More from the Lena Machado Songbook

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…


Direct download: 01_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:10pm EST

Everything Old Is Brand New (Again)…

Continuing our look at Lena Machado’s final recordings, I have compiled this segment in such a manner that allows us to compare the 1962 versions of some of Lena’s originals with versions of the same songs from her 1930s sessions.

Lena’s 1962 version of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is nothing like her first recording of the song that she cut with Dick McIntire’s Harmony Hawaiians nearly 25 years earlier on September 23, 1937. In fact, the later version is more like what we had expected the earlier version to sound like since Lena wrote the song inspired by the Latin rhythms of such artists of that period as Xavier Cugat, Prez Prado, and Tito Puente. The McIntire-led group completely abandoned all Latin rhythms and influences, but the 1962 group - with guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and arranged by Benny Saks who also handled the piano and vibes chores – comes closer to the Latin feel with the galloping tempo and heavy percussion. Unlike the earlier version on which Lena sings every verse, the newer arrangement relies only on the men’s voices to handle the repeats of each verse.

Perhaps “Kauoha Mai” is Lena’s most well-known and enduring composition because it is the only one of her original songs she recorded three times throughout her career – in 1935 with Sol Ho`opi`i, again in 1937 with Dick McIntire, and finally with the 1962 group. The three arrangements vary little from each other with the notable exception of tempo. Lena and the boys take the 1962 version at about the same tempo as the 1935 version with Ho`opi`i – or what Sinatra referred to as “the tempo of the heartbeat” – while the 1937 version with McIntire was taken at a much peppier clip which, when held up side by side with either of the other two versions, is so fast as to feel almost like double-time. Another notable difference is that on the 1962 version Lena uses the verses she had previously reserved for a steel guitar solo to instead provide her English translation of the Hawaiian. One can only wonder about her intentions since an English translation of any Hawaiian-language song cannot convey the kaona ­(or multiple layers of meaning and metaphor) intrinsically embedded in the original Hawaiian. As linguists know, some concepts simply cannot be translated, and Lena’s spoken translation here is most literal and does not begin to speak to the artfulness of her songwriting.

But the most notable difference is that Lena sings a verse of “Kauoha Mai” in her 1962 recording which she deliberately omits – without plausible explanation – from both the 1935 and 1937 versions:

Ha`ina kau hana / Thus ends my song

Ke aloha`ole eā / Of your cheating ways

E ho`opulu a`e nei / They leave my eyelashes

I ku`u lihilihi eā / Damp with tears

Although we discussed the origins of the song here previously, Hawaiian composer and cultural expert Kīhei de Silva more closely examined the song’s closing line – which is also the song’s title – to attempt to discover what Lena really meant by “kauoha mai `eā.” It is often understood to mean “come out of there” – a command issued when the singer discovers her lover locked behind closed doors in the embrace of another. Or it could imply that the singer was deliberately set-up to discover the illicit affair – that the line should be attributed to the cheater who locks himself up with one woman and then tells the other woman to “come over” for the purpose of getting caught, a quick and easy end to a relationship no longer desired.

Lena debuted “Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe” on record in 1935 with the group led by Sol Ho`opi`i that also yielded her first recording of “Kauoha Mai.” We discussed the earlier version and the origins of the song previously, and there is little difference – save for tempo – between the 1935 and 1962 versions.

The 1962 version of “Ho`onanea” again emulates the then very popular sound of a jazz quintet led by George Shearing which relied heavily on the interplay between guitar and piano or vibes. You may recall our discussion of the centerpiece of this composition: To add to the harmonic tension of the song, Lena replaces the expected dominant seventh (V7) chord with an augmented chord. It is important to understand that unique construction of an augmented triad allows those three notes to be played in different positions on a guitar or piano and still have an inversion of the same chord. (As we move up the guitar every four frets, the top note of the augmented chord in the previous position becomes the bottom note of the augmented chord in the next position, the middle note of the augmented triad in the previous position becomes the top note of the augmented chord in the next position, etc. This is true no matter how many times you move this chord around.) This is a unique feature of the augmented chord which is not shared by any other chord triad, and so it is one guitarists take advantage of all the time – especially steel guitarists who can simply slide their bar easily from an augmented chord in one position to the same augmented chord in the next position for dramatic effect. Nowhere in the 1935 recording – made in Hollywood with a group led by steel guitarist Sol Ho`opi`i – does Ho`opi`i take advantage of this feature, but steel guitarist Billy Hew Len does on the 1962 recording – starting as early as the second bar of his solo introduction and repeating this technique again in his solos later.

You read the story behind “Ho`onanea” here previously. What I did not tell you is that by the time of the 1962 recording, Lena had failed to renew her copyright for the song and was in danger of losing it. Because the copyright had expired, Lena had to obtain copyright all over again, and in order to do this, the newly submitted song had to be different from the original. So Lena changed only the last line:

E ake inu wai a ka manu / I long to drink deeply of love


E ake e pili me ku`u manu / I long to be close to my beloved

This is an interesting change given that the Hawaiian language conveys a sense of time not merely though tense (or how we use verbs to denote a location in time – past, present, or future, complete or incomplete, etc.) but also through aspect (in which the larger fabric of time is conveyed through context – what else has been said or not said – or tone of voice). The earlier version of the lyric – “E ake inu wai a ka manu” – conveys possibility of a love that is yet to be shared. But the later version – “E ake e pili me ku`u manu” – can convey either possibility or improbability depending on context. With this in mind, Kīhei de Silva gives us an interesting perspective of the song: The change in lyric is likely a reflection of the passing of Lena’s husband, Luciano, five years earlier in 1957. This is no longer the same kind of longing Lena felt when she was away on her long tours and Luciano remained at home. This may likely be the longing that stems from more permanent loss and, therefore, which is arguably even more keenly realized. Hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta refers to the 1962 version as more mature:

When you listen to the 1935 and 1962 recordings of the song, the first version is light and lively, like it’s about two young people on the beach who are dancing and having a good time. But the second version sounds like a heavy love song; it is much more romantic and mature, much more expressive of a deeply moving experience… It evolved into something more personal.

Motta goes on to say that copyright and the 1962 recording session notwithstanding, Lena rarely sang the new version of the lyric. If the song – and the new lyric – are truly about her beloved Luciano, then I conjecture that Lena did not sing the new lyric because it was meant only for her and Lu.

And, so, we close our look at Lena Machado’s recording career by comparing one of her final recordings to one of her earliest recordings of the same song.

Despite the popularity of these recordings and finally attaining an agent for the first time in her career, tragedy would bring Lena’s career to an abrupt end. In October 1965, Lena accidentally crashed her car into a tree in Po`ipū on Kaua`i on her way to her new home in Koloa. Her injuries were so extensive that she was flown to Honolulu for the best possible care, but despite exhaustive reconstructive surgery, Lena was left paralyzed in her left arm and blind in her left eye. Now add a pre-existing heart condition, and Lena would not return to the stage for years – not until 1969 when she moved to Kailua, Kona on the island of Hawai`i and performed at Kona’s King Kamehameha Hotel. But it would not be long before a heart attack sent Lena back to O`ahu and Queen’s Hospital and eventually confinement at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation Center. It is widely acknowledged that “professional entertainer in Hawai`i” is not a career path that results in a safety net or nest egg of any kind. Lena exhausted all of her insurance policies and sold anything of value – including her house – to stay ahead of her medical expenses. To help defray the mounting medical bills, on December 17, 1973 Lena’s friend, Genoa Keawe, produced an all-star fundraiser. Lena was naturally moved, but so, too, were her doctors who reflected on Lena’s contributions – to Hawai`i at large but also, on a more personal level, to these doctors’ schools and churches – and they waived the rest of their medical fees – freeing Lena’s mind of this overwhelming burden.

Lena Machado passed away on January 22, 1974 in her room at Hale Nani. But she left a lasting legacy of an enviable singing voice and style (emulated still today by such young female singers in Hawai`i as Raiatea Helm) and a seemingly endless catalog of compositions just perfect for budding falsetto singers. She also forged a songwriting style that can be seen in new compositions by Robert Cazimero, Taupouri Tangaro and Kekuhi Kealiikanakaole, and Puakea Nogelmeier.

Next time: A few of Lena’s compositions you’ve not yet heard here performed by some of Hawai`i’s greatest voices…


[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.

The songs from the 1962 sessions have been digitally remastered and rereleased by Cord International/Hana Ola Records as Lena Machado – Hawaiian Songbird, the cover of which is pictured here and which is available both as a CD and MP3 download from most major music retailers.]




Direct download: 11_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:58am EST