Fri, 31 October 2014
On October 31, 2007, the Keawe `ohana celebrated the birthday of their mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother, Genoa Keawe, in a very public way – with a celebration concert hosted by the Pakele Live concert series at the Ala Moana Hotel. The all-star concert went seemingly forever (although it was probably only three hours) and featured such Genoa Keawe acolytes as Kawika Trask, Ainsley Halemanu, Jeff Teves, sisters Ethylyne and Mona Teves, Nickie Hines, and Melveen Leed. It also featured Aunty Genoa’s band of nearly 20 years with son Gary Aiko, niece Momi Kahawaiola`a, granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman, and their friend-as-close-as-family Alan Akaka. Of course, such a celebration would not be proper unless the guest of honor herself took the mic. And when she finally did, with the opening strains of “Paoakalani,” Genoa Keawe had officially conquered every recording and performance medium in the history of entertainment: From the 78 rpm record through the 45 rpm record and eventually the long-playing (or LP) record, from the open reel tape to the 8-track tape to the cassette tape, television and film (we didn’t even talk about her appearances on The Lucky Luck Show or her film soundtrack work), to such digital media as the CD and the MP3, and – because Pakele Live was broadcast live around the world via the Internet – the World Wide Web, by her 89th birthday – and a career spanning more than 60 years – Genoa Keawe had officially done it all.
And so she could leave this life knowing there was nothing left to conquer.
As emcee Billy V says in announcing the birthday girl, fans around the world were waiting with bated breath for a glimpse at and listen to the First Lady of Hawaiian Music. So that you have some context for how ardent a Genoa Keawe fan can be, it was 1am on the East Coast where I was await her appearance, 5am in Great Britain where – yes! – they were waiting for her there too. And she delivered. Although you only hear an excerpt from her set here, the highlight here is “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae,” on which Gary Aiko duets with Melveen Leed – until, that is, Melveen no longer can reach those high notes and turns over the reins to Aunty Genoa who can not only still hit “G” above “high C,” but hold it for eight beats at the slowest of tempos. And then there is the closing number, her signature song, the song every audience expects, the song with which we opened this tribute a week ago, “`Alika,” on which Aunty Genoa is joined again by Melveen Leed and her granddaughter, Pomaika`i.
Emcee Billy V doesn’t need to tell us that the crowd is on its feet. Never did Aunty Genoa perform that this didn’t happen. But the poignant moment comes when somebody – perhaps even someone on stage – says loudly for the microphones to pick up for all the world to hear, “God bless you, Aunty Genoa.” And it resounded in such a way that it was as if the entire Hawaiian music-loving world said it in unison. I hope she heard it. And I pray she believed it.
God bless you, Aunty Genoa. We love you, aunty. And we always will.
In loving remembrance of Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe
(October 31, 1918 -- February 25, 2008)
Fri, 31 October 2014
By now you likely already know that at Ho`olohe Hou, when we say “Precious Meetings,” we mean those rare moments on stage or in a recording studio when two artists that would seldom (perhaps never before or since) be captured together on tape create a historically important moment on record. For Hawai`i’s musicians who also happen to be fans of Aunty Genoa, these meetings were equally precious for them as they were for us, the listener. Here are four such “Precious Meetings” between Aunty Genoa and the current generation of Hawaiian music artists.
Teresa Bright is known for blurring the lines between past and present in her presentation of Hawaiian music (both as a solo artist and with former partner Steve Maii). On her 1994 release, Painted Tradition (her second solo album after her departure from Maii), Bright took liberties with songs by (Aunty Genoa’s mentor) John Kameaaloha Almeida and Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. But she played it relatively straight in her duet with Aunty Genoa on her friend Lena Machado’s “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi.” As she did in the earliest part of her career with Uncle Johnny on the 49th State Records releases, Aunty Genoa is content to sing back-up for Teresa. And one of those magic moments on record was the happy result.
Aunty Genoa does not necessarily sing back-up again but, rather, a harmony part of her choosing on “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” with the group Pali from their 2004 CD In Harmony. The group is named for its leader, multi-instrumentalist Pali Ka`aihue who created the Pakele Live concert series, the first Hawaiian music program broadcast around the world live via the Internet. This likely would have been Aunty Genoa’s last ever recording, and a 2007 appearance at Pakele Live – in honor of her 89th birthday – would be one of Aunty Genoa’s last public appearances.
Zanuck Kapala Lindsey has led numerous groups over the last twenty or more years – each propelling the evolution of Hawaiian music a little farther and faster than the last. In the 1990s “Z” (as he is affectionately known) combined old Hawaiian songs with the swing revival craze to create the fictitiously named Hula Joe & The Hutjumpers. A mash-up that might be described as Lani McIntire-era Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room meets Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the group’s eponymously titled CD (the 1999 release their one and only before “Z” and group evolved yet again) was a wild success. And with the group’s help, Aunty Genoa reprised Don McDiarmid’s composition “Do The Hula” which Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians had recorded nearly 50 years earlier for 49th State Records.
Finally, in 2004 then 20-year-old female falsetto phenom Raiatea Helm invited Aunty Genoa into the studio to duet with her on the Johnny Noble classic “Hu`i E.” This is a true duet in that Raiatea and Aunty Genoa are equals here – trading verses and harmonizing with each other on the ha`ina verse. This “Precious Meeting” is the most precious of all of these to me personally since I know how much Aunty Genoa means to Rai, and despite that she is her own woman and her own artist, one cannot help but hear Rai honoring Aunty Genoa in every note she sings. “She’s inspired me,” Helm told MidWeek in 2005. “She’s a great icon of Hawaiian music and, as a woman, a great role model.” Raiatea is also good friends with the other young lioness of Hawaiian falsetto, Aunty Genoa’s granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman – making the whole affair even that much more special.
I am proud and honored to say that I had my share of “Precious Meetings” with Aunty Genoa too. Every time I visited the Waikiki Beach Marriott – where Aunty Genoa held court every Thursday evening from the early 1990s until her passing in 2008 – I was most humbly called to the stage where I could fulfill my life’s greatest wish – over and over again – to sing with Aunty Genoa. I don’t know if my favorite occasion was July 3, 2003 when I honored Aunty Genoa by singing for her the first song she ever recorded, “Maile Swing” (which she sang with me), or September 15, 2005 when I sang for her “Ku`u Makamaka,” the mele inoa (or “name song”) written in her honor by her good friend Malia Craver and which had only been recorded by such good friends of Aunty Genoa’s as Peter Ahia and Violet Pahu Liliko`i. Or perhaps it was neither of these as many of those evenings sitting beside her (relieving Auntie Momi for an extended break while assuming her coveted rhythm guitar chair), not only did the experience never get old, never did I cease to have a fog come over me in Auntie Genoa’s presence. Being raised in New Jersey, if I had chosen to idolize Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, I still would not have had the opportunity to take the stage next to either of them. But this is Hawaiian music and – more specifically – this is who Auntie Genoa was. She shared the stage with performers from around the world, and she did not audition you beforehand. She trusted that you would not embarrass her, and so that haze that comes over us all in that situation is boundless energy channeled into calling up from memory all of the right words and correct chords while still remembering to smile. Aunty Genoa would have forgiven bad chords and wrong lyrics, but she would never have forgiven you for not smiling. No, she would have eventually.
Next time: Celebrating Auntie Genoa’s 89th birthday with one of her final public appearances as she conquers the last performance medium: the Internet…