Precious Meetings With Aunty Genoa

By now you likely already know that at Ho`olohe Hou, when we say “Precious Meetings,” we mean those rare moments on stage or in a recording studio when two artists that would seldom (perhaps never before or since) be captured together on tape create a historically important moment on record. For Hawai`i’s musicians who also happen to be fans of Aunty Genoa, these meetings were equally precious for them as they were for us, the listener. Here are four such “Precious Meetings” between Aunty Genoa and the current generation of Hawaiian music artists. 

Teresa Bright is known for blurring the lines between past and present in her presentation of Hawaiian music (both as a solo artist and with former partner Steve Maii). On her 1994 release, Painted Tradition (her second solo album after her departure from Maii), Bright took liberties with songs by (Aunty Genoa’s mentor) John Kameaaloha Almeida and Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. But she played it relatively straight in her duet with Aunty Genoa on her friend Lena Machado’s “Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi.” As she did in the earliest part of her career with Uncle Johnny on the 49th State Records releases, Aunty Genoa is content to sing back-up for Teresa. And one of those magic moments on record was the happy result. 

Aunty Genoa does not necessarily sing back-up again but, rather, a harmony part of her choosing on “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” with the group Pali from their 2004 CD In Harmony. The group is named for its leader, multi-instrumentalist Pali Ka`aihue who created the Pakele Live concert series, the first Hawaiian music program broadcast around the world live via the Internet. This likely would have been Aunty Genoa’s last ever recording, and a 2007 appearance at Pakele Live – in honor of her 89th birthday – would be one of Aunty Genoa’s last public appearances. 

Zanuck Kapala Lindsey has led numerous groups over the last twenty or more years – each propelling the evolution of Hawaiian music a little farther and faster than the last. In the 1990s “Z” (as he is affectionately known) combined old Hawaiian songs with the swing revival craze to create the fictitiously named Hula Joe & The Hutjumpers. A mash-up that might be described as Lani McIntire-era Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room meets Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the group’s eponymously titled CD (the 1999 release their one and only before “Z” and group evolved yet again) was a wild success. And with the group’s help, Aunty Genoa reprised Don McDiarmid’s composition “Do The Hula” which Genoa Keawe and Her Hawaiians had recorded nearly 50 years earlier for 49th State Records. 

Finally, in 2004 then 20-year-old female falsetto phenom Raiatea Helm invited Aunty Genoa into the studio to duet with her on the Johnny Noble classic “Hu`i E.” This is a true duet in that Raiatea and Aunty Genoa are equals here – trading verses and harmonizing with each other on the ha`ina verse. This “Precious Meeting” is the most precious of all of these to me personally since I know how much Aunty Genoa means to Rai, and despite that she is her own woman and her own artist, one cannot help but hear Rai honoring Aunty Genoa in every note she sings. “She’s inspired me,” Helm told MidWeek in 2005. “She’s a great icon of Hawaiian music and, as a woman, a great role model.” Raiatea is also good friends with the other young lioness of Hawaiian falsetto, Aunty Genoa’s granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman – making the whole affair even that much more special. 

I am proud and honored to say that I had my share of “Precious Meetings” with Aunty Genoa too. Every time I visited the Waikiki Beach Marriott – where Aunty Genoa held court every Thursday evening from the early 1990s until her passing in 2008 – I was most humbly called to the stage where I could fulfill my life’s greatest wish – over and over again – to sing with Aunty Genoa. I don’t know if my favorite occasion was July 3, 2003 when I honored Aunty Genoa by singing for her the first song she ever recorded, “Maile Swing” (which she sang with me), or September 15, 2005 when I sang for her “Ku`u Makamaka,” the mele inoa (or “name song”) written in her honor by her good friend Malia Craver and which had only been recorded by such good friends of Aunty Genoa’s as Peter Ahia and Violet Pahu Liliko`i. Or perhaps it was neither of these as many of those evenings sitting beside her (relieving Auntie Momi for an extended break while assuming her coveted rhythm guitar chair), not only did the experience never get old, never did I cease to have a fog come over me in Auntie Genoa’s presence. Being raised in New Jersey, if I had chosen to idolize Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, I still would not have had the opportunity to take the stage next to either of them. But this is Hawaiian music and – more specifically – this is who Auntie Genoa was. She shared the stage with performers from around the world, and she did not audition you beforehand. She trusted that you would not embarrass her, and so that haze that comes over us all in that situation is boundless energy channeled into calling up from memory all of the right words and correct chords while still remembering to smile. Aunty Genoa would have forgiven bad chords and wrong lyrics, but she would never have forgiven you for not smiling. No, she would have eventually. 

