Hawai'i Takes On The Beatles (Part 2)

Continuing the celebration of The Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. 50 years ago this month… Yesterday we listened to how musicians popular in Hawai’i in the 1960s and 70s treated the compositions of The Fab Four. But this was a trend that continued well into the new millennium. After all, a Beatles composition is timeless. 

The set opens – and closes – with the angelic voices of Na Leo. On their 2004 release “Find Harmony,” Angela, Nalani, and Lehua find some lovely harmonies on Lennon and McCartney’s classic “Blackbird.” The reharmonization of the original chord structure takes a jazz approach, which is the work of none other than Matt Catingub, the artistic director of the Hawai’i Pops aggregation and a fine saxophonist. 

The second selection is from a recording that had such a profound impact on the state and evolution of Hawaiian music that it cannot be overstated. The release of Keali’i Reichel’s “Kawaipunahele” revolutionized Hawaiian music in the 1990s much like Sunday Manoa’s “Guava Jam” did for the 1970s – creating a second Hawaiian music renaissance and a renewed interest in what is time and again deemed a dying art form. Reichel combined countless disparate stylistic influences into a cohesive whole. And there is no better example of this than his decision to combine an oli (a Hawaiian chant form) with the Lennon-McCartney chestnut “In My Life.” 

Shawn Ishimoto – recently transplanted from his Hawai’i home to the greater Los Angeles area to pursue life, love, and assorted new musical opportunities – was still billed as “B.B. Shawn” when he recorded Lennon and McCartney’s “I Will” for his 1998 release “No Boundaries.” Assisted only by the percussion stylings of Jon Porlas, Shawn is responsible for all of the other instruments and voices heard here. Sadly, this beautiful CD is no longer in print.

Teresa Bright is another trendsetter in Hawaiian music – having explored the various combinations of pop, jazz, R&B, Exotica, lounge, country, Latin, and even Okinawan music into the Hawaiian idiom. Here she tackles “And I Love Him” (as Melveen Leed did previously) with a dignified approach that very much approaches The Beatles’ original. With the help of Hawai’i’s Steve Jones on bass and Ben Vegas on guitar, this tune comes from what I consider to be Teresa’s most beautiful CD, 1998’s “Crossing The Blue” with selections ranging from Brian Wilson to Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and with the able assistance of Cyril Pahinui and Bobby Ingano. If you have never heard (or even heard of) this release, perhaps it’s because it was only released in Japan.

One could argue that ‘ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro might not have the illustrious career he currently enjoys if it weren’t for The Beatles… Those of you who have followed Jake’s career know that it began with a home video posted to YouTube (unbeknownst to Jake) in which he absolutely kills George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on a park bench in New York’s famed Central Park. (The video was one of the early YouTube sensations.) It is only fitting since George Harrison was a huge aficionado of the ‘ukulele – with a massive collection of the diminutive Hawaiian instruments of his own, many purchased at Staten Island, NY’s Mandolin Brothers. (This is my guitar repair shop, so I am always eager to visit and be regaled by the owner’s tales of George’s many visits and purchases.) Here is the original recording of "Weeps" from Jake’s 2004 release “Walking Down Rainhill.” In the liner notes, none other than Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, heaps praise on Jake – stating that she loves Jake’s versions of George’s songs and that “he will always have a fan in England.” 

Finally, completing the Na Leo sandwich, Angela, Nalani, and Lehua cover “With A Little Help From My Friends” – originally from the iconic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album which made the Beatles a household name for all generations shortly before their flame flickered out.

Are there more Beatles tunes covered by Hawai’i’s musicians? I’ll keep looking. These are all the ones I could think of off the top of my head without breaking a sweat and rifling through the stacks at Ho’olohe Hou. If you think of one I missed, drop me a line!


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-22-14_-_Beatles_Tribute_Part_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:46am EDT