Tue, 21 October 2014
Lena Machado composed songs that she never had the opportunity to record. Thankfully, Lena’s compositions are among the most recorded and performed in the history of Hawaiian music. Here are just a few of the songs Lena never got to record performed by some of Hawai`i’s most beloved artists – some of which, I suspect, you may not have heard in a very long time (if ever).
I have already written – probably several times now, at the risk of redundancy – that falsetto singers favor singing songs written by other falsetto singers because a falsetto singer knows how to write a melody that shows off that vocal style and all of its various features. So it is a delight to hear Lena’s composition “Pua Mamane” sung by falsetto legend Linda Dela Cruz with the Halekulani Girls (Alice Fredlund on guitar and Sybil Andrews on bass) from their Tradewinds Records release Twilight At Halekulani (which is another treasure which can be found in any thorough Hawaiian music collection). Many believe (to this day) that “Pua Mamane” is a romantic love song. And the confusion is easily understandable according to Hawaiian composer and cultural expert Kīhei de Silva who served as Hawaiian language orthographer for Songbird of Hawai`i, the book about Lena Machado’s life and music. According to de Silva, the spectacular mamane blossom is often used as a poetic metaphor for “high rank, youthful beauty, or intense physical appeal.” But, in fact, the song – one of Lena’s earliest, copyrighted in 1930 – speaks of the sights in and around Wai`ale`ale on the island of Kaua`i where Lena was born but which she did not visit for the first time until she was in her teens (having been hānai – or adopted – to friends of her parents on O`ahu). Once Lena got to know her birth family, one of her favorite past times was pheasant hunting in the mountains with her Uncle Bob (her father’s brother whose wife would use the pheasant feathers to craft precious lei hulu, or feather lei). “Pua Mamane” speaks of the sights Lena took in from the heights of those many pleasant hikes, and the mamane in question was actually her oldest brother, William, whom she considered the head of the family. (Now listen to the first line of the third verse and enjoy its poetry. Lena writes “`O ka piko Wai`ale`ale” which literally means “from the summit of Wai`ale`ale.” But “piko” also means “head,” and “Wai`ale`ale” is the surname Lena’s family took for their roots in this area of Kaua`i. So with this clever and loving line, Lena was also paying homage to “the head of the Wai`ale`ale family.”)
“Ho`ohaehae” holds the distinction of being the song Lena composed that is most often performed but least recorded. Every performer of Hawaiian songs knows this song, but few have taken it into the recording studio. Why, one has to wonder? I conjecture it is because of all of Auntie Lena’s songs which demonstrate her mastery of artfully discussing love and love-making without any graphic references whatsoever, “Ho`ohaehae” is that one song in which composer Machado lets loose all inhibitions – and the audience’s – and simply tells it like it is. The song’s title simply means “enticing” or “teasing” and is a reference to someone making eyes at another. And that’s all we can really say about the song that the lyric doesn’t already explicitly state – so much so that de Silva does not even bother to annotate the original lyric in Songbird of Hawai`i. Another curiosity about the song is that few realize Lena wrote it. It made its first appearance on record in the mid-1960s by entertainer Myrtle K. Hilo on her debut LP The Singing Cab Driver (for she really was) on Makaha Records. But this is not Auntie Myrtle’s fault by any means since she appropriately identified Machado as the composer right on the back cover of the LP. If the sound of this recording seems familiar, perhaps it is because these sessions were arranged for Auntie Myrtle by the same arranger who worked on Lena’s last album: Benny Saks. Hence the piano and steel guitar-intensive arrangement. And the steel guitar here is wielded by the same gentleman who played steel on Lena’s last session: Billy Hew Len.
From an album that shockingly remains out of print, Indebted To You by Tony Lindsey and Friends on Hula Records, Tony takes the lead on Auntie Lena’s romantic “Aloha Nō.” This song - like “Ei Nei” – dates to Lena’s frequent trips back and forth to San Francisco in 1949. Lena found the nights alone without her husband of 25 years, Luciano, the most difficult, and from such loneliness sprung these classics. But Lena and Lu did share a telephone call as often as possible, and so “Aloha Nō” speaks of how these chats calmed her down in the hope of finding sleep. Like “Ho`ohaehae,” “Aloha Nō” has been too rarely recorded (and I have struggled to understand why). I tried to give this song new life when I performed it in a medley with “Ho`onanea” at The Willows for the Pakele Live concert series on July 10, 2011.
Of the many meanings of the Hawaiian word “none,” the two which seem most diametrically opposed are “teasing” and “nagging.” Orthographer Kīhei de Silva leans toward “nagging” for when you take all of the verses of “None Hula” holistically, the general theme seems to be why are you still nagging me if I am already here in your embrace? From the 1960s Makaha Records LP Ka `Aina `O Hawai`i, slack key guitar legend Sonny Chillingworth takes the lead vocal. And although the other session personnel are not listed, Hawaiian music fans with keen ears (and a lot of listening hours under their belts) can be certain that the backing vocals are offered by the popular trio of Lani, Nina, and Lahela – the singing Rodrigues sisters and daughters of Hawaiian composer, performer, and archivist Vicki I`i Rodrigues. (The same vocal trio became popular – and instantly recognizable – from their weekly appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio broadcast.) A curiosity of Sonny’s recording – and, frankly, every recording I have ever heard – of “None Hula” is that nobody sings the last verse as Lena wrote it. Many (but not all) Hawaiian songs end by repeating the first line of the first verse, and that is what Sonny sings here. But in Lena’s copyrighted version she actually closes the song by repeating the second line of the first verse.
But there are still more gems from Lena Machado’s pen that we have not covered.
Next time: A few more of Lena’s compositions you’ve not yet heard here performed by some of Hawai`i’s forgotten voices…