Bill Kaiwa Gets Merrie

Continuing to celebrate the November 16, 1836 birthday of Hawai`i’s last reigning king and one of its most prolific composers, David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua…

When trying to decide which of Kalākaua’s songs to present and by which artists of the last 100 years (the songs of Hawai`i’s last royal family have been favorites of musicians to arrange and record since the invention of the 78 rpm record in 1898), I focused on one of my favorite periods in the history of Hawaiian music: the 1960s and 70s. But I ran into a dilemma. One artist recorded more songs composed by na lani `eha (the Hawaiian royal family of brothers and sisters) than any other during that period. If I had included all of his renditions of Kalākaua compositions, we would have heard from nobody else! So I set aside all of his recordings for a special set at Ho`olohe Hou.

So here is Bill Kaiwa’s tribute to the music of King Kalākaua!

Bill Kaiwa will receive his own tribute here in due time for he was extremely influential in Hawaiian music in his time. He appeared on the Hawai`i entertainment scene during the critical period when many of the elder statesmen (and women) of the genre were passing away and many of the new generation had no interest in the music of the generation before. The young people who did find interest in their Hawaiian roots may have had the best of intentions but often presented the music and the history of it carelessly – playing a wrong chord or singing a wrong note here and there, and mispronouncing a Hawaiian lyric or two. This was where Bill Kaiwa was an important role model for other musicians in this period. Known as “The Boy From Laupahoehoe” for his breakout hit song composed by Irmgard Aluli, Kaiwa had no connections to the small town on the Big Island but was, in fact, from Papakolea on O`ahu and later hānai (or adopted in a Hawaiian tradition) to a family on Kaua`i. (In later life he kept homes in Kane`ohe on the windward side of O`ahu and a home on Kaua`i – but never the Big Island.) Despite being only in his late 20s when he made his splash on the Hawaiian music world, he did so with the stateliness of the kupuna – not only in the way he dressed and spoke, but in the way he presented the music of yesteryear and, perhaps more importantly, in the way that he cared for it – gathering up every precious forgotten song that would be shared with him by Lyons Nainoa or John Almeida, squirreling away the words and the melodies in his memory banks (for he could not read or write music). When I would call him up and ask him to teach me a song, he would simply sing it to me over the telephone. This is about as traditional a form of cultural transmission as one can find in the modern era.

Kaiwa was the original Renaissance man – his talents going far beyond his musical abilities. In addition to being a scratch golfer, he was also an artist specializing in painting and sculpting. As I write this, there sits beside me on the end table a poi pounder carved of beautiful Hawaiian milo wood – a gift from Bill Kaiwa. And still this unassuming man signed his autographs “Billy.” If one could rip time and space and patch them back together to suit themselves, I could envision Uncle Bill whiling away the hours chatting with King Kalākaua for I think the two would have had much in common.

But despite being a Renaissance man, Kaiwa’s music was not stuck in another time. He found the means of being respectful to Hawai`i’s past while forging his own path forward. With the help of a like-minded arranger – Benny Saks – Kaiwa took traditional Hawaiian song in a direction suitable for and attractive to the young, hip generation. Here are a few of his takes on the music of a century earlier from the pen of King Kalākaua…

The king wrote “E Nihi Ka Hele” for his wife, Queen Kapi`olani, to bid her safe travels as she departed for England to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria, a dear friend. The title comes from the legend of Pele and Hi`iaka and means “tread softly.” The piano of Benny Saks and the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len lead the way safely here for Kaiwa’s vocals on his second LP, More From Bill Kaiwa.

Because the title translates to “I Throb For Liquid,” many have mistaken King Kalākaua’s “Koni Au I Ka Wai” for a drinking song. But a closer examination of the kaona bears out that this is yet another song about the thrill of lovemaking. Here the tune is taken in a little less future-looking vein from an album that departed from Kaiwa’s usual modern mode. He recorded Kama`aina Songs with the Maile Serenaders, an all-star aggregation with ever-changing membership depending on who was available for the recording session that day. (The Maile Serenaders were not a group per se and never performed live, but was merely the name affixed to any and all studio musicians employed by Hula Records from time to time to back its other artists on their recordings.) This time the backing vocals are provided by Iwalani Kahalewai and Pua Almeida, and the musicians are Herb Ohta on `ukulele, Jimmy Kaopuiki on bass, Eddie Pang on the steel guitar, and Almeida on the rhythm guitar (the last three of which were members of the cast of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts).

As with his compositions “Kīlauea” and “`Akahi Ho`i,” Kalākaua published “Waimanalo” under the pseudonym of “Figgs.” Notice that Kaiwa’s sound has evolved again for the new decade. Recorded in the 70s, This is Bill Kaiwa took on a decidedly country-western feel – a sound Kaiwa would stick with for his next few outings in the recording studio. Joining Uncle Bill here are Wayne Reis, Hiram Olsen, Bobby Larrison, and Billy Hew Len. And if you think you recognize the voice singing in duet with Kaiwa, perhaps it’s because it was Hawai`i’s beloved Cyrus Green.

We will hear more from Bill Kaiwa when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his birthday in February. For now, I am so enjoying this tribute to the music of King Kalākaua that I think it is still too soon for this 178th birthday celebration to come to a close.

Next time: Today’s Hawaiian music artists continue to honor the music of their king… 


Direct download: 02_Kalakaua_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:22am EDT

Hau`oli Lā Hānau e Kawika!

Born November 16, 1836, David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua, Hawai`i’s last reigning king, is known fondly as Hawai`i’s “Merrie Monarch” because he restored to the Hawaiian people their innate love of arts and culture – particularly in the areas of music and hula. He was also the political and spiritual head of the royal family – all of whom were prolific composers. For this reason the royal brothers and sisters were known as na lani `eha ­– “the heavenly four.” Let’s celebrate the birthday of King Kalākaua by examining a few of his compositions which endured the test of time to be recorded by some of the finest artists of the 1960s and 70s. 

Composed in waltz time, “Sweet Lei Lehua” is a love song which demonstrates a favorite poetic technique among the royals: using words from the many languages they had mastered. In addition to their native Hawaiian tongue, most of the royals also spoke English, French, and Spanish, and they reserved the right to show off a little bit by sprinkling their typically Hawaiian-language lyrics with a few words from these other lands. Here Charles K.L. Davis sings the song with the assistance of the Kawaiaha`o Church Choir under the direction of its then choral director – now retired senator – Daniel Akaka from the 1970s LP Songs of Hawaiian Royalty. 

From one of his early 1960s LPs, slack key master Sonny Chillingworth gives us the king’s composition “Kīlauea.” It is named for an inter-island steamer which was in service from 1860 through 1877. But, as we have mentioned here countless times previously, when the Hawaiian composer utilizes the poetic technique known as kaona (veiled layers of meanings, metaphor, and double-entendre), a ship is rarely a ship but, more often, is likely a lover. Can we tell from the lyrics?... 

Nani ka huila o Kīlauea / Splendid the propeller of the Kīlauea 

I ka lawe mālie i ka laʻi / Smooth-running and quiet 

Kowali lua la e ka hoʻolaʻilaʻi / It spins quietly 

Kapalili i ka ʻili o ke kai / Quivering the surface of the sea 

Kaʻu wili pono ʻana i hola nō ka ʻia / Perfect your twisting and turning 

I ka puʻuwai kapalili hoʻi / Thrills the heart 

As he did from time to time, Kalākaua published the song under the nom de plume “Figgs,” but we can never know if he did this to conceal his identity as the lover protagonist of his own song. Here it is sung by slack key master Sonny Chillingworth from his 1960s debut LP, the eponymously titled Sonny Chillingworth. Sonny is assisted here by such future Hawaiian music legends as Marcus and Sanford Schutte, Tony Boneza, Mike Garcia, and Tony Bee (who, like Sonny, got his start with Don Ho at Honey’s). Sonny also gets some assistance from an anonymous trio of female voices, but it is likely the singing Rodrigues sisters for we can at least be certain the most easily identified voice here belongs to sister Nina Keali`iwahamana. Listen closely to the hui (the chorus or refrain) in which the singers insert nonsense syllables in between the king’s written words – a sort of Hawaiian Pig Latin which makes the song more rhythmic while potentially concealing the true meaning of the song. 

Sonny’s guitar opens the next number, as well, on which he accompanies his long time musical partner, Myra English. Along with steel guitarist Billy Hew Len (that trio once held court nightly at the Outrigger Hotel’s Blue Dolphin Room) and a little lift from bassist Kalani Flores (who was not part of the regular group), they perform Kalākaua’s compositon “Huli Ho`i.” While the king’s songs have been recorded time and again through the ages, this is likely the only ever recording of this composition. The verse is not entirely original; the king borrowed the first three lines of “Kau Li Lua,” a chant from a century earlier composed for Kaumealani, a chiefess of Waialua, by her mother, Kapela. 

Hawaiian music aficionados will no doubt recognize the next voice… Genoa Keawe sings “Ninipo” from her LP Hulas of Hawai`i (from which we heard a few other selections when Ho`olohe Hou celebrated Aunty Genoa’s birthday). I take a small risk including this song in this tribute since scholars are still torn over whether this song was composed by Kalākaua or by his sister, Lili`uokalani. Either way, it deserves to be heard again. “Ninipo” is from the Hawaiian meaning “wooing” – making this yet another love song Hawaiian style. `Nough said. 

When vocal quartet The Surfers broke up after so many successes over two decades, founding brothers Al and Clay Naluai went on as a duo – eventually serving as the opening act for Don Ho when he took his show to the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s geodesic dome (originally built for Alfred Apaka). In the late 1970s, the brothers released their first LP as a duo, You Gotta Feel Aloha, the title song from which was intended as a jingle for Aloha Airlines (who sponsored the album). For those sessions the brothers chose King Kalākaua`s “Koni Au I Ka Wai.” Because the title translates to “I Throb For Liquid,” many have mistaken this for a drinking song. But a closer examination of the kaona bears out that this is yet another song about the thrill of lovemaking. 

Finally, closing out the set, a forgotten voice from the Waikiki entertainment scene of the 1960s and 70s… Penny Silva got her start with the show led by Danny Kaleikini at what was then the Kahala Hilton Hotel. But she went on to a successful – albeit brief – solo career culminating in her one and only LP, Where I Live (a reference to the song “Hawaiian Lullaby” by Peter Moon and Hector Venegas which begins “Where I live there are rainbows…”). For her album Penny chose the king’s composition “`Akahi Ho`i” – which, like “Sweet Lei Lehua” that opened this set, is another waltz. The title – translated as “For The First Time” – is true to the song’s message about first love. And like “Kīlauea,” the king also chose to publish this song under his pen name of Figgs. 

