Wed, 30 January 2013
There are some songs in the vast Hawaiian canon that are too rarely heard and even less often recorded. While there are Hawaiian standards that have been recored literally dozens of times, if we scour the song folios dating back 100 years, some of the most beautiful lyrics and melodies have been recorded a scant once or twice. Many have never been recorded at all.
The contribution of Charles E. King - whose birthday would have been celebrated yesterday - as composer, collector, and publisher of Hawaiian songs cannot be underestimated and cannot be covered in a blog post or even a week’s worth of blog posts. So we will return to his legacy when time and space permit. But for now, suffice it to say that King published at least two invaluable folios of Hawaiian songs. Both titled as “King’s Songs of Hawaii,” they are referred to affectionately by Hawaiians by the color of their covers - the “Blue Book” and the “Green Book.” “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” is one of these lovely oft forgotten King compositions.
Another out of print classic by Kihei Brown - whose birthday we also celebrate today - is the Hula Records release “Right On Keia” on which Kihei and his trio give us a stirring rendition of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha.” As I listen, I am looking at the score of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” in my 1950 edition of King’s “Green Book,” and the “stirring” is more the work of the composer than the trio who reproduce the composer’s intentions pretty faithfully. One might think that the dramatic changes in tempo are a feature of the arrangement. But the score indicates that the tempo changes are a feature of the composition - interpreted just as King notated them in the score. It is these tempo changes that create the “drama” in what is otherwise a vaudevillian chord sturcture.
Kihei Brown’s version of this song was the only one to be heard for more than 40 years. But then enter the young Hawaiian music group known as ‘Ale’a who recorded “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” for only the second time for their 2004 CD “Kaulupono.” Who is to say whether or not the gentlemen of ‘Ale’a ever saw the Charles E. King score of the song? So we are left to ponder whether their stirring rendition is the result of faithfully adhering to the score or following the recorded example set by Kihei Brown and his trio 40 years earlier. (Because Hawaiian music is part of a larger oral tradition, many Hawaiian songs are handed down simply by hearing and repeating rather than by the printed sheet music - which in many cases does not even exist.) In either case, the group recognizes the vaudevillian character of the chord changes and plays them up with the addition of the piano - ably handled by Aaron Sala in the unique tradition of Hawaiian-style piano discussed here previously.
What better way to connect past and present then hearing two versions of the same song by two different artists recorded nearly 40 years apart? And what better way to celebrate the birthdays of Kihei Brown and Charles E. King?