Mele Aloha `Aina

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With the recent shift in ideology surrounding the A`ole TMT movement towards that of Hawaiian Sovereignty, I thought it fitting to offer a summary of three of the well known songs that are centered around the theme of sovereignty. Before I do that I would like to say that I offer this summary purely with factual interest in the music, the songs, the performers and the songwriters. I do not feel it fitting for the purpose of this blog to put forth any opinions on the sovereignty movement nor present this information with any particular agenda. I hope you are reading this with the same interest.

Anytime you are discussing songs about Hawaiian sovereignty you must start with “Kaulana Na Pua”. For a comprehensive background of this mele I highly suggest you visit this page and read this essay written by Eleanor C. Nordyke and Martha H. Noyes. Here you will find a comprehensive breakdown of the important elements behind its composition, meaning, initial performance and subsequent reworking of its melody. To hear an early version of the song I would suggest hearing the version found on the “Folk Songs of Old Hawaii” album. You can listen to this album streaming on Spotify or purchase it on iTunes. For the track “Kaulana Na Pua” go here.

Over time this song has been recorded numerous times, one of the most well known versions being by Peter Moon from his album “Tropical Dreams” in 1979 with this version here:

This version is up beat with a spoken word introduction summarizing the meaning of the song. It moves into an instrumental introduction section that is repeated throughout the song featuring a complex guitar riff that sets up the bouncing slack key solo in the middle of the track. The song is powerful and strong with a depth of arrangement, rhythm, choral repetitions and instrumentation that makes it one of the most standout Hawaiian recordings ever put together. This song is not for the light of heart. Listening to it is a summary of all that is Hawaiian music and the Hawaiian mentality. It is complex, well thought out, yet free and simple at the same time, presenting the ultimate dichotomy of the Hawaiian perspective.

Another well known version is by the Makaha Sons from their 2001 album “Na Pua o Hawaii”. Listen to it here:

Here the song is presented at a slower tempo with more emphasis placed on the lyrics and the complex vocal stylings of Moon, John and Jerome with contributions by Manu Boyd and Teresa Bright. Here the song is nostalgic yet up lifting. It reminds us of the past with its melancholy choral arrangement yet offers hope for the future with its key modulations and uplifting choral vocality.

A recent version that really puts a modern stamp on the tune is by the ProjectKULEANA group. This well crafted video presentation of the song starts with a chant by Na Haumana o Ke Kula `O Samuel M. Kamakau and then moves throughout the islands to different locales and features different established Hawaiian entertainers singing various lines of the sings to the same rhythm track. You can see and here it here:

With the familiar guitar, ukulele and stand up bass along with interjections of an ipu rhythm, piano, slack key and steel guitar solos really fill out of the sound of this song complimenting the variety in vocal deliveries and phrasing by each singer. Each sections is set up with different back grounds offering a variety of visuals from `Iolani Palace to the back streets of Honolulu to Mana road in Waimea. It is truly an amazing compilation of audio and visual greatness, presenting the song as part of a bigger picture of the struggle of the Hawaiian in today’s world.

Next to “Kaulana Na Pua” the second most significant and recognizable song about Hawaiian sovereignty is “Hawaii ’78” by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. This song has a fascinating history that was relatively unknown until the creation of this website by Kawika Crowley one of the original co-composers of this song. To learn the true history of this song I would suggest you visit this website and read his description of how and who composed originally composed this powerful song.

Listen to IZ’s version here:

While not a true sovereignty song in the sense that it directly calls for the establishment of an independent Hawaiian nation, the imagery of the lyrics concerning the “land that was taken away”, “the people in great great danger” and the repetition of the phrase “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono” clearly points towards a dissatisfaction with the current state of Hawai`i and a call towards an older time.

Regardless, the song has become an anthem of sorts with its haunting vocal introduction and meditative ukulele picking. This is all complimented with the powerful message that the lyrics present, telling the story of the kings and queens of the past crying upon visiting the modern world and seeing all the changes modern man has made to the the land. This imagery is matched by the strength of IZ’s vocal delivery when he sings “how would he feel”. By asking this open ended question is forces the listener to really look at and ask themselves in their heart where they stand on this most fundamental of questions, how would those from the past react upon seeing all this that has been put built on this land.

Finally I would like to present Liko Martin’s “All Hawaii Stands Together”, a song that has also been redone by the aforementioned ProjectKULEANA group. Here is the most well known version sung by Dennis Pavao’s:

At first with its geographical references to various places throughout Hawaii the song appears to be a simple call for the people of Hawaii to stand together in support of unity moving forward. But upon looking deeper the lyrics present a more poignant and powerful message beyond a simple call for unity. In the first chorus Liko tells the listener to “hold their banners high”and that “we shall stand as a nation” references to the banners in support of the re-establishment of the Hawaiian nation.

In addition, towards the end of the song Liko uses the phrase “Onipa`a kakou”. This is a phrase accredited to Queen Lili`uokalani meaning “to be steadfast, establish, firm, resolute and determined.” (credit: Queen Liliuokalani Trust website)

For another version of this song see the video project by Project KULEANA here:

For the same reasons I suggest you see the ProjectKULEANA version of “Kaulana Na Pua” I suggest you watch the above video as well.

While this is not a comprehensive summary of all the songs that reference or present ideology of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, these three songs are a good place to start. I would suggest you also listen to Palani Vaughan’s “Ka Mamakakaua”. Lyrics can be found here. Also “E Ola Ke Aliʻi Ke Akua” would qualify as would “Hawaii Pono’i” and “Hawaii Aloha”. Finally I would suggest “Ka Na`i Aupuni” while not an anthem of sovereignty definitely has the potential to take on this role.

As the Hawaiian sovereignty movement changes and develops over time more music will come to the forefront that expresses the feelings and political goals surrounding this movement. While this blog post is just a tip of the iceberg in analyzing the music surrounding the issue of sovereignty, I hope it encourages you to look deeper into this issue and learn more about the facts involved.

Hana Hou Dat Bass!!!

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Hands down, next to the Sons of Hawai`i, my favorite Hawaiian group of all time is Hui `Ohana. Coming from the remote area of Kalapana on Hawai`i Island, they came onto the Hawaiian music scene in the 1970s with a purpose. By mixing their old school traditional arrangements with very forward thinking musical composition they had a sound that was like no other. I like to think of them as a Hawaiian music power trio. