Genoa Keawe – Still Singing For The Hula

It is potentially dangerous to say that Auntie Genoa’s next two CDs follow the same template as all of her previous full-length recordings going all the way back to 1965’s Party Hulas. Because this somehow sounds like a bad thing. It’s not. Auntie Genoa continued to play her critically important role in Hawaiian music. It was the role of people like Richard Kauhi and Lena Machado to revolutionize and push the boundaries of Hawaiian music. It was Auntie Genoa’s role to ground Hawaiian music firmly in tradition. That does not mean that she would not perform a song from outside of her comfortable milieu. But even when Auntie Genoa would sing such an unexpected number as “You Are So Beautiful” (made popular by Joe Cocker) or Stevie Wonder’s “Lately,” it was still somehow uniquely Hawaiian.

What was unusual about In The Hula Style and Hula Hou was that they were recorded in Hawai`i but produced by Japan’s Yasuhiko Ariga. This no doubt requires some explanation… Yasu is an ardent fan of Hawaiian music. In 1987, he began importing the finest musicians, singers, and hula dancers from Hawai`i to perform in some of the finest Hawaiian productions Japan has ever known. He has since branched out to take these shows around the world and – most interestingly – to the mainland U.S. in a series of concerts at famed Carnegie Hall in the 2000s. And at some point in between, U`ilani Productions, Inc. (as Yasu’s production company is known) began producing recordings of Hawaiian music – first of legends like Genoa Keawe, and later by Japanese superstars of Hawaiian music such as George Matsushita (recorded in Hawai`i with local Hawai`i musicians) – primarily for distribution in Japan. This is why you will find different versions of the same U’ilani Productions CD with different cover art and different copyright dates: One would be the original Japanese edition, and the other the U.S. release. (This explains my confusion when so many sources cite Aunty Genoa’s In The Hula Style as being released in 1990 despite that the copy in my collection is copyrighted in 1996. This also solves the mystery behind my confusion of why Hula Hou – which appeared to me based on copyright dates to be released first, but which was in reality released second – had the “hou” (which means “again”) in its title. It was, in fact, the follow-up to In The Hula Style, and so the “hou” means “encore.”

In The Hula Style and Hula Hou feature Aunty Genoa’s working group of the 1990s – largely the same group that was with her until the very end of her career in 2008. It included such mainstays of Genoa’s groups throughout the decades as her friend, Violet Pahu Liliko`i, on bass, her niece, Momi Kahawaiola`a, on rhythm guitar, and her son, Gary Aiko, with his silky-smooth baritone voice, but with the addition of steel guitarist Alan Akaka. (Gary would replace Auntie Violet on bass when she passed away in 2001.) While the others may have been around longer, Akaka became the anchor of this incarnation of Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians because he was a chameleon of the steel guitar who could mimic the styles of Aunty Genoa’s previous steel guitarists – from Benny Rogers to Joe Custino to Herbert Hanawahine – while retaining a style uniquely his own. Akaka is considered the finest steel guitarist in Hawai`i of the last 30 years, and that is evidenced on this recording. Listen again to the clips from Party Hulas or By Request and here how the legacies of Rogers and Custino live on in the steel bar and fingerpicks wielded by Akaka on these two dozen cuts.

In speaking of Aunty Genoa and her music (and, for that matter, numerous other artists who perform in a similar style as her), I have not in the entire history of Ho`olohe Hou used the term chalangalang. And that’s because at various points in the history of Hawaiian music the term has been considered somehow derogatory. It does not appear in George S. Kanahele’s Hawaiian Music and Musicians or in the newer edition of the same edited by John Berger, but that does not necessarily delegitimize it as an ethnomusicological term (especially in the absence of any more acceptable official term). But when it was in common use, chalangalang meant a style of Hawaiian music featuring swing-type rhythms suitable for the hula and a particular instrumentation – specifically the combination of rhythm guitar (played on a flat top acoustic or archtop electric guitar) and `ukulele (sometimes more than one at a time) – which when strummed in the hula rhythm produces a sound not unlike the name of the style when said aloud (making “chalangalang” one of the few onomatopoeia in Hawaiian music). I have never understood why the term was considered offensive even when it was in more common use – most musicians preferring the term “hula music” – but I raise the issue now because these two CDs were not merely quintessential examples of chalangalang-style Hawaiian music, but Aunty Genoa was still performing and recording this style of music during the 1990s when almost no other Hawaiian music artist was. Therefore, in the mind of this writer, these two recordings bridge a gap in the story arc in the history of Hawaiian music and made it acceptable for musicians to make this style of music in the future. And by the 2000s this music was being heard again in profuseness throughout Hawai`i.

In this set you hear selections from these two CDs including a composition by Aunty Genoa’s mentor, John Kameaaloha Almeida (“Kapi`olani Paka”), a song by John Keawehawai`i, father of singer/comedienne Karen Keawehawai`i (“My Yellow Ginger Lei”), two from falsetto singers who also happened to be songwriters (Danny Kua`ana’s hula standard “He U`i” and Bill Ali`iloa Lincoln’s “Pua `Iliahi”), and, finally, a composition by one of Aunty Genoa’s long time musical associates, Vicki I`i Rodrigues (“KHBC”). I have offered up these tunes in low-resolution MP3 format with the hope that you will invest in In The Hula Style and Hula Hou in the much higher quality CDs which remain in print and available for purchase.

Not merely a footnote to this story, but Hula Hou garnered Aunty Genoa her first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Female Vocalist of The Year at the 1995 ceremonies. (Some argue that this is her second Hōkū Award, having taken home the Sidney Grayson Award – the Hōkū’s first iteration of its Lifetime Achievement Award – in 1980. But technically the award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1995 was Aunty Genoa’s first Hōkū Award for a specific recording work as opposed to a body of work.) Another Genoa Keawe recording garnered a Hōkū the same year, but the award went to the CD’s producer, Don McDiarmid, Jr., for compiling the anthology Hana Hou! – Volume 1 featuring selections culled from Aunty Genoa’s two Hula Records releases, Party Hulas and Luau Hulas.

Sadly, Hula Hou would be Aunty Genoa’s last recording sessions for a full-length album. But she would return to the studio a few more times for guest appearances on recordings by other artists.

Next time: A new generation of musicians in Hawai`i honor Aunty Genoa by inviting her into the studio with them…


Direct download: 12_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:49pm EDT

OOPs - Sing Along With Auntie Genoa Keawe

If Aunty Genoa entered the new decade with the delightful Hula – Volume One, surely fans must have posed the question… What happened to Hula – Volume Two? While there was never a follow-up album by precisely that title, I would argue that some of her fans think they own it regardless. 

In 1992 Aunty Genoa went back into Commercial Recording in Kaka`ako for a series of shorter recordings – still then available only on cassette tape – with some (but not all) of the members of her regular working group of that era – including John Lino at the piano, Violet Pahu Liliko`i on bass, and Peter Ahia on guitar. The result was a dozen more classic tracks which were released as three cassette tapes of only four tracks each. But why? Because Side One of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa singing four of the songs, and side two of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa not singing the same four songs. Crazy, huh? 

Crazy like a fox! These twelve songs across three cassettes represent Genoa Keawe’s ingenious entrée into the world of karaoke. All the rage at the time, karaoke, a neologism formed by combining the Japanese kara (meaning “empty”) and ōkesutora (meaning orchestra"), is a form of entertainment in which ordinary citizens (i.e. not professional singers) try their hand (or vocal cords) at singing popular favorites to recordings of those songs with the original vocal track removed. Later versions of the karaoke machine, invented in the 1970s but which only took off when restaurants and bars purchased these in droves to fulfill the 90s crazy, played the vocal-less audio track while simultaneously flashing the lyrics to the songs on a screen (a la the “bouncing ball” from conductor Mitch Miller’s Sing Along With Mitch television program of the early 1960s). But this would not be possible until karaoke machines transitioned from the cassette to the CD which could handle other kinds of data besides music. 

But Aunty Genoa likely had a far more important mission in mind when she conceived of Sing Along With Auntie Genoa Keawe. With this series of cassette releases, she could teach a new generation of Hawaiians to sing Hawaiian songs and sing them correctly. All one needed to do was follow the lyrics inside the cassette’s “j-card” (the technical term for a cassette’s liner notes since removing them from the cassette box reveals that they are folded into the shape of a “J” to fit inside the bend-able case) and listen – carefully – to Aunty Genoa’s impeccable pronunciation. (This is a concept that dates back to the Music Minus One series of the 1950s on which legendary jazz musicians created recordings with and without the lead singer or instrumentalist in order for budding Frank Sinatras and Charlie Parkers to cut their teeth in the privacy of their own garages and basements.) 