Next time: Celebrating Auntie Genoa’s 89th birthday with one of her final public appearances as she conquers the last performance medium: the Internet… 


Direct download: 13_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Precious Meetings -- posted at: 5:44am EDT

Aunty Genoa – “Woodstock” Hawaiian Style

On August 16, 1970, in the remote town of Hana (anyone who has ever been knows how difficult it is to get there) on the island of Maui, Hawaiian music offered up its first large-scale music festival. Featuring such popular artists of the moment as Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and the Sons of Hawai`i, Sonny Chillingworth, Palani Vaughan, Kihei Brown, the Farden sisters, Leina`ala Haili, hula master `Iolani Luahine and chanter Ka`upena Wong, and – of course – Genoa Keawe, the Ho`olaule`a O Hana (or Hana Music Festival) was captured for posterity in the PBS documentary film Hawai`i Pono`i. It was a sight to behold – hundreds of appreciative fans making the trek to this remote town to hear the artists they rarely have an opportunity to hear (because the musicians were based on O`ahu and played the clubs in and around Honolulu). It looked like a sunnier, happier Woodstock, and both were held in the most unlikely of locations. But surely the Hana event lacked the scale of the New York state event that brought so many artists to rock-and-roll stardom. 

A more Woodstock-like concert event would take place nearly four years later on May 19, 1974 at Paniolo Park in Waimea on the island of Hawai`i. The event still could not match the scale of the sheer numbers of Woodstock, but the location was easier to access than Hana, and so the event drew thousands. It was even more like Woodstock still in that music fans had to contend with winds, rains, and mud as the price of admission to hear Hawaiian music legends and for the glory of saying “I was there.” The Waimea Music Festival featured some of the same artists as the previous event in Hana including Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Genoa Keawe, but with the addition of then up-and-comers Dennis Kamakahi and a group that raised as many eyebrows as it garnered new fans to the Hawaiian music genre: The Sunday Manoa. 

Even the name of the group was unlike anything that had come before it – a seemingly meaningless combination of English and Hawaiian words but which clearly had meaning to these young men (paving the way to similarly confusing group names as Kipapa Rush Band). But it was their music that set them apart. Multi-instrumentalist Peter Moon – a young master of the slack key guitar and `ukulele, but who brought to the Hawaiian music palate such interesting new sounds as the tiple and requinta – had been looking for a sound for many years with a number of different combinations of musicians. But he found pure magic – and similarly forward-thinking blokes equally interested in revolutionizing Hawaiian music – in a pair of brothers – Robert and Roland Cazimero. Together the irreconcilable force of The Sunday Manoa was a blessing in disguise which most conspicuously gifted Hawaiian music to a new generation of fans who may have lost interest in their history and culture – by cleverly and tastefully combining past and present, tradition and radical innovation – and almost single-handedly (or six-handedly) lit the spark that would become the inferno that has since come to be known as the “Hawaiian Music Renaissance.” They did it by combining every influence they had ever heard – from Hawaiian chant to chamber classical to the Rolling Stones – into a uniquely Hawaiian idiom. But while it all seems so tame now 40 years later, The Sunday Manoa were controversial in their time. Like the Richard Kauhis and Kahauanu Lakes that came before them, The Sunday Manoa deliberately experimented within the boundaries of tradition (and some would argue stepping over the line, and others still might say altogether erasing it), and the young men took heat for it both publicly and privately – publicly from the critics of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser, and privately from such guiding forces as Hawaiian cultural expert Alice Namakelua who supported the boys while trying to reign them in at the same time. You might say the group weathered the criticism like your typical fan weathered the Waimea Music Festival – the mud forever in their minds as they trudged forth with their next innovation, even after the untimely demise of the all-too-short-lived Sunday Manoa and their too few three albums, even as they split into the two new aggregations which with exponentially greater force would continue to rattle the foundations of Hawaiian music – The Peter Moon Band and The Brothers Cazimero. 

