Hawaii Calls – Radio Benny

More from Benny Kalama and the Hawaii Calls radio program from the period 1957-1962… 

Benny displays his exquisite falsetto again on Lena Machado’s composition “Ho`onanea.” If you have read about the song here previously (when Ho`olohe Hou paid tribute to Machado), then you already know that host Webley Edwards employed his usual brand of understatement when he described the song’s meaning for the radio audience. While it is true that “ho`onanea” means “to relax,” this is not a song about coming home from work, kicking off your shoes, and cracking open a Primo. This is a song about the relaxation that comes from being intimate with your special someone. 

Ma ka poli iho nō `o ho`onanea / Lose yourself here in my arms 

E ake inu wai a ka manu / I long to drink deeply of love 

Edwards’ all too brief explanation of this most poetic of Hawaiian romantic songs speaks to the reality that Hawaii Calls was a family show, and the censors in that era would likely not tolerate the indelicacies of the song’s true meaning – regardless of how it was couched. 

There have been many Hawaiian songs composed to honor a person, their home, and their hospitality. One such song is “Wailana” which was written for the home of the Cummings family of Waimanalo. To whom we should attribute the composing of this song remains in question for some researchers. Some say it is one of the many songs written by King Kalākaua. But my 1929 edition of Johnny Noble’s Royal Collection of Hawaiian Songs indicates that the song was composed by Malie Kaleikoa. (It was copyrighted by the publisher, Noble, a year earlier in 1928.) Like the Lena Machado composition “Pōhai Kealoha,” the poetry in the song could speak either to love of a place, a person, or even an entire family or the romantic love for a special someone. And I will need to consult with my experts in the Hawaiian language in order to resolve this conflict. 

I repeatedly use this space to marvel at the number of songs that are written with typically Hawaiian flair and feel by songwriters who live far, far from the islands. “Moana” is just one of these songs. Written by the mainland haole troika of Mel Ball, Lew Porter, and Moss Gorham, the song seems tailor-made for Kalama’s falsetto. But while the song’s melodic and harmonic structure are typical of Hawaiian song, the lyric content is not typical of the hapa-haole genre which – by definition – should extol some unique virtue of Hawai`i as a place or its people. The only Hawaiian word here is the name of our protagonist, and all of the sentiments expressed are largely universal. Without the Hawaiian name, the lyric could be a popular song from practically any time, any place. The composers even choose the “rose” as opposed to some flower indigenous to Hawai`i – giving away this song’s true nature as being “foreign” to Hawai`i. As the only ever recording of the song in Hawai`i was by Benny Kalama (on the seventh album in the series stemming from Webley Edwards’ contract with Capitol Records, Hula Island Favorites in 1958), one must wonder how the song fell into Kalama’s or Edwards’ hands and if the song was ever intended to be Hawaiian at all – the composers possibly taking a song they had written by another title (“Joanna?” “Susannah?”) and replacing the titular woman with a more Hawaiian-sounding name. Either way, Kalama made magic with it both on record and on this live broadcast which dates to right around the time the LP featuring the song was released. 

I think there is still time for one more from my hero, Benny Kalama. In fact, it is a moral imperative. 

Next time: Benny appears for the first and only time on the Hawaii Calls TV show and reprises a song he made famous on the radio program… This is a MUST see… 


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_Benny_Kalama.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:59am EDT