There were three cassettes in the series, but if we were to take just Side One of each of these and put them into a single release, for most Genoa Keawe fans this was Hula – Volume Two – the logical follow-up in style and substance to Hula – Volume One. But whether you think of them as one recording or three, they qualify for “OOPs” status (an “OOP” being a treasured “Out of Print” recording that we believe it is a mistake to keep out of circulation) for any number of reasons: 

  • The recordings feature 10 songs Aunty Genoa had never recorded previously and never again since.

  • Aunty Genoa performed “Maile Swing” for a second time on record. (It was the first song she ever recorded more than 45 years earlier when she debuted on 49th State Records.)

  • It featured Auntie Violet Liliko`i singing her signature song, “Piha Hau`oli.”

  • It was the last appearance of Peter Ahia on record before his untimely passing the following year.  

When speaking of “OOPs,” I often say that it is not a qualification of an “OOPs” that the recording be old. There are many fairly recent recordings that are for whatever reason no longer available. Aunty Genoa’s karaoke cassettes were only released in 1992 – barely 20 years ago – but are out of print nonetheless. Interestingly, these fairly recent recordings are so rare that the only references to them on the Internet point back to previous editions of Ho`olohe Hou. 

While only a low-resolution MP3 copy of even lower-resolution cassette tapes, I hope you enjoy these rare recordings of Aunty Genoa and group performing “Ke Ala O Ka Rose,” “Wahiikaahuula,” and “Aloha Ka Manini.” 

Next time: Aunty Genoa celebrates her Diamond Jubilee by entering the digital era with her first two CD releases – produced (most curiously) by a Japanese production company…


Direct download: 11_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:OOPs (Out Of Prints) -- posted at: 6:58pm EDT

Genoa Keawe – Hula – Volume One

Aunty Genoa ushered in the 90s with a most unusual recording that represents the happy collision of all of the previous eras in her career. The 1940s are represented by her reunion with steel guitarist Henry Kaalekahi (who recorded with her on any number of her 49th State Records singles), her longtime collaborator Violet Pahu Liliko`i on guitar, and the addition to her regular working group of her niece, Momi Kahawaiola`a (who also first recorded for 49th State – her first record being the first ever recording of the hapa-haole classic “Hukilau”). The 1970s are represented by her return to the studios of Commercial Recording in Kaka`ako, as well as by her sons, Gary and Sam Aiko, who performed with their mother at the Aloha Grill throughout that decade. And the 1960s are represented by… A completely different group altogether? The Paradise Serenaders were a popular vocal group of the 1960s with two full-length LPs under their belts. And here group founder Lawaina Mokulehua handles the piano chores for Aunty Genoa while the voice of the Paradise Serenaders, Billy Gonsalves, manages yet another rhythm guitar. There are no other events on record of Aunty Genoa performing with Aunty Lawaina and Uncle Billy – making this yet another rare delight in the Genoa Keawe catalog. 

While Aunty Genoa allows sons Sam and Gary to take the vocal lead on six of the twelve selections on the album, this set is focused – as it should be this week – on her performances. We first hear Aunty Genoa on Clarence Kinney’s composition about a crazy car ride rife with double-entendre, “Holoholo Ka`a” (taken at perhaps the most relaxed tempo the tune has ever been taken on record). We then hear her tackle a relatively new composition at the time, the still seldom performed “Pauoa Hula” from the pen of Kaipo Hale. And the set closes with Aunty Genoa reprising a hula standard from her Party Hulas days, “Hula O Makee.” 

I am so pleased to report that Hula – Volume One is still available for purchase – digitally remastered and re-released on CD courtesy of GK Records where Aunty Genoa’s legacy is lovingly preserved and perpetuated by her son, Eric, and granddaughter, Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman. It is among my favorite Genoa Keawe recordings, and I hope the sampler I offered here – despite that you are listening to low-resolution MP3s made from my original cassette copy – entices you to run out and pick up a copy of this classic of Hawaiian music. In fact, you don’t have to run out. You may be able to find it from the comfort of your easy chair and have it delivered right to your door… 

The mystery that lingers, of course, is… What ever happened to Hula – Volume Two?

Next time: Aunty Genoa enters the 1990s by capitalizing (in the best possible way) on the latest craze of the era…


Direct download: 10_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:44am EDT