What does any of this matter in the scheme of our story about Genoa Keawe? Aunty Genoa would not take her working group of that period to Hawai`i island with her for the festival in Waimea – perhaps because they could not get away from home for so long, perhaps because of the expense, or perhaps because there was a bounty of fine musicians awaiting her on her arrival. Instead, she would perform with whatever groups might already be there. Who knows if this was prearranged or if – in the Hawaiian style – she got off the plane, made the drive to Paniolo Park, got out of the car, and exclaimed, “Who’s going to back me up now, boys?” Either way, she ended up with a backing group that would create a whole new sound for and with her, the past and the future meeting literally and figuratively on stage for a brief shining moment and making magic. And fortunately for the Hawaiian music loving world, that magic would be captured on tape by Panini Records (the record label home of many of the festival’s artists), and so we can forever enjoy the unlikely pairing of Genoa Keawe with The Sunday Manoa. 

When Ho`olohe Hou was a radio program, I featured an occasional segment I called “Precious Meetings.” In my mind, this moniker is appropriate for those rare moments on stage or in a recording studio when two artists that would seldom (perhaps never before or since) be captured together on tape and a historically important moment resulted. I think of such pairings as Nina Keali`iwahamana and Bill Kaiwa or Marlene Sai with Buddy Fo and The Invitations. The last time this blog offered such a pairing was January 2013 when Maunalua (a group which in its time should be considered as earth-shatteringly innovative as The Sunday Manoa) took their mentor Leina`ala Haili into the studio. The pairing of Aunty Genoa with Robert, Roland, and Peter prompts me to revive this segment for this unlikely combination of artists did result – like the unlikely combination of chocolate and peanut butter (mahalo e H.B. Reese) – in the quintessential “Precious Meeting.” 

In this segment you hear Robert on bass, Roland on guitar, Peter on slack key guitar (although he had a barrage of instruments on hand that day in Waimea, including a banjo), and – a bonus “Precious Meeting” within a “Precious Meeting” – a little boost from Atta Isaacs on a second slack key guitar – all in the service of lifting Aunty Genoa to even greater heights and potentially (albeit unintentionally) presenting the then already 30-year veteran of the Hawaiian music scene to a new generation of listeners. Here this unlikely combination offers up the lengthy medley of “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” and “Mauna Loa.” It is not merely one of my favorite musical moments on record. It is in this writer’s opinion one of the most historically important moments in the history of Hawaiian music. 

The Waimea Music Festival would spawn numerous large-scale festivals like it or even bigger, better ones – including festivals dedicated to each native instrument of Hawai`i (an `ukulele festival has been running for nearly 40 years, steel guitar festivals have sprung up – everywhere from Honolulu to Joliet, Illinois to Winchester, Indiana to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and more recently Maui and – as recently as this week – Denver, Colorado – sponsored by the steel guitar preservation associations, and long-running annual slack key festivals including one on Maui and another on O`ahu named in honor of Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs) as well as festivals anchored by a particular artist or record label (Tropical Music’s “Tropical Bash” became the Makaha Sons’ “Take A Walk In The Country,” there was Peter Moon’s wildly successful “Kanikapila” series named for the record label he started in the post-Sunday Manoa era, and now a new festival every August in Waimanalo organized primarily by Gabby’s, son Cyril). But one can argue that none of these would have been possible if not for the Waimea Music Festival just over 40 years ago, and one might unravel the tradition even further to a muddy day in Hana in 1970.

Next time: Aunty Genoa inexplicably makes a temporary departure from the record label she owns and operates to wax an album for a competitor label…


Direct download: 03_Genoa_Keawe_-_Fall_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Precious Meetings -- posted at: 6:58pm EDT