Listening to the songs of Hawaiian royalty only serves to make me yearn to hear more. So consider this just the beginning of a tribute to King David La`amea Kalākaua in honor of his birthday… 

Next time: A famous voice of the 1960s covers the king’s compositions more than any other artist of the period…


Direct download: 01_Kalakaua_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 3:21pm EDT

Lena’s Legacy Lives

Discussing Lena Machado’s life and music, three themes emerge loud and clear. One is that she was one of the great voices in all time in Hawaiian music. Another is that she is one of the most prolific and important composers in Hawaiian music history. And the third – the one that perhaps gets lost in the shuffle between the first two – is how forward-thinking Lena was about the presentation of Hawaiian music. She loved to experiment with sounds (such as instrumentation), tempo and rhythm, and arrangement. In so doing, she opened a door for future generations of Hawaiian music artists to similarly “experiment” but – if following Lena’s example – in a way that moves the Hawaiian music tradition forward respectfully without altogether abandoning what at its very core makes Hawaiian music “Hawaiian.” Of course, in her time, as you have read Lena took her “lumps” from audiences, critics, the previous generation, and even her own family for going too far too fast. Lena took the criticism gracefully – confident in herself, and confident that if Hawaiian music were to remain popular and relevant to the next generation, it has to evolve with ever-changing styles and tastes. So I thought we would close this tribute to Lena Machado with three more recent recordings of her compositions by artists who – like Lena – have consciously chosen to push the envelope and push a button or two in order to push on the boundaries of the still – after these many years – rigid definitions of Hawaiian music.

The set opens with an artist largely known for her contributions to the slack key and steel guitar idioms – one of the few women to focus on either. But in a departure from her typically traditional Hawaiian music recordings, Owana Salazar went into the studio in 2004 to create the highly praised Hula Jazz which, while not the first melding of jazz and Hawaiian music, is certainly one of the most successful. Perhaps this is because – like Lena before her – Owana pushes as the boundaries gently and lovingly with one eye and one foot firmly planted in her Hawaiian roots. She achieved this blend by bringing together some of Hawai`i’s finest jazz musicians – Kit Ebersbach on piano, Steve Jones on bass, and Noel Okimoto on drums and vibes – with three of Hawai`i’s finest steel guitarists – Alan Akaka, Casey Olsen, and Greg Sardinha. She then carefully selected songs which lent themselves to this blending of styles and cultures – including two by Lena Machado, of which you hear “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi” performed here. The intro relies on some very tight and intricately arranged interplay between the players, after which they are permitted to stretch out as if they were in a smoky jazz club in Greenwich Village in 1955. Okimoto goes lightly on the brushes, and Olsen’s steel sits out until the instrumental solo, then comping Ebersbach’s piano until Jones’ bass solo in the bridge, after which Ebersbach and Olsen trade two bars at a time. As you listen, you can feel Machado’s approval and almost imagine the lady herself taking the lead vocal.

Zanuck Kapala Lindsey has led a number of groups over the last two decades that have deliberately aimed to move the Hawaiian music tradition forward. He has led Hula Joe & The Hutjumpers, Ho`omalie, and, most recently, Kapala – all of which have combined every musical influence its members have ever encountered in support of solely Hawaiian compositions to create somehow a cohesive whole. In this case, Ho`omalie gives Machado’s “Pohai Ke Aloha” a rhythm-and-blues treatment that is more reminiscent of a church in New Orleans than Kawaiaha`o. I have written here previously that the idea of kaona (or hidden meanings) in Hawaiian music may not necessarily be restricted to lyric content. Often the musical arrangement carries with its own intentional or unintentional kaona – a funeral dirge being performed as an uptempo number or a joyous song of love and contentment being performed at the tempo of a dirge. But “Z” and band take this notion perhaps to its further extreme. If “Pohai Ke Aloha” is a song of love, joy, and respect for a family and their home, Ho`omalie has effectively belied the song’s true lyric content by concocting an arrangement that sets a tone somewhere between midnight “sneakin’ around” rendezvous and the soundtrack for a bawdy striptease. Which do we believe? Students of Hawaiian language, music, and hula will tell you that the power resides first with the word. Z and company have done nothing here to dilute the all-powerful message of love and joy in Lena’s lyric. If anything, with this arrangement they have made the casual passer-by stand up and take notice of Machado’s important message. The question most will ask is if this was accomplished with respect? And my only answer to that question is that respect lies in the ears and hearts of the listener.

Finally, unlike Owana Salazar who comes primarily from traditional Hawaiian music but who decided to dabble in jazz, Keahi Conjugacion is primarily a jazzer who made a brief and most interesting foray into Hawaiian music. Coming from a family of music superstars – her brothers are multi-instrumentalist Brother Noland and kumu hula, composer, and falsetto legend Tony Conjugacion, her aunt is singer Elaine Ako Spencer, and her uncle is singer, pianist, and composer Sam Ako – it would only be natural that Keahi would follow suit. More importantly, Keahi comes from a family of boundary-pushers and risk-takers – Noland one of the first to combine the Hawaiian and reggae genres, and Tony having dabbled in everything from Broadway to the blending of traditional Hawaiian chant and hip-hop. It has always been obvious that the Great American Songbook is Keahi’s first love, and her voice is suited to the songs of Cole Porter and the Gershwins. But in the same year Owana would make her foray into jazz, Keahi would make her foray into Hawaiian – surprisingly, the two to achieve similar results. Here Keahi lovingly caresses the lyric to “Ei Nei” – which Auntie Lena composed for beloved husband, Lu – with the help of her husband, Dan Del Negro, and he percussion of Buddy Fo (whom you previously heard lend his Latin rhythms to The Invitations version of Machado’s “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha”).

There are countless other examples of Lena’s compositions being performed by a new generation of artists from Hawai`i. But these songs and stories will have to wait until we celebrate Lena’s birthday again next year. In just one week we have celebrated Lena Machado’s birthday by recounting her music career in 15 articles – more than 18,000 words (or 30+ pages) of text – bolstered by 46 songs – more than two hours of music – making this tribute the most thorough in the history of Ho`olohe Hou. And why not? Since discovering Hawaiian music as a child more than 40 years ago, Lena has been one of the most influential artists in my own development as a musician, and it is no statistical coincidence that I perform more songs written by her than those of any other composer. I never met Lena Machado, but I love her, and now that you know a little more about her, I hope you love her too.

Next time: We begin a week-long tribute to Lena’s friend – and my good friend, too – Aunty Genoa Keawe…


Direct download: 03_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:32pm EDT

Still More from the Lena Machado Songbook

Following up on those popular Lena Machado compositions which she never recorded herself, here are still a few more as recorded by some once popular singers whose voices may have been forgotten by all but the most ardent fans of Hawaiian music.

Although widely recorded as back-up singer (often unidentified and uncredited) but stepping up to the microphone as the leader in a recording studio only once, Wainani Kaneali`i was once one of the most recognizable voices in Hawaiian entertainment. On her only solo release, the mid-1960s Songs of the Pacific on Sounds of Hawaii Records, Wainani lives up to the album’s title by offering up selections in Hawaiian, Fijian, Samoan, and Tahitian. She is joined here by the voices of Lydia Wong and Iwalani Kahalewai (for whom Wainani returned the favor by providing backing vocals for Iwalani’s An Hawaiian Happening during this same period for the same label). The slack key guitar is provided by none other than Atta Isaacs. The performance is perfection Hawaiian style, but alas the one pitfall is that the album’s producers credit the writing of a Lena Machado song to nobody in particular but rather to “Public Domain.” Indeed, Machado wrote “Nuku O Nu`uanu” for – as related by her hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta – her many delightful and thought-provoking trips to the windy Pali Lookout (now that it is accessible by highway, a popular tourist attraction for its views of the windward side of O`ahu and the towns of Kailua and Kane`ohe). Interestingly, only as an afterthought does Motta reference the (what to me, at least, are very clear) intimate underpinnings of the song as only Machado can write them. While Motta claims this is a song about a place first and about people second, the opposite would appear to be truer. Before it was guarded heavily by park rangers, the Pali Lookout was a popular spot for a late-night romantic rendezvous. This would more readily explain such poetic references as “ka makani hu`e kapa” (“the garment-lifting wind”) which reveals “ka waiho a Mōkapu” (“Mōkapu spread out below”). We look no further than the title for kaona (or Hawaiian-style use of metaphor): “Nuku” can mean “beak,” “snout,” or “tip.”

Like many, for the longest time I assumed that “Pōhai Ke Aloha” (which means “surrounded by love”) was a love song written by a man for a woman. Not so. It would be more appropriately described as Lena’s love song for a family. You have read here previously that early in her career Lena was a featured singer with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and although she would eventually leave over a dispute with bandmaster Frank Vierra, the beginning of her association with the band years earlier under then bandmaster Mekia Kealaka`i was a wonderful time for her. Despite her very tumultuous and pubic separation from the band, Lena continued to look upon Kealaka`i fondly as mentor and friend, and he saw her as a daughter. Lena composed “Pōhai Ke Aloha” in honor of Kealaka`i, his wife, and his son and their home in the `Ewa Beach area of O`ahu. When the home was built, three hau trees were planted in the front yard. The trees grew to different heights – which, in Lena’s poetic mind, symbolized the three members of the Kealaka`i `ohana (or family). She references the trees in the second verse as “Kamanui, Kamalani, Kamaiki” – one for the father, one for the mother, and one for the son. It is this sentimentality that has confused many listeners – and performers – into believing that “Pōhai Ke Aloha” was written by Kealaka`i as a eulogy for his wife. But, as hānai daughter Motta so eloquently puts it, the song is “one of the best examples of Aunty Lena’s ability to personalize the emotions she describes.” The version of the song you hear now is probably the earliest version I heard as it was one of the first real Hawaiian music LPs that could be found in my home. And from the time I first heard the Hula Records release Beautiful Kauai by Kawai Cockett, Uncle Kawai became a huge inspiration to me. I am proud and honored to have befriended the Cockett family – his wife, Kamala, and son, Ha`aheo – and I dedicate to them with my aloha the song I learned from their beloved husband and father – a song that reminds me of the triumvirate power and beauty of inseparable father, mother, and son that I can know vicariously through them.

The “kiele” is the gardenia flower. And it is presumed that Auntie Lena wrote “Lei Kiele” – like “Ei Nei” an “Aloha Nō” – for her beloved husband, Luciano, for it conveys many of the same sentiments as these other two mele (or songs) about whom the inspiration is more clear. It is one of Lena’s more unusual compositions in that it was one of the few she wrote in 3/4 (or waltz) time. Another of Lena’s least performed and recorded songs, few know that she even wrote it because the few times it has appeared on record, the artists have not credited Machado as the composer. This is especially surprising in the case of the artist you hear here for Marcella Kalua took singing lessons from Lena in the 1960s – just before this album, Girl From Papakolea, was released on the Makaha Records label. (It is not too surprising, however, since it has been common practice for record companies to credit the fewest composers possible – affixing the dreaded “Traditional” and “Public Domain” labels to as many songs as possible in order to pay the least royalties and maximize profits. On the LP in question, there are 10 songs, and the producers credit only three with composers – the other seven labeled “Traditional.” Yet I can name the composers of six of the other seven composers without any further research.) The then very young Marcella recorded Girl From Papakolea with the venerable Sons of Hawai`i which in this incarnation was Norman Isaacs (Alvin’s son) on bass, Atta Isaacs (another of Alvin’s sons) on slack key guitar, Bobby Larrison on guitars, `ukulele and vocals, David “Feets” Rogers on steel guitar (the signature sound of the Sons), and their leader, Eddie Kamae, on `ukulele and vocals. (This is the same incarnation of the group that had just earlier recorded This Is Eddie Kamae, which Ho`olohe Hou will examine in its series on 12 Hawaiian Music LPs That Forever Changed My Life.)

