Sun, 23 November 2014
Continuing our look at Haunani Kahalewai and her time with the Hawaii Calls radio program…
Some say that Haunani was at her finest singing a slow, romantic love song. That is difficult to disagree with, but I would counter that Haunani may be at her finest when she sings a rollicking hula number. Take a listen to “A Kona Hema O Ka Lani,” an ancient chant dedicated to King Kalākaua (hence the title, which translate to “The King At South Kona”). (In the last verse you will hear the king referred to by one of his many nicknames, Kaulilua.) Like so many Hawaiian songs, it extols the virtues of the districts of Kona and Kohala on the island of Hawaiʻi, and you will hear Haunani cycle through the various towns there – Kaʻawaloa, Kawaihae, and Māhukona – as well reference the wind called ʻĀpaʻapaʻa that blows from Kohala to the north. (If you pay attention to Hawaiian song craft, you will notice that there isn’t merely a single word for “wind” in the Hawaiian lexicon. Rather, the winds of various areas of each island have been given unique names that describe the character of that particular wind. For this reason scholars of Hawaiian music have to keep a dictionary of Hawaiian wind names handy.) In the 20th century the chant was set to music and became a popular hula number in which the pu`ili – wands of bamboo split multiple times part of the way down their length so that when they are beaten against each other (or even against the hula dancer’s body) they make a percussive crash – are often used. Over and over again I have applauded the efforts of the brilliant engineers Hawaii Calls employed – in this era, likely Bob Lang – who attempted to capture every last nuance of a largely visual show somehow with an audio representation of it, and here you can clearly hear the flourish of the pu`ili wielded by the Hawaii Calls hula maids. More importantly, at these tempos it is important to notice how crisp Haunani’s pronunciation of the Hawaiian language is. And it has to be, and she knew it, because trained singers understand the deeper one’s voice, the more difficult it is for audiences to understand what you’re saying. Singing louder is not the fix; enunciating is. This is why the altos and basses in a choir have enunciation drilled into them so. But this speaks to just one aspect of Haunani’s incredible vocal technique which we might otherwise take for granted.
It is lovely to hear “Waipi`o” again as too often an English-language version – “Beyond The Rainbow,” which is not a translation of the original Hawaiian-language lyric – is performed instead. (I have recordings of Haunani singing either version and even both at the same time.) One popular source of Hawaiian song lyrics indicates that there may be some lingering dispute over who wrote the song. As Hawaiian music is a largely oral tradition, some such disputes linger forever. But not in this case since the song was published in numerous versions of Charles E. King’s popular song folios (in this case, the folio often known simply by its color – King’s “Blue Book”). The version of the folio copyrighted in 1948 clearly credits the song to George Allen and Mekia Kealakai (the latter the leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band in the early 20th century). The song honors Irene Kahalelauokekoa Holloway and her home at Waipi`o near Ewa on the island of O`ahu. I often accuse host Webley Edwards of “falling down on the job” when it comes to making his audiences aware of the many beautiful connections to be made between songs, places, and people – opting instead to weave in words Hawai`i’s mystical charms rather than let its colorful history stand on its own merit as it needs (in this writer’s opinion) no embellishment. If I had announced this song for the radio audience, I might have mentioned that Mrs. Holloway was the daughter of John Papa I`i - giving the song an immediate connection to the Hawaii Calls family since John I`i was related to one of the show’s original songstresses and its song librarian, Vicki I`i Rodrigues. The more interesting factoid still is that it means that John I`i’s distant relatives are performing the song in this moment as Vicki’s daughters Nina, Lani, and Lahela provide the harmonies for Haunani’s vocal lead. That, at least, is how I would have written scripts for Hawaii Calls, but while it is factually accurate, it is not nearly as magical.
Finally, the last song in this set is a true rarity as it was recorded probably only once by a Hawaiian entertainer. “Coral Isle” was composed by Earle C. Anthony, a West Coast businessman and wealthy philanthropist who dabbled in broadcasting and automobiles and who fancied himself a journalist, playwright, and – as you can hear – a songwriter. Composer and publisher Johnny Noble assisted Anthony with the tune which they copyrighted on June 7, 1937 – a little over 20 years before Haunani’s performance of it on Hawaii Calls. Who can say if this song was a staple of the repertoires of local Hawai`i entertainers, but the historical record indicates that it was only recorded once by a Hawaiian – Ray Kinney of the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. Haunani never recorded it – making it even more of a rarity. I feel the need to apologize for the conspicuous splice in the song where several seconds appear to have gone missing, but as I indicated earlier, such is the condition in which I received the tapes, and so we should be thankful to have even a glimpse at this performance at all.
We will continue to honor Haunani since she is clearly worthy of the honor and because there remains much more of her material to be mined in the Ho`olohe Hou archives that has not been heard in over 50 years.
Next time: Haunani Kahalewai simply stuns in a set piece from the Hawaii Calls TV show – a performance I consider to be her crowning glory…