A Great Voice of Hawai`i Rediscovered

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Besides an impressive lineage of instrumentalists, composers and dancers of hula, Hawai`i boasts an even more astounding history of world class male vocalists. Their heyday was found in the lounges and luau shows of Waikiki in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the more noteworthy are Alfred Alpaka, Bill Lincoln and Gary Aiko. Before the movement towards a more traditional slack key based sound the male crooner was a sought out and highly respected type of performer. One individual that is often over looked is Kalani Kinimaka. One big reason for this is the lack of recorded material available by him. Fortunately for us this changed recently when an entire album of material was discovered after his death in 2011. It is currently available on iTunes as well as on reputable Hawaiian music websites like mele.com.

This album was recorded in 1980 with talented guitar player Henry Ka`ahea and featured a mix of traditional Hawaiian tunes, hapa-haole classics and some pop covers. What you will find are some of the greatest vocal recordings in the history Hawaiian music. His voice is strong in the deeper registers yet reaches a feathery delicacy is the high ranges. His vocal phrasing is inventive and well thought out, showcasing his subtle vibrato and smooth tonality. Whether it is the love-lost yearning of “Ka Makani Ka `Ili Aloha” or the bouncy playfulness of “Jamaica Farewell” Kinimaka is equally at home. HIs voice reaches its apex in the classic Hawaiian love song “Pua Lilia.” And in listening to this recording I am left to wonder if my mentor Braddah Smitty was at least partly inspired by Kinimaka’s delivery.

All this is framed by the truly astounding nylon string stylings of Henry Ka`aheo. His spanish guitar provides the perfect backdrop to the vocals, providing complex chordal support for the fine vocal delivery. The solos are tastefully picked representations of the melody with an appropriate amount of decoration to leave you wanting more. The flamenco-esque flavors of his playing take the songs somewhere beyond a typical hapa-haole tune or traditional Hawaiian piece into somewhere beyond. The rendition of “I’ll Remember You” is a great example, as this version has now become my favorite recording of this classic Kui Lee tune. I would highly encourage you to take a listen to this album if anything for the remarkable version of this song.

I had recently posted about my top 5 under the radar Hawaiian music albums of all time. This one wouldn’t qualify as it remained unknown until it was discovered a few years back.  Having been originally recorded in 1980 it got me wondering what other recordings are out there that haven’t seen the light of day? If something of this quality can stay undiscovered, the possibilities for more are intriguing. I am just glad that this album made its way to my ears. So I ask all those out there to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries and try to dig deep into your vaults and bring out any unreleased recordings. There is a large enough Hawaiian music fan base that would love to hear some of these hidden gems from the past.

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