And, a bonus… Despite that this segment is focused on Lena’s compositions that she never got around to recording herself, she did, of course, record “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” twice over her career. But the version here – by Buddy Fo and The Invitations – is worthy of hearing since – for my money, at least – it comes closer than any other version to the arrangement Lena might have heard in her head. Buddy and crew bring all of Lena’s favorite Latin influences together in this one brief moment on record – the heavily percussive arrangement in mambo rhythm reminiscent of the dance bands led by Prez Prado, Xavier Cugat, and Tito Puente. While Fo is best remembers as leader of the five-part vocal group, The Invitations, this recording reminds us that Fo was first an in demand percussionist.

Next time: We close our tribute to Lena Machado with a look at her lasting legacy – her compositions performed by today’s shining stars in Hawaiian music…


[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.]



Direct download: 02_Lena_Machado_-_Covers.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:17am EDT

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 EDT

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 EDT

The Songbird Chirps One More Once

The 1950s had Lena making exhaustive tours of the mainland U.S. including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco,  New York (including an engagement at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room), Miami, Atlantic City, and even the Florida Keys. In between tours she held court at a number of Waikiki hotspots such as the Niumalu Hotel (now the site of the Hilton Hawaiian Village), the Biltmore Hotel (today the Hyatt Regency), and the famed Waikiki Lau Yee Chai (now the Ambassador Hotel). Her working group included members of Pua Almeida’s working group (including Billy Hew Len on steel guitar and Kalakaua Aylett on rhythm guitar), Prince Aila on upright bass, and her longtime band mate at this point, “Little Joe” Kekauoha on `ukulele. Ever the entrepreneur, Lena – with the help and investment of other local business people – also opened Club Pago Pago, a still fondly remembered night club on Beretania Street (where now, sadly, stands a parking garage). Her working musicians at this venue included regular members of Andy Cummings’ working group (including Gabby Pahinui on steel guitar and Joe Diamond on bass). Oh, how fans might long for any recording of Lena from this era with these fine musicians. But, alas, there is none (that we know of). 

In fact, the next time Lena would step foot in a recording studio would also be the last. With guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and the piano and vibes of arranger Benny Saks, a 1962 session led to Lena’s final recordings and her first and only full-length album since the advent of the LP, Hawaii’s Songbird. After years of performing these songs live – the 1962 sessions are Lena’s first in her career to feature only her original compositions – Lena and band could finally realize these songs on record as she wished them to be heard. The equally forward-thinking Saks was eager to take Hawaiian music into the next decade – a new sound in Hawaiian music that Saks would perfect through the 1960s, arranging for such artists as Marlene Sai, Leina`ala Haili, Kai Davis, Billy Gonsalves and the Paradise Serenaders, and Frank and Cathy Kawelo – but Hawaiian Songbird was one of his earliest opportunities (along with a 1961 album he arranged for Pua Almeida) to try on some of his then still new ideas. 

I would love to share with you all of the recordings from the 1962 sessions. But let’s begin with those compositions of Auntie Lena’s that we have not yet heard since despite that she recorded most of these songs at least once earlier in her career, regrettably I do not have the earlier recordings in my archives.  

One of Lena’s earliest jobs as a child was a lei seller, and for those of you not indoctrinated into the joys of urban Honolulu living, today – just as 100 years ago – the heart of the lei-making industry in Honolulu is Chinatown. And it was there that Lena found many of her earliest lessons in life and love as well as her introduction to the nuances of the Hawaiian language. So Lena always held a spot in her heart for her lei-making friends and calabash aunties and uncles. A generation later, the sons and daughters of the lei makers with whom Lena had associated decided that they wanted to branch out and expand their businesses by adding fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish. Thus the famed Hōlau Market was born. (The photograph of Hōlau Market you see here also graces the wall of my master bedroom.) According to composer and Hawaiian cultural expert Kīhei de Silva, no Hawaiian dictionary reveals such a word as “hōlau.” He conjectures it is a contraction of “ho`olau” which means “to leaf out” or “to gather in large numbers” – a name for a business which, as de Silva puts it, has “positive connotations.” The market owners – remembering Lena fondly and being well aware of her success in entertainment – asked her to compose a song to honor the new market, and her “Hōlau” was the result. The song is an interesting study in Hawaiian composing and performing style. Many who hear “Hōlau” but who do not fully understand the Hawaiian language believe “Hōlau” to be a love song, and Lena’s performance might bely the true meaning of the song – singing it as she might sing any love song. As hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta put it, unknowing audiences pick up on such bits and pieces of phrases as “he nani i ka maka” (“so splendid to the eyes”) or “`ono a ka pu`u” (“that the palate craves”) and mistakenly believe – as is the case with so many Hawaiian songs – that the composer is employing the poetic technique of kaona (or layers of meaning concealed in metaphor) utilizing the delicacies of the dinner table as a veiled reference to “delicacies of another kind.” But “Holau” is not a love song and should be taken solely at face value. And this is the mistake so common among those attempting to translate or perform a Hawaiian song. Simply put, just because kaona is a poetic technique prevalent in Hawaiian song form does not necessarily mean that kaona is used in the writing of every song. Sometimes a fish is just a fish. And before I forget to mention it, listen to the interplay of Saks’ piano and Hew Len’s steel guitar on “Hōlau” – a sound that follows the template forged by the then very popular San Francisco-based George Shearing Quintet. 

Lena loved the island of Hawai`i (sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Big Island”), of which she was known to say, “Where else in God’s creation can you find so much to admire?” So she visited and performed on Hawai`i often throughout her career. A joyous 1946 tour of the island prompted Lena to write “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi.” Hānai daughter Motta describes the song perfectly: 

Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi is like a postcard put to words and music. It describes the beauty of nature that surrounds the Hilo district of Hawai`i island: the Lehua blossoms of Pana`ewa, the sunrise and misty showers, the cloud-wreathed heights of Maunakea, the rainbow that arches over the waterfall at Waianuenue, and the waving palms of Mokuola.  

Like “Kamalani O Keaukaha” before it, “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi” is still another “thank you” for the people of this island and their hospitality. 

We have already discussed here that Lena’s songs were well-researched or based on real-life events. Such is the case of her poignant composition simply entitled “Mom.” During World War II, Lena’s fans would approach her after her performances, and the conversations would naturally often turn to their sons off at war, the letters they would write home, and the contrition in their words. These moms would share these letters with Lena, and she noticed that many of them closed with some variant of the prayer “God, please keep my mom under your loving care.” Lena built “Mom” around these letters and the prayer they universally seemed to hold. But she went a step further. Lena showed early versions of the song to soldiers’ mothers she had befriended to ensure that it rang true with them. This makes “Mom” Lena’s only collaboration with her fans – important research for a songwriter like Lena who cared about such matters and who you may recall was not a mom herself. But she was a daughter, and “Mom” was composed while her hānai mom, Mrs. Loo Pan, was dying of cancer. Lena’s relationship with her mother was tenuous from the earliest days because of their mismatched priorities – Lena wanting to be a singer while her mother wanted her to be a teacher. Still, it is likely that Lena had Mrs. Loo Pan at the forefront of her mind while composing the song. Finally, so that the meaning of this song so very important to Lena would not be misunderstood, note that it is one of the few of her compositions (along with “Ei Nei”) that she wrote in the English language. 

Lena had been friends with hula master Sally Wood Nalua`i from their very earliest days. They ended up touring together through the 1930s and 40s, and in their later professional years, they were each other’s first call – Sally calling on Lena when the hula troupe needed musicians, and Lena calling on Sally when a performance needed dancers. A mele inoa (or “name song” honoring someone) is usually conceived of by a composer as a gift for the song’s subject (or their parents in the case of a newborn). “Moanike`alaonapuamakahikina” is most unusual in that Sally as much as commissioned the song from Lena – being friends so long and being so comfortable around each other than Sally simply told Lena that she wondered what her Hawaiian name would sound like in song. And Lena obliged her friend with what has become one of her most beloved and enduring compositions. Because the song would not be a “gift” in the surprise sense, as with the mothers with whom Lena collaborated on “Mom,” the forthright Lena discussed with Sally what she might write about her to ensure that the song met her friend’s expectations (without, I suppose, embarrassing her). My favorite verse: 

Na ka mahina mālamalama / The light of the moon 

I hō`ike mai / Has shown 

`O `oe nō ku`u pua / That you are the flower 

Kau umauma / Placed on my heart 

Nobody but nobody could string together the Hawaiian language so succinctly and meaningfully as Auntie Lena. And there was name built into Sally’s Hawaiian name too – which means “wafting is the fragrance of flowers in the east.” 

Next time: Lena Machado’s 1962 recording sessions revisits her compositions she first recorded thirteen years earlier in 1949…


[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.]



Direct download: 09_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 6:12am EDT

Lena – More New Compositions

Continuing our examination of Lena Machado’s 1949 recording sessions for Columbia Records with a group led by Andy Cummings and which included falsetto singer and `ukulele player Danny Kua`ana and steel guitarist Bernie Ka`ai Lewis… Lena chose five “covers” and three of her own compositions for these sessions. This time around we focus on her originals. 

You are already well aware of Machado’s many accomplishments – as a performer and songwriter, of course, but also as a broadcast pioneer and an early advocate for women’s rights. Those who knew Lena say that she was ever dignified in every aspect of her life. Lena composed ““Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” (sometimes called “Hupe Kole”) for the most uncharacteristically undignified moment of her young life. Like so many girls who desire to grow up more quickly, when Lena was twelve or thirteen she began asking for the trappings of adult woman couture. She didn’t receive these until her sixteenth birthday, but she wasted no trying all of it on with the notion of debuting the new Lena at a street fair. Lena put on the corset, long dress with petticoat, stockings, and high-heels and made for the fair on the streetcar. But despite the admonishment of the conductor, poor Lena couldn’t sit down in that get-up! To spare herself further embarrassment, she got off the streetcar and walked the long walk to the fair. But it was not long before Lena’s feet were killing her in those heels. She persevered because she was enjoying the admiring looks from potential suitors. But eventually it was all too much – hat falling to one side, the heat and the walk taking its toll on her hair, sweat dripping… And so she gave up and walked home – barefoot, since her feel were so swollen the shoes wouldn’t go back on. Upon her arrival at home, seeing Lena in her disheveled condition, her hanai mom, Mrs. Loo Pan, scolded, “Auē, hūpēkole kaikamahine – trying to act like a grown-up lady when you’re only a runny-nosed kid!” Lena waited 25 years to write down the tale, long enough for it to have a happy ending: 

A nui a`e he wahine u`i (I have become a beautiful woman!) 

Interestingly, although the lyric content does not call for it, the group takes “Ku`u Wa Li`ili’i” with a Latin feel – much like the arrangement we would have expected for the earlier recording of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha.” From this recording it is clear that Lena’s fascination with Cuban and Puerto Rican music has not yet waned, and “Ku`u Wa Li`ili`i” marks one of the earliest – if not the first – use of Latin rhythms on a Hawaiian song on record. 

You will no doubt understand “Ei Nei,” one of the few songs Lena ever wrote in English. “Ei nei” is a contraction of “e ia nei” which might be translated as “you, there,” and it has since come to be a term of endearment like “My darling.” But Lena did not mean just any “darling” for she did not call just anybody “ei nei.” The song was for her husband, Luciano, for “ei nei” was their pet name for each other. We know that she wrote the song for Lu since in the song sheet “Ei Nei” is capitalized which signifies formal direct address – as if “Ei Nei” were actually Lu’s name. Hānai daughter Motta previously explained the effect of night on Lena and her songwriting: It was the time of day when the light and the growing silence made Lena pensive, and this was when her songwriting was most fruitful. Although Lena was at home when she wrote it, the song harkens to any of her many tours when she and Lu were separated for long periods of time. Lu could have been sitting right next to her at the time, but still Lena writes, “There’ll be no one in your place, Ei Nei.” I have heard the song sung incorrectly often – in fact, nearly all the time – since Lena’s recordings of the song do not make clear the real words of the opening line. Most sing “Aloha wau iā `oe” (“I love you”), but that is not what Lena wrote. She wrote “Haroha wau iā `oe” – “haroha” the Māori equivalent of the Hawaiian “aloha” – to honor Lena and Lu’s great friends, Herbert and Dorothy Hano, restaurant owners they befriended while on tour in San Francisco. Dorothy, who was of Māori descent, would always greet the Machados with a cheerful “Haroha!” But I am fairly certain that I have never heard anybody who performs this song sing “haroha” – not even Lena, who would often sing in such a manner as masque certain sounds in order to keep the inside jokes inside. Only written in 1948 (a year before these sessions), this marks the first recording of this now oft-performed classic. 

“Holo Wa`apa” – one of Machado’s numbers to this day, especially for falsetto singers – means “canoe ride.” But is it really about a canoe ride? Sure, Auntie Lena uses Hawaiian poetic technique to full effect here, but the song both is and is not about an actual canoe ride that Lena took with none other than famed beach boy Duke Kahanamoku. Accordind to Lena’s hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, in her Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena, Lena used the exhilarating in writing the song. Lena said she found trying to help Duke and the boys steer the canoe “like holding on to a racing horse. (This would explain the line “Kohu Mine ku`u lio holo nui” – “Just as if I were riding a horse.”) This experience is also where she would have heard such terms as “port hard” which she also worked into the lyric. Kihei de Silva refers to the Motta-Machado translation of the song as “deceptively simple” – with nary a reference to the intimate kaona (or veiled poetic meaning) of the song. This may be because when Lena created a hula for her song and taught it to her dancers, the dance she taught them was strictly about a canoe ride, and that’s all. You had to be a Hawaiian or speak the Hawaiian language very well to know that Lena might be singing about something else – lines such as:

I mua a i hope pa`a ke kūlana (Row forward then back, steady as she goes) 

Mea`ole nā ale I ka luli mālie (Feel the gentle swaying of the waves) 


Kūpaianaha ē ka hana a nā ale (I could feel the workings of the waves) 

The artfulness in the writing of “Holo Wa`apa” justifies Motta’s assertion that “Aunty Lena knew how to celebrate Hawaiian sexuality without being crude or obvious.” 

The arrangement for this recording of “Holo Wa`apa” opens surprisingly with slack key guitar. Not only is slack key on wax a fairly new concept (Gabby Pahinui is credited with making the first slack key recording only two years earlier in 1947), we cannot know which of the session personnel – Andy Cummings? Danny Kua`ana? Bernie Ka`ai? – is the slack key player heard here. 

Finally, to round out the set I throw in one more cover – the last remaining tune from the 1949 sessions. “Olu O Pu`ulani” is often credited to Helen Lindsey Parker (who wrote, among numerous other favorites among Hawaiians, the venerable “`Akaka Falls” which Lena covered in her 1937 sessions with Dick McIntire). In a long standing Hawaiian tradition, Parker composed “Olu O Pu`ulani” to honor the birth of a child. 

It would be thirteen years before Lena steps foot into the recording studio again – and for the last time. 

Next time: Lena Machado in the 1950s and a first listen to her final recordings…


[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.] 


Direct download: 08_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:42pm EDT

Lena Unveils More New Songs

We have been exploring Lena Machado’s life in the 1930s – much of it spent in Los Angeles after a professional run in back home (with Royal Hawaiian Band leader Frank Vierra). Her time in and around Hollywood resulted in two recording sessions – the latter of which (with a group led by steel guitarist Dick McIntire) resulted in the release of ten sides, three of these compositions from Lena’s own pen, two never recorded before. Let’s listen to the debut recordings of what have since become classics of the Hawaiian repertoire. 

Most curiously, “Ho`oipo Hula” (often referred to simply as “Ipo Hula”), Lena’s most oft performed and recorded composition, is the only one of her original songs not to appear in the book about her life, Songbird of Hawai`i (written by her hānai daughter, Pi`olani Motta, with help from composer and Hawaiian cultural specialist Kihei de Silva). Perhaps this is because it is assumed that this is the Lena Machado composition that every Hawaiian music fan and musician already knows. Fortunately, it is the one I know best as it is one that I have been performing regularly for over 25 years. It is a love story that takes place on my favorite part of the island of O`ahu, the windward side and the Ko`olau mountains. Lena writes, “He wehi a he lei o ke onaona” – “A song and a lei of fragrance.” While a lei is a wreath of flowers worn around the neck and among the precious of gifts a Hawaiian can bestow (attendant with all of its sacrosanct rituals and ceremonies for the giving, wearing, and disposing of afterward), because of its important symbolism to Hawaiians the lei is also a metaphor for a precious someone – someone whom you might desire to be as close to you as a lei could be to your body. She goes on to mention “ka wehi a ka ua” or “the adornment of the rain” – rain typically being a Hawaiian metaphor for love-making. And we know that there was some difficulty in the lovers being together when Aunty Lena writes “`Owau ho`okahi ke none nei / I neia hana nui a ke aloha” (“I alone would take the trouble / To make so much love”), but we know that the effort was worth it when she closes with “Lei pili a kaua / Hana kupaianaha” (“The lei that belongs to us – an extraordinary affair indeed”).  

A huge fan of Latin music and its rhythms and instrumentation, Lena wished to acknowledge the popularity of such Latin artists as Xavier Cugat and Tito Puente – and dances like the rhumba and mambo – during this period in Hollywood. According to hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta, Aunty Lena viewed Latin music as rhythm and joy and sincerely desired “to celebrate the way that two different cultures could respect and enjoy each other.” So she decided to write a song tinged with the Latin feel and rhythms but utilizing her typically Hawaiian poetic technique. “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is one of the most scandalous notions the thoroughly modern Machado ever came up with. She pictured a flirtatious young woman with a feather boa – the titular “baby” – dancing to these Latin rhythms, and she used the kaona (or veiled meanings) of the boa as a metaphor for… (You know… Some things I have to leave up to the reader and their imagination. After all, that is what Hawaiian kaona is all about!) And, for good measure, Lena threw in “hot cha cha” where the Hawaiian songwriter might usually say instead “`ea, `ea” as a nod to Cugat and his many recordings for the cha-cha. Make no mistake: Lena knew that she was pushing the boundaries of the Hawaiian music tradition again with this song. But according to Motta, Aunty Lena used to say, “…as long as your foundation is Hawaiian, your ribbons and frills can go wherever you want them to go. But be sure that what you say in your words and your heart is Hawaiian.” The trendsetting Machado paved the way for every Hawaiian music artist that came after her – not only in incorporating Latin rhythms into the Hawaiian music idiom (a template that would be followed a few years hence by such artists as Jesse Kalima, Richard Kauhi, Buddy Fo, and arranger Benny Saks), but in introducing the newfound freedom to experiment with colors, sounds, and textures that had not previously been part of the fabric of Hawaiian music. The debate between tradition and evolution in Hawaiian music continues to be waged today, but it was Lena Machado who liberated the Hawaiian musician to try new things as long as their heart was in the right place. 

What is circumspect about this first recording of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” is that despite conceiving of the song as a response to Latin rhythms and instrumentation and likely performing the song that way live since writing it a few years before, the arrangement here is strictly in the swing meter of the hula. One can only conjecture why Lena eschewed the sound and feel that she herself believed should go with this lyric (and vice-versa), but it is highly likely that either McIntire or the record company A&R guy did not believe that Lena’s concept for this song was “Hawaiian enough” and would likely confuse the radio and record markets. It would not be until years later that Lena would realize her vision of what her unique song should sound like in a recording with a completely different group. 

“Kauoha Mai” (misprinted on the record label as “Kaneohe Mai”) is the Machado composition that she had recorded previously – about three years prior with a group led by steel guitar great Andy Iona. While artists do revisit their songs periodically throughout the years and put a new spin on them, it is unclear why Lena would record the same song twice in such a short period of time. Except for the tempo, the 1937 arrangement with McIntire is almost identical to the 1940 arrangement with Iona – right down to the tag ending. (For more information about “Kauoha Mai” and to hear the earlier recording with Andy Iona, see this previous post on an earlier period in Lena Machado’s recording career.) 

This recording session does not mark the end of Lena’s stay on the West Coast. On the contrary, Lena received the most auspicious offer from San Francisco Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi to lead a Hawaiian group at the 1939 World’s Fair. Lena dubbed her group the “Hawaiian Strollers” because they had no permanent location at the fair. But when fair organizers realized that Lena and the Strollers were drawing more than a thousand visitors a day, they extended their original six-month contract to the full duration of the World’s Fair – three years! – and built them a Hawaiian-themed pavilion. 

Next time: It would be ten years before Lena would step into a recording studio again… 


[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.]


Direct download: 05_Lena_Machado_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:38am EDT

Still A World Of Happy Days

There are some composers whose songs die with them. Perhaps it is because they were never written down or formally published. Perhaps it is because they were never recorded, and so they were too easily forgotten. Or perhaps it is because the next generation of artists cannot relate to the material. The music of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs has fortunately not suffered this fate. The songs Papa Alvin wrote are in a sense timeless, and so they continue to be performed and recorded over and over and over again to this day. I could spend another week (or two or more) in tribute to Isaacs by simply featuring the covers of his songs recorded in the 30 years since he passed. But, instead, I am going to share with you a few of my favorites in the hope that you will hunt down still others. (Feel free to ask me for recommendations.) 

The Mākaha Sons combined Alvin Isaacs’ “`Auhea `Oe” in a medley with “Ka Ua Loku” (written by once poet laureate of Kaua`i, Alfred Alohikea). Although you heard Papa Alvin sing his own composition before in concert with his sons Norman and Barney, I did not tell you much at all about what the song means. But do I really need to? Like so many of his compositions, here Alvin again dabbles in kaona (layers of poetic meaning or metaphor) to craft a song which reminds us where cuddling can lead. Except for the most part the kaona is not so discreet after all: 

E huli mai ‘oe / You turn to me 

Kūpono iho / Rise up and go down 

I luna i lalo / Up and down 

ʻIʻo ia nei / This is true love 

Āhē nani ʻiʻo no / True love so beautiful 

The English-language lyric – with its “yacka hicky” gibberish and reference to Chattanooga, Tennessee – is obviously not a translation of the Hawaiian. But, more surprisingly, its focus on the hula – still a curiosity on the mainland U.S. when this song was written – belies the original Hawaiian lyric’s more intimate nature. The song is a natural for the Mākaha Sons who are as naturally funny as they are musically talented. And so while this staunchly traditional group once refused to perform English-language songs, “`Auhea `Oe” – recorded on their Kūikawā album – eventually became a staple of their live shows. The song is a natural fit for a medley with “Ka Ua Loku” which – perhaps more poetically than “`Auhea `Oe” – also speaks of cuddling but using the metaphor of the rain (almost always a symbol of love-making in Hawaiian poetry) caressing the laua`e fern. 

