Na Hoku Hanohano What?


Another year of Na Hoku Hanohano awards has come and gone and as usual, surprises, disappointments and approvals are in order. First of all I am well aware that I exist well beyond the confines of these awards and my views and opinions on them probably fall outside the norm.

I think it is great that there is a separate set of awards for Hawaiian music and it is a great way to perpetuate and support the Hawaiian music industry. The way I see it, the more that Hawaiian music is acknowledged, the more people will be able to earn a living playing, singing and chanting the mele of Hawai`i. With each Hoku award, another sticker is enabled to be put on the front of an album and it puts more music on the shelves of Wal-Mart and ABC stores for the public to purchase and enjoy. Why else would we continue to give out these awards?

I was very glad to see Mark Yamanaka receive so many accolades.  He is a humble and gentle family man who has an extremely impressive falsetto singing voice. While most of the instrumentation on Lei Maile is straight forward, he has developed tremendously as a song writer and has made very intelligent choices about whom to collaborate with. There is no doubt that he is a true lover of Hawaiian music and has handled himself very well since his last Hoku award extravaganza. One of the most difficult things for an artist to do is handle success, and he seems to have done that very well. I was a little surprised to see him split the award for male vocalist of the year with Kamaka Kukona as I figured Kamaka’s award for most promising artist would suffice for his debut album Hanu `A`ala which I found to be a little too bland for my liking.

For Female Vocalist of the Year I was very happy that Hulu Lindsey won. The other nominees in that category had no business being there as I felt all four of their efforts lacked anything interesting to grasp on to. While I have no interest in engaging in the politics of Mrs. Lindsey, her finely aged falsetto is a true joy to listen to. Her honest surprise and appreciation for receiving the award was very touching to see. Whether or not her daughter’s decision to pull her album from the nominations opened the door for Aunty Hulu win, it doesn’t lesson the beauty found on A He Leo Wale No E. The arrangements are spot on and the subtle additions of piano creates something that is so firmly rooted in the sound of yesteryear that it doesn’t sound like it is such a contemporary recording.

A group that really cleaned house this year was the husband and wife duo Kupaoa and their album Bumbye. While this album doesn’t do anything musically that is too forward thinking their energy is an upbeat and happy presentation of Hawaiian music. It is very easy to listen to and is a joyful presentation of contemporary Hawaiian music. It is no surprise to me that they garnered so many awards and I would expect that they would continue to be darlings of Na Hoku Hanohano voters for many years to come. The title song from their album was one of my favorites this year and I found myself turning up the radio and rocking out every time it was played on the hour.

One group that really surprised me this year by winning Favorite Entertainer of the Year and Group of the Year was The Green. Historically Na Hoku do not get handed out to Jawaiian groups outside of the best reggae album category. Voters tend to avoid groups that adhere to this style of music as it is often seen as a threat to the sustainability of traditional Hawaiian music. Maybe they listened to the opening chant from the album Hawai`i ’13 and didn’t realize it is a straight up Jawaiian album. I know favorite entertainer is open to the voting public so it is not out of the realm of possibility that their extreme popularity among the general listening public helped catapult them into the forefront for this award. I can only then assume that the votes for group of the year were split between Kupaoa and Waipuna, leaving The Green as the default winner. What else could explain a Jawaiian group winning group of the year? You would have to go back to 1989 and the classic recording Good Times Together by Cecilio and Kapono to find anything outside of traditional Hawaiian music to win this award. I dunno, maybe I am missing something, but I did not expect a run of the mill Jawaiian album to win here.

Speaking of shocking, I was a little surprised as well that Kuana Torres Kahele got essentially shut out this year. Of his eight nominations he only won for Single of the Year. This is an odd throwaway category only eligible to songs issued as a stand alone single. Waipuna’s effort was strong as “Aloha E Kohala” has a personal resonance for me, and I thought it had a strong chance. For myself, compared to the other material on his album Kahele, “E Ku`u Lei, My Love” is not my favorite. I do think that Kahele was one of the stronger albums released this year and coming in I figured that the voting members would feel the same. But as his loses began to mount up throughout the evening, I had the feeling this wouldn’t be Kuana’s year. And I am not so sure that really bothers him. I can’t speak for him personally, but I think he has his sights set on higher goals as he has just completed the first in a series of eight albums of original material composed for each of the eight Hawaiian islands. Wow! HO`ANALU!

Kuana has to be my favorite of contemporary of Hawaiian artists. His ground breaking work with Na Palapalai not with standing, he has continued to blaze his own path in the world of Hawaiian music. He is a fearless song writer that composes from his experiences. His ability to blend beautifully poetic `olelo with mood appropriate instrumentation is without match in today’s Hawaiian music scene. See “Aloha Sorrento” to hear what I am talking about. What he does is take a journey to a small fishing village in Italy and turn it into a beautiful mele pana. The inclusion of the accordion and a verse in Italian completes the connection, creating a song that embodies the world view and worldly experiences of the contemporary Hawaiian. He has done this before with songs like “Palisa” and “Na Vaqueros” from his multiple Na Hoku Hanohano award winning album Kaunaloa. I can only assume that the voters were bored giving all the awards to Kuana in previous years, as he is so far ahead of what any other Hawaiian music artist is doing today.

When I speak of HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries, I immediately think of Kuana. He is so firmly rooted in composition and musical styles of the past that his compositions seem to have already been written. Yet when we look at the experiences behind these mele and the poetry of his words we realize we are listening to something much more forward thinking. I wish there were more artists blessed with the musical talent and world view of this young man. I can’t wait to hear what he has in store for his next seven albums as I already feel Hawai`i Keawe has set in motion the high standard he is attempting to create.

At this point that is all I really have to share about this round of awards. As for the other non-Hawaiian categories here are a few observations. I did take a listen to “The Akira Project” as there was a lot of hype around it and I am always curious to hear if a legitimate Hip-Hop album can come out of Hawai`i. Unfortunately this album only further confirms that Hawai`i is light years away from producing Hip-Hop that is listenable or acceptable by the discerning rap fan (which, surprise surprise, I am).

I can say that Herb Ohta, Jr. continues to put out the purest most listenable `ukulele music today with his aptly named “Pure `Ukulele.” Nothing innovate or genre-bending here, just good ole happy `ukulele instrumentals. And considering the other nominees, this was an easy win. A blog post on contemporary `ukulele recordings is due for this very reason.

I am not sure who the hell Stuart Hollinger is or what the hell he put together, but I think it is time that Na Hoku Hanohano award board members think about removing the rock category for years when there are no legitimate entries. Doesn’t contemporary album cover this looked over area of Hawaiian music? Can we let Bruno Mars be eligible? Veritable questions indeed if you are willing to expose your ears to this poorly produced and put together collection of songs. Speaking of contemporary, not surprised Makana didn’t win here. Wonder if his unyielding ego got in the way of being recognized by the ever ready purveyors of humility that is the Hawaiian music industry.

So there’s my two cents, fun part of writing your own blog. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, go write your own! We need more voices to dissect the self-perpetuating world of Hawaiian music. That’s why we have these awards right? While these awards are a good thing, I firmly believe that, we mustn’t forget all the great artists that work hard at their craft and don’t get considered for these awards. These individuals truly embody the concept of continuing HO`ANALU….to go beyond the known boundaries. Take a listen and decide for yourself.

M. Kalani Souza Pacific Uprising

Prince Kalani Kinimaka He Hawai`i Au

James Daniel Pahinui Bla

Nate Kana`e Hawaiian Music

The Lim Family Following Traditions




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