Fri, 12 December 2014
By now you have heard at least half of A Merry Hawaiian Christmas, featured here twice and ranking #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. But I have held back the one song from that album that is so iconic that it is still heard on local Hawai`i radio every day during the holiday season more than 50 years after its release.
For the unindoctrinated, there is a local Hawai`i language referred to as “pidgin” – a combination of English, Hawaiian, Chinese, and other languages that came to Hawai`i with its many “settlers.” (Note that while locals call the language “pidgin,” that is not, in fact, the name of any language. It is the technical linguistic term for any new language anywhere that was created locally by its people and which likely would not be spoken outside of that region. And, more accurately still, a new language should rightfully only be referred to as a “pidgin” for the first 25 years of existence. As Hawai`i pidgin is nearly 100 years old, it should more appropriately be called a “creole.”) Pidgin began to gain prominence on stage, radio, and TV in the 1950s and 60s with such hosts and comedians as Kent Bowman and Lucky Luck. But it was “Numbah One Day of Christmas” – a pidgin version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – that put pidgin on the map. And Sonny Kamahele was just the guy to put across this comic version. Featured all too infrequently on the Hawaii Calls radio show, this was Sonny’s moment to shine.
In this local rewrite of the more than 200-year-old tune, not only were the locals’ favorite things substituted for partridges and turtle doves, but you will also hear some of the essential elements of pidgin syntax (such as the use of “one” in place of the indefinite articles “a” and “an”).
Sonny was a beautiful human being and my friend. For those of us who knew and loved him, this makes the hearing of “Numbah One Day of Christmas” all the more special. One month a year is simply not often enough to celebrate his music, but it is the perfect performance for this season when so many of us are seeking anything that might make the cold, dark days a little more Sonny.
The song was composed in 15 minutes in 1959 based on memories of Christmas from one of the composer’s childhood days in Anahola on the island of Kaua`i – a time and place where they really did covet televisions.
Trivia: “Numbah One Day of Christmas” was co-written by one of Sonny’s fellow members of the Hawaii Calls cast. Do you remember which one? (Difficulty Rating: Medium if you know which Hawaii Calls cast member hailed from Anahola. Easy if you’re information literacy skills are well honed and you are near an iPhone, iPad, or computer.)
Fri, 12 December 2014
As you read previously, my first copy of A Merry Hawaiian Christmas from the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio shows was abridged. There was an earlier version which featured more songs and a different cover. It is the original 1962 cover that you see here. I mentioned also that there have been as many as a half-dozen different covers in the more than 50 years since the album was released. The most curious of these is just like the one you see here but without the decorated pineapple top. It was simply a plain white cover with red and green text. The plain white wrapper did not evoke the holiday spirit in me. (It was more like what fish might be wrapped in at Tamashiro’s Market.) But it is the cover of the copy in my collection nonetheless. (The cover pictured here is from the collection of ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman.)
The two missing songs – “Pomaika`i Wale Ko Ke Ao” (Joy To The World) and “Mele Mai Na Anela” (Angels We Have Heard on High”) – were welcome additions regardless of the wrapper in which they arrived.
When I pulled this record off the shelf of the Ho`olohe Hou archives after not touching it for 349 days, I knew that it would take me at least two blog posts to gift you with all of the music from this album that I wanted you to hear. For we cannot omit Nina Keali`iwahamana’s rendering of “Hamau! Na Anela” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). Nor could we forget what may be the best reading ever of Alex Anderson’s classic known around the world, “Mele Kalikimaka,” sung here by Haunani Kahalewai.
To hear the songs I did not include in this teaser, visit iTunes or Amazon.com to purchase the entire unabridged A Merry Hawaiian Christmas for your iPod or iPhone and take it with you all year long (to cool the long, hot July days in Albuquerque). Then maybe after you have heard all dozen glorious tracks you will agree that A Merry Hawaiian Christmas warrants its spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.
There is one more exceedingly worthy song from this album – one so iconic and representative of Christmas in Hawai`i that they still play it to this day every holiday season on local Hawai`i radio.
Next time: Sonny Kamahele recorded the quintessential song of Christmas in Hawai`i… And #13 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Direct download: 14_Christmas_-_Hawaii_Calls_-_A_Merry_Hawaiian_Christmas_Part_2.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:05am EDT
Fri, 12 December 2014
By now you know the stars of Hawaii Calls – Nina Keali`iwahamana, Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani, Haunani Kahalewai, Sonny Kamahele. And by now you should also be able to recognize their voices in a split second. Wouldn’t it be great if they got together and made a Christmas album? It would, and they did!
Released in 1962, A Merry Hawaiian Christmas featured these voices as well as the voice of then recent addition to the cast of the weekly radio show, Don Paishon (who would soon after making this recording head to the mainland for a lengthy stay at the 1964 New York World’s Fair with the group led by Sterling Mossman). But as with all of the other Hawaii Calls material, there are certain curiosities and mysteries surrounding this record.
First, the steel guitarist on many of these cuts almost certainly sounds like longtime Hawaii Calls steeler Jules Ah See who tragically passed away in 1960 at the age of 36. But A Merry Hawaiian Christmas was released two years later in 1962. It is possible that cuts that feature Jules were recorded years earlier but only released as part of this collection. But it is also possible that the steel guitarist was an Ah See acolyte who played very much like Jules. There were few of these during that era, and the one that comes to mind – Mel Abe – never performed or recorded with the Hawaii Calls group. Jules’ friend Barney Isaacs was the only steady Hawaii Calls steel guitarist after Jules’ passing, but while Jules could mimic almost any other player including Barney, Barney was not known to be able to copy Jules style so accurately. For now, this will remain a mystery.
Second, the first copy of this album I ever located – the cover of which is seen here – had only ten songs. Decades later I would locate another copy with a different cover which contained a dozen songs. This was my first experience with “abridged” albums. In the era of the LP, a record label would often trot out previously released albums and re-release them with fewer songs at a lower price since cutting songs meant paying fewer royalties to the songwriters. I was very happy to find an original copy of the album and hear these two “lost” songs which really do belong in this collection. Over the years, I have seen numerous different releases of the album on two different record labels – Capitol Records, which originally released the LP, and Hula Records, which currently owns the rights to all things related to Hawaii Calls – with as many as a half-dozen different variations on the cover art.
Ultimately, however, Hawaii Calls was about music, and the music on A Merry Hawaiian Christmas is simply beautiful. Show creator and host Webley Edwards once remarked that if a Hawaiian sings “Jingle Bells,” it becomes a Hawaiian song. And, to an extent, he is right. Listen as Haunani Kahalewai (with help from our mystery steel guitarist) regales us with a version of “White Christmas” rivaled only by Rosemary Clooney’s, Nina Keali`iwahamana leads the men and women of the cast in an a capella rendition of “What Child Is This,” and Boyce Kaihiihikapuokalani leads us in worship with “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”
You can still find A Merry Hawaiian Christmas for purchase in MP3 format from iTunes and Amazon.com. But you won’t recognize the cover. A heartfelt mahalo to Hula Records who re-released the complete and unabridged album in the digital era with all 12 original songs. Because of my love of Hawaii Calls and their importance in spreading Hawaiian music and the aloha spirit around the world for nearly 40 years, naturally A Merry Hawaiian Christmas merits a spot on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.
As with the other clips from Hawaii Calls, hearing some simply makes me want to hear more.
Next time: More from #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…
Direct download: 14_Christmas_-_Hawaii_Calls_-_A_Merry_Hawaiian_Christmas_Part_1.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:03am EDT