In all of our lengthy tribute to Papa Isaacs, shockingly I have not yet unveiled one of his most enduring compositions. In the wake of the imprisonment of Queen Lili`uokalani and the annexation of Hawai`i as a U.S. territory, Isaacs composed “E Mau” which encourages the Hawaiian people to strive to keep the Hawaiian language alive and preserve all that was good about the Kingdom of Hawai`i. (He even invoked in his lyric a slight variation on the slogan of the Hawaiian people – “Ua mau ka ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono” or “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” – which, although now part of the state seal of Hawai`i, was once a symbol of Hawaiian self-rule since it was first uttered by Kamehameha III on July 31, 1843 when the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was restored by Great Britain.) Although it was likely not his intention, because of its message “E Mau” has since become an anthem for self-governance and Hawai`i’s independence from the United States. Although written in 1941, the song did not appear on record until Alvin recorded it a first time with his sons on the LP Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs & Sons in 1978. It is here performed by Teresa Bright from her wildly popular and multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano award-winning 1990 CD Self Portrait. 

Like “E Mau,” another song has thus far managed to elude inclusion in this tribute to Alvin Isaacs. Remedying that, take a list to “Leimomi” which was revived after a long absence on record by Weldon Kekauoha on his 1999 debut CD Hawaiian Man. The song was not debuted on record by a group led by Alvin but, rather, did not make its first appearance on LP until The Surfers covered it on their late 1950s LP On The Rocks. Originally intended as a ballad, here Weldon is not paying tribute so much to Isaacs as he is to beloved kumu hula Darrell Lupenui who recorded the song on his 1970s eponymously titled release Darrell Lupenui. Those familiar with Darrell’s version know that Weldon copied Darrell’s arrangement note for note and took the song – as did Darrell – at a peppier swing tempo than perhaps Alvin intended (but would likely not object to). 

Even Israel Kamakawiwo`ole managed to cover Papa Isaacs’ songs. From his last release, In Dis Life, Iz sings “Aloha Ku`u Pua” – the lyric content of which is sort of a companion to “`Auhea `Oe” in that it speaks to how close two people in love can really be. But Alvin tackles the task slightly more poetically here, using the common metaphor of the flower to symbolize a special someone, writing, “Aloha ku`u pua pili i ke kino” (“Love for my flower that clings to the body”). You heard Alvin debut his composition on record in a late 1940s Bell Records release here, and it was seldom recorded again – except for one 1970s recording by The Hilo Hawaiians – in the 50 years until Iz would reprise it. 

Finally, Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom is among the most recent to honor Papa Alvin by recording one of his originals – in this case, “Kau`ionalani” from Amy’s 2006 Mountain Apple Company release Generation Hawai`i. Not to be confused with Isaacs’ similarly titled “Kau`iokalani,” we do not really know who “Kau`ionalani” was written for or about as its generalized metaphor could symbolize a lover or a grandchild. Here Amy kicks it old school in a version reminiscent of Auntie Agnes Malabey Weisbarth’s recording of the song from her 1971 LP Sunset At Makaha – the most notable difference being that Auntie Agnes’ group was largely `ukulele-led, while here Amy has the able assistance of steel guitarist Bobby Ingano. 

Still a force in Hawaiian music too strong and ever-present to be ignored, we could continue to pay tribute to Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs for weeks upon weeks. But, rather, Ho`olohe Hou will reprise this tribute next year and expand on it with still more great recordings of Papa Alvin’s compositions by other great voices of Hawaiian music of the last 50 or more years. 

Until then, you would be hard-pressed to find a Hawaiian music LP or CD that doesn’t feature at least one Alvin Isaacs composition. And whenever and wherever an Alvin Isaacs song is sung, it is indeed a world of happy days… 


Direct download: 18_Alvin_Kaleolani_Isaacs_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 7:39pm EDT

Mahi Sings Tutu Helen

There is an album cover which graces the wall of my studio in which I write this blog. This room holds nearly all of my Hawaiian treasures, but twelve album covers on the wall were the beginning of my obsession with Hawaiian music – the twelve most important Hawaiian music recordings of all time in my personal ranking for these recordings defined Hawaiian music for me as a young person, and each has a very deep, personal meaning to me. Someday I will tell you about all twelve. But one of these takes center stage today.

On an evening in the summer of 2004 while visiting Hawai`i, I dropped by the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel on a Saturday evening to listen to one of the seminal Hawaiian groups, Olomana. I could not know as I made the walk through Waikiki with my friend, Jill, that this evening in particular would be very special. It turned out it was the band leader’s 50th birthday, and so countless legends of Hawaiian music had turned out to celebrate the life and music of Jerry Santos. I spied across the room one of my childhood heroes – falsetto legend Mahi Beamer of the Beamer dynasty of musicians and Hawaiian cultural experts. Not one to waste an opportunity, I crossed the room and knelt down next to Mahi and – for lack of a better word – swooned. I told him about his album cover on my wall at home and how that record impacted my life. I said that I could sing every word of that record (and in his keys, no less). And we became – quite unexpectedly – fast friends. So when Jerry called me up to sing with him and I launched into one of the songs from that Mahi Beamer record – “Pua Mae`ole” – Uncle Mahi was apparently moved too. The next thing I knew Jerry and band had exited the stage, and just when I thought I would be singing alone, I heard the tinkling of the piano and realized that Uncle Mahi had risen from his chair and taken his rightful place at the Baldwin to accompany me. This was one of the most crazy and beautiful moments in my life in Hawaiian music. But most importantly, I made a tremendous friend, and all because I could sing a Hawaiian song.

The LP in question – Hawaii’s Mahi Beamer – and a companion album – simply entitled Mahi – were recorded in a single day by Capitol Records. Capitol was contracted with Webley Edwards and the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus – a fruitful relationship which produced dozens of albums under the “Hawaii Calls” moniker. But it also generated countless more albums by Hawaii Calls’ solo artists – names such as Haunani Kahalewai and Ed Kenney – but which utilized the musicians of the Hawaii Calls group. So on these two Mahi Beamer LPs you are hearing the combined talents of steel guitarists Jules Ah See and Danny Stewart, guitarists Pua Almeida and Sonny Kamahele, bassist Jimmy Kaopuiki, and `ukulele player and arranger Benny Kalama. Having the capital to give these island artists nationwide – even worldwide exposure – Capitol did much to promote Hawaiian music in the 1950s and 60s. But while it might have been these artists’ desire to gain recognition outside of their island home, Mahi took the opportunity to give his grandmother Helen’s compositions wider exposure. And so despite being recorded on the same day in 1959 in the Punahou School auditorium, the second of the two releases, Mahi, was programmed to feature nothing but Helen Desha Beamer compositions as sung by her grandson and his talented friends.

In this set you hear Uncle Mahi`ai sing a half dozen of “Sweetheart Grandma’s” compositions. Because Helen Desha Beamer’s songs almost always honored family and friends, permit me to tell you more about who and what she honors in these compositions.

The set opens with the first song – the first sounds I heard as an impressionable child – from the first Mahi Beamer album. “Pupu Hinuhinu” means “shiny seashell,” a sort of lullaby in which the children find the shell on the beach, hear the sea in it, sing it to sleep, and then go to sleep themselves. If you have never heard Mahi’s voice before, you will no doubt be enchanted the way I was when you hear this song for the first time. In an unusual twist, the high falsetto is sung by the male while the lower voice you hear is Mahi’s sister, Sunbeam. 

Helen wrote the music and her friend, Noenoe Wall, the lyrics for “Kinuē” which honors the Arthur Greenwell family and their homes in Pauahi and Papaloa which Noenoe often visited. Listen to the dual steel guitars of Danny Stewart and Pua Almeida on this song.

Auntie Helen wrote “Halehuki” for her own home – the home she shared with her husband, Peter Carl Beamer, where together they raised their five children and where Mahi and the grandchildren spent so many happy childhood days. “He Makana” literally means “a gift,” and this song was a gift from Auntie Helen to her friend, Helen Henderson, given to her on her wedding day in 1939.

“Keawaiki Hula” is the second song by the same title that Auntie Helen wrote. (In an earlier post, you heard Nina Keali`iwahamana sing the other.) “Keawaiki” means “little harbor” and refers to the home of Francis Brown on the island of Hawai`i. Like the other song by the same title, this “Keawaiki” speaks of the good times the Brown and Beamer families shared.

Finally, “Lei O Hā`ena” honors Herbert Shipman and his home at Hā`ena in Kea`au on Hawai`i island. The last five selections in this set are all from Mahi’s second – and final – release, simply entitled Mahi, which is thankfully available as a CD again courtesy of Hula Records (which originally re-released the Capitol LPs in 1974). I strongly encourage you to pick up both of Mahi Beamer’s albums and help my friend in fulfilling his wish of making his grandmother’s compositions heard around the world and for generation upon generation to come.

I hope you enjoyed this week-long tribute to Helen Desha Beamer and her critically important contributions to Hawaiian music and culture.

Direct download: 01_Hoolohe_Hou_-_September_2014_Part_1.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:01am EDT

Helen Desha Beamer Gets "Da Caz" Treatment

I could choose almost any composer in the history of Hawaiian music and turn around and immediately think of a Brothers Cazimero recording of one - or more - of that composer's songs. Not surprising given Robert and Roland's longevity in the Hawaiian music "biz" - 40 years if we begin counting with Sunday Manoa, closer to 50 years if we count their extracurricular activity performing with their parents' band when they were still very young. (Roland was, in fact, a bass player first - performing well under age at clubs where he otherwise would not have been permitted, his mom and dad "covering" for him, but so young and so small having to stand on a chair to reach the top of the upright bass nonetheless.) The duo have more than three dozen recordings to their credit (not counting those as Sunday Manoa). So that is a catalog of more than 400 songs. Surely they have favored some composers over others. And to that end, Da Caz have covered the works of Helen Desha Beamer (and I am working from memory here) at least three times. I thought we might continue our celebration of Auntie Helen by taking in more of her compositions in the contemporary style of the Brothers Cazimero.

Robert recorded "Mahai`ula" for his first solo release - simply entitled "Robert Cazimero" - in 1978. Robert, a kumu hula (or "hula source," the keepers of the hula and all related rites and rituals), has often made the dancers themselves sing as an integral part of the performance of the hula. So Robert's dancers learn to sing as well as they learn to dance. You hear the men of Halau Na Kamalei sing with Robert here on this song Auntie Helen wrote   Despite that this was Robert's solo recording debut, you hear with him the guitar as played by none other than his brother, Roland.

