Mon, 28 January 2013
And I almost forgot… Leinaala Haili left one more important on-going legacy in Hawaiian music: the group now known as Maunalua.
It has been nearly 20 years since I was sitting with Bobby Moderow of Maunalua talking story at a ridiculous hour in the most bizarre of locales - a hotel lounge in Princeton, NJ. Princeton University has been called “home” and eventually “alma mater” by a number of students who come here from Hawai’i to study, and so the institution has had at various points throughout its history a very active Hawaiian student organization eager to share their culture with the local community. In 1994, Bobby made the journey - along with kumu hula John Lake - to take part in a weekend of Hawai’i Club of Princeton events. Bobby and I played music for long hours and talked even longer, and I recall the story of how his group - Maunalua - got its start. The group had no name and only two permanent members when Auntie Leinaala Haili started coming to see them every Friday without fail at Roy’s Hawai’i Kai. Sometimes she would sit in with the group, but mostly she would goad them into making a record. After many years of this goading Hawaiian style, the boys relented, and the debut album - simply entitled “Maunalua” - was a radio darling and a multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner. In the more than a decade since their recording debut, the group has gone on to become one of the most artistically fruitful and commercially successful Hawaiian groups of all time.
By the time of the recording of their second CD - “Kuleana” - Bobby and crew reciprocated the goading and dragged Auntie Leinaala to the recording studio for what would be her final recording ever - the tender and poignant “Pua Tuberose” heard here. This precious meeting of Leinaala Haili and the sweet male harmony voices was never to be repeated. Note that Leinaala did not ever previously - despite five full-length releases - record with a chorus of male voices. So this was also a once-in-a-career event. More remarkably still is that the 80-year-old Leinaala in this recording sounds in no way, shape, or form different than the Leinaala of 30 years before - the tone, the phrasing, the breath control…everything still in perfect form, the consummate professional until the very end.
Dedicated to Bobby, Kahi, and Richard - great friends of mine who carry the torch of those who came before because they feel it is their kuleana.