to track down all of these records for your own collection, there is one complication: Aunty Genoa was not the featured artist on most of these records. Once she was established as an artist in her own right and was leading her own groups both on record and in live performances, Uncle Johnny Almeida enlisted Aunty Genoa’s groups to serve as the studio musicians who would back other singers on their recordings. If you were rifling through the record bins, the name of the featured artist would be on the top line of the credits in a more prominent font, while Aunty Genoa’s name would appear below in an almost unreadable font. And her groups went by different names depending on what type of music they were serving up on that session. For recordings of traditional Hawaiian music, her group might be called Genoa Keawe and Her Hula Maids. But when performing Tahitian or Samoan tunes, the same group might suddenly become Genoa Keawe’s Polynesians. Or perhaps not the exact same group. For these purposes, think of Genoa Keawe as the contractor – bringing just the right musicians for each song and each session (or, in a worst case, the musicians who happened to be available that day). Regardless, Aunty Genoa only worked with the finest – as you will hear on these sides.  

Aunty Genoa’s groups were frequent contributors to the recordings of composer, hula master, and falsetto singer John Pi`ilani Watkins who opens and closes this set. Possibly the most distinctive falsetto voice of all time, Watkins first performs a William Ellis mele, “Hula O Makee,” a song about the ship known as the Makee which has run aground in Kapa`a, Kaua`i. As explained here previously, in Hawaiian poetry, a spade is rarely a spade, and, so, a ship is rarely a ship. In Hawaiian song, a ship is often a metaphor for a lover with a special someone at every port. In this case, the Makee is a woman who has deserted her lover, the ship Malulani which is in hot pursuit. (There is so much kaona in this song – so many clever turns of phrase and double-entendre – that it warrants its own Ho’olohe Hou article.) You can hear Aunty Genoa singing lead on the repeats of each verse. And while I cannot identify the entire band, that is beyond a shadow of a doubt the distinctive steel guitar of none other than Benny Rogers.  

Aunty Genoa’s mentor, Uncle Johnny Almeida, sings his own composition “Ho`oluana.” A love song in the typical jazzy Almeida style, you can hear Aunty Genoa again singing lead on the repeat of each verse. As mentioned previously, Genoa’s groups backed other musicians on the 49th State label in numerous guises. She led Genoa Keawe’s Hula Maids for the first side of this single with Uncle Johnny. But flip it over, and suddenly the group was Genoa Keawe’s Polynesians backing Chief Joseph Solotoa on the Samoan standard “Tele I`a O Le Sami.” While other versions of “Ho’oluana” sung by Uncle Johnny or his hānai son, Pua, remain in print, the version with Genoa Keawe’s group is not available on CD or MP3. 

The next curiosity is a real treasure – the meeting of three female voices which would all become legendary. Another favorite among falsetto singers, “Kalamaula” – written by Emma Dudoit for a Moloka`i homestead – is here sung by a trio comprised of Aunty Genoa, Aunty Agnes Malabey Weisbarth, and Naughty Abbie. This gem is also out of print. Do not be fooled. If you seek it out, you may believe you have found it. But the 49th State Records version of “Kalamaula” by Aunty Genoa which remains available is from a later LP – entitled Among My Hawaiian Souvenirs – on the same label – not the single heard here. (It is not the same version, the same group, or even the same tempo.) 

There are few recordings from this period by hula master George Naope – making his version of the hapa-haole (a category of song in which Hawaiian sentiment is expressed in the English language) song “Ku`u Ipo” performed with Aunty Genoa’s group yet another treasure. Because hapa-haole songs are sung in English, you’ll understand this love song immediately. “Ku`u Ipo” means “my sweetheart” and is a popular Hawaiian name or often simply an affectionate nickname. This recording also remains unavailable in any format. 

We close the set with a John Pi`ilani Watkins original composition, “Aloha Wau Ia `Oe” sung by the composer with another group led by Aunty Genoa. This interesting lyric is not strictly hapa-haole as it may include as many Hawaiian phrases as English ones. This song has become a favorite of many subsequent generations of Hawai`i’s musicians with recordings ranging from Kaleo O Kalani’s Rachel Asebido in the 1980s to Natalie Ai Kamau`u in the 2000s. And I have even had the privilege of hearing Na Palapalai perform it live one lovely evening at the not yet forgotten Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace.  

Thus concludes our look at Aunty Genoa’s 49th State Records period. There are many more singles from this era in her career, but I am going to save a few as there will be many more celebrations of Aunty Genoa’s life and career. But what comes next?

Next time: Aunty makes a huge technological leap in her transition to an even more forward-looking record label…


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-27-14_-_Genoa_Keawe_Tribute_-_Part_4.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 5:56am EST