Recorded at Brown Sugar Ranch in Waimea, Hawai`i from September 1 through 11, 1980, Hawaii, In The Middle Of The Sea remains my favorite Cazimero album of all time - so much so that I have been through five copies of the vinyl in the more than 30 years since it was released until the digital release on MP3 very recently. For these sessions Robert and Roland selected not one, but two of Auntie Helen's compositions. The brothers put their contemporary spin - harmonically and rhythmically - on "Ke Ali`i Hulu Mamo" with a melody by Auntie Helen and a lyric by Helen's aunt, Keakealani Keanomeha. The song speaks of Kahanu, the Princess Kalaniana`ole, and the home she made at the time in Kona on the island of Hawai`i. The brothers cycle through any number of key changes at breakneck speed and switch audaciously between a Latin-tinged rhythm and a more cha-lang-a-lang hula feel. And they have even more audacity still to end on a 9th chord that is not even in the key signature they are playing in. (I have wracked my brain for 10 minutes trying to notate that chord. Music theorists, how do we notate Eb9 when playing in the key of Gm?) In the early days of the Brothers Cazimero, listeners often wondered how they got their rich full sound with only two musicians. Much of this is attributed to Roland's orchestral approach to the guitar - playing full six-note chords (while other guitarists might play only three or four strings at a time) punctuated with octaves and single-string counterpoint to the vocal. (Roland attributes this style to listening to such Hawaiian rhythm guitar greats as Pua Almeida as well as such jazz guitar greats as Lee Ritenour with whom Roland had the opportunity to work when recording his solo LP Warrior in 1983.) The sound can also be attributed to the fact that Roland chose as his primary axe a 12-string guitar in which each of the usual six strings is doubled - each pair of strings often called a "chorus" - and in which many of these pairs are tuned in octaves - which is like playing two guitars at one time, giving him that fuller, richer sound. But here is the last dirty little secret: A stereo pick-up. The pick-up is the device that translates string vibrations into amplified sound. On the guitars Roland was using during this period, the stereo pick-up essentially divided the guitar into two halves - the first, third, and fifth pairs of strings being fed to the left channel of the mixing board, the second, fourth, and sixth pairs of strings being fed to the right channel. This gives us the effect of hearing a different guitar in our left ear than in our right ear. This effect is most pronounced when Roland plays some single string melody or counterpoint and some of the notes come out of the left speaker and some of the notes from the right speaker. Thus proving the duo was as adventurous technologically as they were musically. In fact, for these two, these truths may have been inseparable. (For the record, the Brothers Cazimero were also the first to produce an all digital recording in which no analog recording, transfer, or mastering devices were used: 1989's Hawaiian Paradise.)

The set closes with a song from the same album as above: "Na Kuahiwi Elima," or "The Five Mountains." Auntie Helen was traveling with her dear friend, Annabelle Ruddle, from Paniau (Annabelle's home for which Helen wrote the song of the same title) to Kawaihae on the island of Hawai`i. Auntie Helen captured in snippets of lyric the sights they experienced on the drive, and by the time they reached Kawaihae, both the melody and words were finished! Along this drive, Helen and Annabelle spied five mountain peaks: Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and Kohala on Hawai`i and - peeking over the Alenuihaha Channel - Haleakala on the island of Maui. The song opens with an introductory verse the brothers devised which lists these five mountains, and that intro is again song by Robert's dancers of Halau Na Kamalei. The song continues in typical Cazimero duo fashion, but as it progresses, you hear the brothers joined by the angelic voices of the Honolulu Boys Choir - perhaps a nod to Auntie Helen's Kamehameha Schools roots and the annual Kamehameha Song Contest they hold.

Direct download: 09_Hoolohe_Hou_-_September_2014_Part_1.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:32am EDT

More from the Helen Desha Beamer Songbook

Let’s continue to explore the innumerable compositions from the pen of the prolific Helen Desha Beamer… 

The set opens with the unmistakable voice of Marlene Sai singing “Pu`uwa`awa`a,” a song Helen wrote for Mrs. Hannah Hind and her home at Pihanakalani. Like the Brown family of which Auntie Helen also wrote, the Hind Family was known for their love of entertaining family and friends. You might find numerous other Hawaiian songs written in their honor. “Pihanakalani” was the name of the Hind homestead – not to be confused with the Pihanakalani of Kaua`i, the mountainous region above Wailua River near the Wailua Fall which was home to that island’s ruling class in the days of the monarchies. This is from Marlene’s Hana Hou LP which – although once out of print for a very long time – is now available again as an MP3 download from iTunes, Rhapsody, and eMusic. (Fans of steel guitarist Barney Isaacs will be interested in this album since – despite being uncredited in the liner notes – Barney handled the steel guitar chores. Ironically, the vibes take the lead on this song, and the steel guitar is nowhere to be heard.) 

Of the many voices Hawai`i lost too soon, perhaps my favorite – the one who has had the most influence on me as a falsetto singer in the modern era – is Sam Bernard. Here he performs Auntie Helen’s composition “Paniau” which she composed in honor of the seaside home of Al and Annabelle Ruddell who dwelled on the Kona Coast of the island of Hawai`i. This is from Sam’s 1986 Kahanu Records LP Mahie which – despite its influence on today’s falsetto singers – remains out of print. (Kahanu Records imploded shortly after this record was released – many of its artists losing access to their master tapes, most seized – so the rumor goes – by the IRS. We will no doubt get to the Kahanu Records story on this blog at some point. Until then, I hope y auditors are having a grand time enjoying Tony Conjugacion, Ho`aikanes, and Ka`eo.) 

For the second day in a row I offer you a healthy dose of Nina Keali`iwahamana – this time with her family, singing sisters Lani and Lahela and even brother-in-law Joe Custino (Lani’s husband) on steel guitar. They sing a song that Auntie Helen wrote as a wedding gift for Charles Dahlberg – her soon to be son-in-law – and because Charles was a stranger to Hawai`i, Auntie Helen refers to him in the mele as “Pua Malihini,” or “stranger child,” which is also the title of the song. (Although “pua” is literally translated as “flower,” the term is most often used in Hawaiian poetry to refer to a person – especially a special someone. Now, go count the number of Hawaiian songs with “pua” in their titles.) Charles came to Hawai`i, met a lovely Hawaiian lady named Helen Elizabeth (Auntie Helen’s youngest child), fell in love with her – by most accounts, it was love at first sight for both of them – courted her, and ultimately took her as his bride. And from the moment he asked Helen Elizabeth to be his wife, she referred to him as “my darling.” Knowing this, Auntie Helen immortalized their love in song when she wrote, “Ku`u pua malihini, my darling.” But Auntie Helen wrote a song as a wedding gift for her daughter too: the Hawaiian standard “Kawohikukapulani,” a mele inoa (or name song) which refers to Helen Elizabeth by her Hawaiian name, Kawohi, a song which became a staple of Alfred Apaka’s repertoire. This recording is from the Hula Records LP – now CD and download – Na Mele `Ohana by the musical Rodrigues Family led by their matriarch, Auntie Vicki I`i. We will talk about this album at length at some point as the cover graces my wall because I consider it one of the twelve Hawaiian music recordings that changed my life and led me down my lifelong path of the pursuit of understanding Hawaiian music. 

And, finally, Nalani Olds Reinhardt sings the lovely “Moani Ke Ala.” This composition represents a rare instance in which Auntie Helen only wrote the music; the lyric is by Mrs. E.A. Nawahi and honors Leimakalani Henderson and the home she shared with her husband Jim “Kimo” Henderson (mentioned yesterday and for whom Auntie Helen wrote “Kimo Hilo”) at Pi`ihonua in Hilo, Hawai`i. The song is from Nalani’s 1978 Pumehana Records LP simply entitled Nalani on which she is backed by some then youngsters who went on to become Hawaiian music stalwarts themselves – Haunani Apoliona, Eldon Akamine, Haunani Bernardino, and Aaron Mahi (who for some time held the esteemed position of leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band), or the group otherwise known then as Kaimana. The group is scarcely heard here on this selection as they are accompanied also by a string quartet. I last saw Auntie Nalani in September 2007, and she remarked at the time that she had not seen nor heard this LP since its release 30 years earlier. Hearing it again reminds me that I am overdue in keeping a promise to remaster this (and her second Pumehana Records release, `Elua, as well). In fact, this should bring me double joy as I happen to know this voice is a favorite of my good friend, Jason Poole, who has one song from Nalani in regular rotation on his iPod, the only song re-released on CD which appears on the compilation CD Hawaiian Classics.  

Next time: The Brothers Cazimero honor Helen Desha Beamer. And if Helen was such an amazing singer herself, why haven’t we heard her voice?...

Direct download: 06_Hoolohe_Hou_-_September_2014_Part_1.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:56am EDT

Alvin Isaacs (We’re Just Getting Started!)

We have been discussing Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs the composer whose songwriting output is seemingly innumerable. I have never seen a list of his compositions. I just keep throwing platters on the turntable, and with each spin, I hear a song and say, “He wrote that too!” It is harder to find a Hawaiian music album that doesn’t offer an Alvin Isaacs song than to find one that does. So here are still a few more from the pen of Alvin Isaacs as recorded by some of the shining stars in the Hawaiian entertainment constellation of the 1960s. 

I recently introduced the segment here at Ho`olohe Hou entitled “OOPs” – classic Hawaiian music recordings which inexplicably remain out of print (or “OOP”). The first song in this set comes from just such an out of print recording – one for which, if I could obtain the master tapes, I would fund the remaster and rerelease myself. (It is that important.) Known largely only by collectors of Hawaiian music recordings, Hula La – a 1959 Liberty Records release – was an all-star affair which married superstars of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts (Sonny Nicholas, Sonny Kamahele, Danny Stewart, Barney Isaacs, and Pua Almeida) with members of the Martin Denny band (Julius Wechter on vibes, Willard Brady on woodwinds, and Augie Colon’s variety of percussion) all under the direction of Chick Floyd (a former mainland big band leader and arranger who relocated to Hawai`i where he arranged for recordings by Ed Kenney and Lani Kai as well as the Lucky Luck TV Show) for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Liberty Records clearly aimed to capitalize on the current music craze known as “exotica” – a hybrid of Hawaiian songs and exotic percussion (and occasional bird calls) that as such would not be native to Hawai`i but perhaps some fictitious jungle elsewhere in Oceania. (While the craze likely began with Les Baxter’s 1952 LP Ritual of the Savage, the subgenre was eventually named for the 1957 Martin Denny LP Exotica and its many follow-ups Exotica II, Exotica III, etc., etc.) As Denny was under contract to Liberty at the time both as an artist and as A&R (artist and repertoire) man on the ground in Hawai`i, the soil was fertile for such a musical experiment. What resulted was not so much “exotica” as it was really very forward-thinking Hawaiian music. The album is an essential addition to every Hawaiian music collection, but alas it is out of print. It contains the one and only ever recording of Alvin Isaacs’ pseudo-chant composition “Hula La.” Given that this Isaacs composition was published by the same publishing house as every other song on the LP (Exotica Publishing Co.), it is highly likely then that Isaacs was commissioned to write the tune to fit the title of the LP (and not that the LP was titled for an existing Isaacs tune). The lead vocal is by none other than Pua Almeida – making this a rare entry in the Pua Almeida discography as well. Ho`olohe Hou will return to Hula La for more of these exciting sounds soon, no doubt.

One of Alvin’s most enduring compositions, “Aloha Nui Ku`uipo” (still often performed today), is offered up here by my friend and hero, the late Sonny Kamahele (recently celebrated here at Ho`olohe Hou). From his 1960s Sounds of Hawaii label release ironically titled Sounds of Hawaii, Sonny is joined here (likely, as there are no session personnel listed in the liner notes) by his regular working group of the period which included such fellow Hawaiian music legends as Cy Ludington, Mel Peterson, and steel guitarist Eddie Pang. It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting at the Halekulani Hotel’s House Without A Key at sunset listening to Sonny sing the very same song right in front of me. It was a staple of his repertoire – as were countless other Alvin Isaacs songs. 

