Sat, 22 November 2014
Continuing our look at Lani Custino and the Hawaii Calls TV show which ran for 26 episodes from 1965-66…
Fragrant flowers cool and sweet / Remind me of my Lani
Blossoms for her hands and feet / But none as fair as Lani
No matter how they try and try / No other hands can hold me
No matter if I live or die / No other arms enfold me
Stars are falling from the sky / They're falling for my Lani
Falling stars are in her eyes / For they adore my Lani
Palm trees by the Ala Wai / Bow their heads before her
How they sigh when she walks by / Just because they love her
When I introduced this song a few days ago by Hawaii Calls singer Sonny Nicholas, it was still premature to tell you who inspired it. If you haven’t guessed by now, legend has it that the song – written by the same Jack Pitman who gifted the world with “Beyond The Reef” – was inspired by the beauty and graceful hula hands of Lani Custino.
I wrote here previously that in Lani Custino Hawaii Calls recruited a double-threat – a singing hula dancer. Although sister Nina is better known as the singer and Lani as the hula dancer, Lani was a member of the show’s wahine vocal trio and – occasionally – a featured vocalist or duet partner for one of the male cast members. But host Webley Edwards wrote the show’s scripts in such a manner that it would have broken the spell he was trying to cast in aural paintings if he had stopped to mention the name of the next performer. Although Hawaii Calls had its stars – and often capitalized on that star power – Edwards just as frequently treated the cast as one unified whole that was the greater than the sum of its parts. Should it matter, then, if Edwards failed to mention a cast member by name?
Conversely, Edwards never failed to mention when Lani Custino was about to dance a hula. This is ironic considering that radio audiences would never be able to see her dance the hula, so how could it matter whether or not he mentioned her name in that moment? Edwards continued this pattern when it mattered a little more – when Hawaii Calls bowed as a TV program and the world could finally see the lovely hula that they had been missing out on the previous 30 years. In this clip, Lani dances and sings for herself as she dances – which likely would not have been possible when taping the radio show (as wireless microphones were yet to be invented), but which was very possible through the magic of video where the song was pre-recorded and the artist would later “lip synch” to the audio track during the video shoot. So Lani is indeed singing here, but she is not really singing and dancing at the same time. She is dancing and lip synching at the same time (a feat which nonetheless should be granted bonus points for degree of difficulty).
Like so many of the other Hawaii Calls TV segments I have chosen to share at Ho`olohe Hou, this one too – despite being filmed in color – has since faded nearly to black-and-white. But that should not detract from our enjoyment of this rare glimpse of Lani’s solo hula which has not been seen in nearly 50 years. It is also a far clearer recording of her gorgeous voice than what I was able to offer from the transcriptions of the original radio shows recorded only a few years earlier. In short, this is probably the best video we have of Lani Custino the singer and the dancer.
At the risk of sounding like a record more broken than these time-ravaged radio transcriptions, I feel a sense of responsibility to point out discrepancies between the performances on the Hawaii Calls radio and TV programs and certain basic tenets of Hawaiian culture and tradition. And this performance offers just such another curious choice on the part of the show’s producers. In introducing the number, host Webley Edwards indicates that they are on location on the island of Hawai`i which is famous for its black sand. But then Lani launches into the song entitled “Waikapu,” a song which speaks by name about the various winds in four different locations on the island of Maui. (For this reason the song is sometimes referred to as “`Iniki Mālie” – meaning “gently piercing,” a poetic reference to the stringing of these winds as they touch the skin.) The producers could have made two equally responsible decisions. If on the island of Hawai`i, they could have performed a song written for an area of Hawai`i. But if the song choice was already a lock, they could have instead shot at a location on Maui. Now here is what makes their creative choice more curious still. The Hawaii Calls TV show frequently did location shoots on Maui. And, in case you need proof, I deliberately edited this clip to include the introductory instrumentals from the steel guitar of Barney Isaacs, and in the first 15 seconds of the video, you see the camera pan to Kuka'emoku, a 1,200-foot peak in the Iao Valley (and so the peak is sometimes referred to as the “Iao Needle”) on the island of Maui. The camera crew was already there on Maui at some point. Why not shoot the song for Maui on Maui?
Such are the minor frustrations that have occupied the recesses of my mind even as I have enjoyed paying tribute to Hawaii Calls.
We say goodbye to Lani Custino for now. But we will see and hear more from her when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts next June.
Next time: More of sister Nina Keali`iwahamana from the radio shows…