The unmistakable voice of Aunty Genoa Keawe sings “He Nani Helena,” the song Alvin wrote for Helene Owens, the wife of his great friend and once musical associate, Harry Owens. This is from Aunty Genoa’s 1960s release “By Request” which she produced for the then brand new record label which she owned and operated. She is joined here by her band of that period – and for many years to come – her good friends Vicki I`i Rodrigues and Pauline Kekahuna on the dual rhythm guitars, Violet Pahu Liliko`i on upright bass, and steel guitarist Benny Rogers. 

Finally, from the 1970 Lehua Records LP eponymously titled Bunny Brown’s Hilo Hawaiians, Bunny Brown and company deliver another Isaacs classic, “Analani E.” The group – which hailed from Hilo on the island of Hawai`i and which originated in the famed Ha`ili Choir there – changed personnel over the years. But this incarnation was comprised of Bunny Brown, his two sons, and steel guitarist Arthur Kaua. This is one of the few recordings featured at Ho`olohe Hou that is still available as a CD or MP3 download courtesy of the care and diligence of Lehua Records. 

So by now we have heard all of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ compositions, right? Join us next time to find out... 

Next time: The Alvin Isaacs composition most recorded outside of Hawai`i – a story that involves both Nat King Cole and the Andrews Sisters?...


Direct download: 10_Alvin_Kaleolani_Isaacs_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:48am EDT

Helen Desha Beamer – Grande Dame of Hawai`i

One dictionary defines “grande dame” as “a woman of influential position within a particular sphere.” In the history of Hawaiian culture, one could name many grande dame. Surely Mary Kawena Puku`i, Alice Namakelua, Lena Machado, Genoa Keawe, and Haunani Apoliona come to mind. And then there is Helen Desha Beamer. 

According to Hawaiian music historian George Kanahele in an earlier edition of his seminal work on Hawaiian music, Hawaiian Music and Musicians, the Beamer family of Hawai`i can trace its musical lineage back to the 15th century, and the earliest Beamer compositions can be dated to 1862. But these songs were written by the Beamer women during a period when the religious environment of Hawai`i forced these women to conceal their talents in mele and hula. By the time that Helen was born on September 8, 1881, this puritanical attitude had not yet evolved all that much. So when Helen composed Hawaiian music and taught hula openly, it was against the wishes of both her father and her uncle – the latter a pastor of a church in Hilo. But this trendsetting lady rebelled, and all of Hawai`i is grateful that she did since today she is recognized as one of Hawai`i’s most prolific composers. 

Because she was fluent in the Hawaiian language, Helen’s compositions achieve a poetic style that is rarely found today despite the resurgence in the teaching and every day use of the language. And because Helen was also a very talented singer, her compositions can only be described as “operatic.” Her songs can prove difficult for all but the very finest singers to conquer and perfect the singing of a Helen Desha Beamer composition. She was such a talented singer, in fact, that none other than fellow composer Charles E. King personally chose Helen to make the very first recording of his composition “Ke Kali Nei Au” (often referred to today – mistakenly – as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” despite that the original Hawaiian lyric has nothing to do with betrothal whatsoever). 

And although it is not my area of research or expertise by any means, we cannot talk about Hawaiian music without also discussing the hula, and this is particularly true in the case of Beamer who originated what was then – more than 100 years ago – considered a new style of hula – a different kind of footwork that resulted in a smoother, more graceful dance. A century later, that style is now referred to as the characteristic Beamer style of hula – the style you would most often see if you visited Hawai`i or if you were watching the auana (or modern) portion of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival competition. 

To begin our tribute to “Sweetheart Grandma” (as Auntie Helen was known to her family and friends), here are just a few of Helen’s compositions sung by some of Hawai`i’s most well known and well loved voices – some not heard for a very long time. 

“Keawaiki” (which means “little harbor”) honors the home of Francis Brown on the island of Hawai`i (sometimes erroneously referred to as “the Big Island,” not because it isn’t the largest of the eight major islands, but because this is not the Hawaiian name for this island). The Brown and Beamer families were very good friends, and so Auntie Helen wrote many compositions for this family and for their home and the hospitality the Browns shared. As you will soon hear, many of Helen’s compositions have this honoring quality – songs for her friends, their homes, and special times spent together. “Keawaiki” is still well loved and often sung today – even by those who knew neither the Browns nor the Beamers – because it is a song about being together and sharing good times, good food, good conversation, memories and laughter. And, after all, this is what the Hawaiian life is very much about, so you hear this song sung at such gatherings still today. I said that it takes an exceptional voice to properly sing a Helen Desha Beamer composition, and there are few voices more exceptional than that of Nina Keali`iwahamana who sings for us here. Although many of Nina’s classic recordings have been remastered and re-released in the digital era, her version of “Keawaiki” you hear now remains out of print in any format. 

Ka`ahumanu was the favorite queen of Kamehameha I and the chief minister during his reign. Helen wrote “Ka`ahumanu” in the early 20th century for the Ka`ahumanu Society, the first Hawaiian women’s benevolent association of which she was a charter member of the first chapter. The challenging melody is tackled here by Charles Keonaona Llewellyn Davis (or Charles K.L. Davis or, to those who knew him well, just Charlie) who led a sort of dual life performing Hawaiian music in Hawai`i and opera on the mainland. He combined the two skills for a series of commercially successful records on the Decca label, earning him nationwide exposure. But this performance of “Ka`ahumanu” – with the Kawaiahao Chuch Choir under the direction of its then leader (and, later, senator) Daniel Akaka – comes from an LP recorded in Hawai`i entitled Songs of Hawaiian Royalty. This, too, remains out of print in the digital era. 

Marcella Kalua – with help from The Sons of Hawaii – performs “Kahuli Aku, Kahuli Mai.” The song speaks of the kahuli, or tree snail. One type of this snail – pupukanioe – is legendary in that it is believed it can sing. (Its name means ““shell that sounds long.”) But they are not really singing. The tiny red-striped mountain shells fasten themselves to the bark of a tree and emit a tiny humming sound like that of a mosquito. In this song – which I have seen alternately attributed to Helen and to her granddaughter, Nona, who became a Hawaiian cultural expert in her own right – the kahuli call out to the kolea (or golden plover bird) to fetch them some water. 

Like “Keawaiki,” Auntie Helen wrote “Kimo Hula” to honor her friend Jim “Kimo” Henderson, his wife, Leimakani, and their home in Pi`ihonua near Hilo on the island of Hawai`i. As described by Hawaiian music historian Jean “Kini” Sullivan in her liner notes to Hawaii’s Mahi Beamer, Auntie Helen wrote “Kimo o ka uka `iu`iu” – which means “James of the highlands,” a poetic reference to James’ birthplace of the highlands of Scotland. Because Helen used James’ name in the song, the song is by definition a mele inoa, or “name song.” A mele inoa is not merely a song that honors a person. It also has to reference that person by name. Otherwise it is not a mele inoa. The song is sung here by my dear departed friend Bill Kaiwa with whom I had many lovely chats about Hawaiian music (and his golf handicap). An artist as well as an entertainer, Bill was equally adept with painting as sculpting. (See the cover he painted for his “True Hawaiian” CD.) Uncle Bill carved a poi pounder out of precious milo wood as his personal prize for the winner of the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest which he helped judge in 2005. That poi pounder sits beside me on my end table as I write this – bringing my relationship with Uncle Bill full circle, a piece of him always here by my side. 

Next time: More classic compositions from the pen of Helen Desha Beamer performed by some of Hawai`i’s finest – and, perhaps, forgotten – voices…

Direct download: Helen_Desha_Beamer_Part_1.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 3:37am EDT

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs - Composer

When last we discussed the music of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, we discussed “Papa” the musician – the new sound he heard in his head and how he realized it with what is now considered to be a “supergroup” known as the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders (comprised of now legendary George Kainapau’s falsetto, Tommy Castro’s unique steel guitar playing, and the falsetto voice and forward-thinking arrangements of Benny Kalama). But we cannot forsake Alvin Isaacs the prolific composer whose songs – both the Hawaiian-language and hapa-haole (English-language songs about Hawaiian themes) – have stood the test of time. In this segment we listen to a few of Papa’s songs that have become classics but which were recorded by his contemporaries in Hawaiian music from the 1950s and 60s. You are a bound to hear a voice you haven’t heard in a very long time (or may perhaps be hearing for the first time), and you will no doubt hear a song Isaacs wrote and mutter aloud, “I love that song… I had no idea he wrote that!” 

First, the quintessential version of perhaps the most often performed and recorded Alvin Isaacs’ composition by Hawai`i’s most famous voice. Alfred Apaka sings “Nalani” which he recorded in June 1947 with a group led by Randy Oness and featuring Pua Almeida on steel guitar. During the middle of the last century – for a variety of reasons – “Nalani” may have been the most recognizable Hawaiian song across the country and around the world. We will explore the long and storied history of “Nalani” here at Ho`olohe Hou soon. 

Singer, dancer, bandleader, and actor Ernest Kawohilani – known professionally as “Prince Kawohi” – is probably best known for his long affiliation on stage and TV screen with the orchestra led by Harry Owens – giving him national exposure. Here the “Prince” delivers one of Alvin’s least recorded compositions, “Uina Uina.” Recorded in Los Angeles in 1955 when Hollywood was a hotbed of the finest ex-patriot local musicians from Honolulu, the session likely included musicians who worked together regularly on stage and in the local clubs at the time including Sam Koki, Sonny Kamahele, Sam Kaapuni, Harry Baty, Pua Almeida, and almost certainly Danny Stewart on the steel guitar. 

“Ho`omalimali” means “to flatter.” And the lively and humorous “Ho`omalimali E” is sung here by Fely Gabriel – a “vibrant, wriggling package of dynamite from Alohaland” according to the program from the 1964 New York World’s Fair where she appeared with the Hawai`i delegation led by Sterling Mossman. Gabriel had a long career in both California and Hawai`i – including appearing in Alfred Apaka’s show at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. The selection is from a Waikiki Records compilation LP. Gabriel sings here in front of a band led by Alvin’s son, Barney Isaacs, on steel guitar (a sound which graced many a recording of his father’s songs) and which includes other son, Norman Isaacs, on the bass and – whoa! – Gabby Pahinui on guitar. As I am always eager to meet the living legends of Hawaiian music, I feel very fortunate to have recently made Fely Gabriel’s acquaintance. Hopefully I will be able to share more about her life and career with you soon. 

Known as “Hawaii’s First Lady Of Song” for her voice boasting a more than three-octave range and which was heard around the world every week for years on the famed Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts, Haunani Kahalewai soothes the savage beast with “Moon Of The Southern Seas” from the 1960 Capitol Records LP of the same name. Haunani’s Capitol-era recordings featured musicians from the Hawaii Calls radio program (arranged by Benny Kalama), so most of her output during this period features Jules Ah See on steel guitar. But Jules passed away earlier in 1960 when this LP was released. For these sessions, you hear Jules’ great friend, Barney Isaacs, once again on steel guitar. 

Next time: More Alvin Isaacs’ compositions by some of Hawai`i’s finest voices…


Direct download: 05_Alvin_Kaleolani_Isaacs_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:27am EDT


Born September 9, 1904, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs was – and remains – one of the most important figures in the history of Hawaiian music.  “Papa” Isaacs’ contributions to Hawaiian music are incalculable - including the formation of one of the seminal Hawaiian music ensembles (the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders featuring the falsetto voices of Benny Kalama and George Kainapau and the unique steel guitar stylings of Tommy Castro), composing more than 300 songs in both English and Hawaiian (think “Nalani,” “Analani E,” and the comic “No Huhu”), and bringing into the world three more musical Isaacs (steel guitar great Barney Isaacs, slack key legend Atta Isaacs, and singer, bassist, and funnyman Norman Isaacs).

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs taught himself to play most string and wind instruments by the age of ten.  He formed an orchestra by the age of 13 - doubling on piano and mandolin - and composed the first of his more than 300 songs a year later.  (The first - “Kau`ionalani” - has been recorded countless times - most recently by Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom.)  During this period, this husky lad also excelled in sports.  As a freshman at McKinley High he became the first freshman in Hawai`i’s history to make the All-Star Scholastics football squad, and he did equally well in track, baseball, and swimming.

Alvin married his high school sweetheart, Julita Chung, in 1924.  To support the large family they planned (they eventually raised ten children), Alvin joined the Honolulu Police Department as a motorcycle patrolman.  But after a debilitating motorcycle accident on the HPD job which left him hospitalized for a year, he turned his full attention to music for income - and the Hawaiian music world hasn’t been the same since.

After the tragic accident, Alvin organized a group, the K.M.M. Syncopators, in 1929.  He formed several other groups after, including the original Royal Hawaiians (which often featured the great Ray Kinney) and The Islanders which enjoyed a long run at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  In 1935, he joined a band led by Harry Owens’ (who took over at the Royal), and Alvin was this group’s featured singer and comic hula dancer until 1940.

Despite Isaacs’ importance to Hawaiian music history – both in the quantity and quality of songs he wrote and in his innovations in the sound of Hawaiian music – Papa does not even merit his own entry in the encyclopedic Hawaiian Music and Musicians (originally compiled by George Kanahele in the 1970s and more recently edited and expanded by John Berger). (In fact, Papa is only mentioned as a footnote to his collaborators such as Harry Owens, Randy Oness, and Benny Kalama.) Over the next few days, Ho`olohe Hou aims to right this grievous wrong with a series of articles and sound clips in tribute to Alvin Isaacs. 

The musical “set” this time around consists of a single tune from an old 78 rpm – the origins of which are unknown. “He`eia” – a chant later set to music - is a mele inoa (name song) for King Kalākaua which commemorates his visit to He`eia – not the He`eia on the windward coast of O`ahu, but the other He`eia, a surfing area on the leeward side of Hawai`i, a favorite gathering place of ali`i (royalty). The song praises Kalākaua’s skill on a surfboard (and perhaps even speaks of a secret rendezvous with a sweetheart). You have read here previously that in order to be officially deemed a mele inoa, the song must refer to its subject by name, and you do not hear Kalākaua mentioned here. Rather, he is referred to as “Kaleleonālani” which means “flight of heavenly chiefs.” (And this can be confusing since this is also a name used by Queen Emma Na`ea Rooke. But such is the poetic license of the composer.) The earliest recording I can locate by Papa Isaacs, the record is credited only to “Alvin Kaleolani.” (I do not have the original record. A collector – who shall remain unnamed – created CDs in his own home compiled from long out of print 78 rpms. And while attempts to preserve Hawaiian music should be applauded, these efforts were clearly solely for personal gain – the CDs well overpriced, with little attempt to restore or remaster the original sound quality, and with little annotation about what the listener is hearing.) But we can tell, at the very least, that the recording dates to the late 1920s/early 1930s based on the style of music heard here in which traditional Hawaiian rhythms and lyrics were incorporated into the ballroom dance band sounds of that era – slurping saxophones, a barrage of brass, and even a string section. Listen to the rhythm employed as well. While originally a chant, this tune would ordinarily be taken at a more relaxed pace by today’s Hawaiian music groups. But here the tune is taken at the tempo of the fox trot and, therefore, suitable for dancing. This is typical of so many such arrangements of Hawaiian songs in this period – that they needed to be made more dance-able for the ballrooms of the Moana and Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This single recording marks an important period in the evolution of Hawaiian music, and so it deserves to be heard. While it features the voice of Papa Isaacs, without any annotation of the players it is impossible to know whether or not this is also Alvin’s steel guitar playing you hear for Alvin was one of the leading steel guitarists of that era – taking the steel guitar chores for an extended period with Harry Owens’ Orchestra. (This may even be Owens’ band we hear on this recording. Who knows?) 

Next time: “Papa” takes Hawaiian music in new directions with his Royal Hawaiian Serenaders…

Direct download: Alvin_Isaacs_-_Heeia.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 5:23am EDT

Ka`upena Wong Composes

James Ka`upena Wong is a lifelong student of all things Hawaiian. Born August 21, 1929 into a family rooted in Hawaiian culture – his mother was an accomplished hula dancer and his father was a singer – Wong is considered a leading consultant in Hawaiian language but – more specifically – in the once dying art form of chant. Upon returning from college in 1959, Wong began a 12-year apprenticeship with the foremost Hawaiian cultural expert, Mary Kawena Puku`i through which he learned the Hawaiian language, of course, and used it in the service of becoming a master chanter. (Chant was a primary form of language transmission before it was being actively taught in primary schools in Hawai`i.) More than this, he is also one of the few masters of the ancient instruments – such as the pahu (drum) and the 'ukeke (musical bow) – used to accompany the chant. Along with Professor Barbara Smith, Wong helped establish a program in Hawaiian chant and hula at the University of Hawai`i, the first representation of Hawaiian culture in higher education in the state. 

Wong has received countless honors throughout his lifetime. But perhaps most notable is that he and his friend, fellow musician and cultural expert Noelani Mahoe, were invited by Pete Seeger to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. (According to the National Endowment of the Arts, which granted Wong the “National Heritage Fellowship” in 2005 for his contribution to and perpetuation of Hawaiian culture, this performance at Newport is generally acknowledged as the first presentation of Hawaiian chant as an American folk tradition.) In yet another groundbreaking – literally and figuratively – moment, in 1969 Wong performed for the dedication of the statue of King Kamehameha I in the rotunda of Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Because I am not a practitioner of chant, it is Wong’s skills as haku mele (composer) which are of primary interest to this discussion. Although not nearly as prolific as his kumu (teacher/mentor) Kawena Puku`i, Wong’s compositions continue to be cherished and sung to this day – even if the singers may have no idea he composed them. I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you. 

One of his first compositions, “Alika Spoehr Hula” honors Alex Spoehr on the occasion of leaving his tenure as director of the Bishop Museum. (This is a time-honored Hawaiian tradition of writing songs in honor of people – the result being known as a mele inoa, or “name song.”) This honoring song is sung here by the rare pairing of Marlene Sai backed by Buddy Fo and The Invitations. 

I count among my favorite love songs of all time Ka`upena’s composition “I Whisper Gently To You,” performed here by his longtime friend and musical partner, Noelani Mahoe. This recording is notable as being one of the last – and few – recordings of my dear friend Harold Haku`ole on the steel guitar. 

Finally, falsetto favorite Keao Costa sings “Ku’u Lei Pikake.” Although it seems not all that long ago, many of us have already forgotten that before his tenure with Na Palapalai, Keao was a solo artist with a beautiful and successful CD entitled “Whee-Ha!” This beautiful CD is regrettably no longer available, but it gives me great honor to spin it for you again and to honor my friend, Keao. 

Ka`upena Wong continues to contribute to Hawai`i and its people to this day as a teacher and mentor.

Direct download: Kaupena_Wong_Composes.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:42am EDT

Alice Namakelua

Alice Ku`uleialohapoina`ole Namakelua was born August 12, 1892. How do we come to grips with how long ago this really is? To give us some perspective, Alice was once a servant in the kitchen of Queen Lili`uokalani. But this is not what she is remembered for… Auntie Alice was many things to many people as she was in her time arguably the most important keeper of knowledge and understanding of the ways of a Hawai`i long forgotten by almost everybody else - because she was there. And she lived a purposeful life of sharing her history – Hawai`i’s history – with all of those who cared to listen and perpetuate. There are many “Alices” in Hawai`i’s history. But everybody knows who you mean when you say “Auntie Alice.” There was only one. And if you were a young musician in the 1960s or 70s, whether or not you were formally under her tutelage, you were scolded by her at least once. And this was, they say, the greatest lesson you could ever receive. Ask Robert and Roland Cazimero who have on many occasions lovingly recounted the hard lessons learned from being too cavalier or careless with their music – especially with the Hawaiian language – and being brought around to the light, to what is correct – or pono – by Auntie Alice.

In addition to being such an invaluable resource, Auntie Alice was one of the most prolific composers in Hawai`i’s history, having written more than 170 songs. She was also a slack key guitarist – one of the first females to promote the art form and one of the few living direct descendants to the real old style that few Hawaiian slack key artists were playing in her time. Because of her, modern slack key practitioners such as Ozzie Kotani have learned this older, simpler style, documented it both in writing and with recordings, and have passed it along to present and future generations. All because of Auntie Alice.

Aficionados of Hawaiian music and budding slack key guitarists should hear this style at least once, and they should hear it played by Auntie Alice. Despite composing so many tunes, she went into the studio only once in the mid-1970s by which time she was already 80 years old! On this recording cut for Hula Records, Auntie Alice sings her own compositions while accompanying herself with the slack key guitar in this oft forgotten style – making the album a gem, a must-have in any Hawaiian music collection. But, sadly, the recording has been out of print for nearly 30 years and is most elusive even to collectors. From this album you are now listening to Auntie Alice’s composition “Waipi`o Paka`alana.” Take note of the slack key guitar style which is played with only two fingers on the right hand – the thumb focused on a bass line (which outlines the chord that is not being played) and the pointer (or, alternately, the middle finger) which is playing a melody which becomes a de facto counterpoint to the melody she is singing. Notice that there are no strums and at no time does Auntie Alice play a full chord (which is typically defined by three notes). This is the simplicity of the old slack key guitar style.

Auntie Alice passed away in 1987 at the age of 95, but not before leaving a legacy of Hawaiian music, hula (which we have not even discussed here), and history without which arguably Hawaiian culture would not be the same today.

Direct download: Alice_Namakelua_1.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 2:17am EDT

Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs - The Composer
Part One of this tribute focused on the 1940s recordings of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs and the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders on Bell Records.  Part Two provides a brief glimpse of the amazing love and respect the legends of Hawaiian music had and continue to have for Isaacs’ and his compositions - some humorous, some poignant, but all uniquely Hawaiian.

The program focuses on Isaacs’ numerous compositions performed by some of Hawai`i’s most well-loved artists - including some long forgotten names and voices.  I expect that these selections will bring back great memories for some of you and for others the realization that some of your favorite Hawaiian standards are, in fact, Alvin K. Isaacs compositions.  During this set, you will hear a selection from an extremely rare LP entitled “A Lei Of Songs From Sam” by Sam Kahalewai (which offers a pleasant surprise - Gabby Pahinui on steel guitar).  The set also includes long out of print recordings by Prince Kawohi, Fely Gabriel, Haunani Kahalewai, Ray Kinney, and one of Alvin’s talented sons, Norman.  (You will also hear another son, the exceedingly talented steel guitarist Barney Isaacs, backing the vocalists on several of these cuts as well.)

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the work of “Papa“ Isaacs.  Send your comments, suggestions, and requests to

Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_09-08-09_-_Alvin_Isaacs_Composer.MP3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 8:28am EDT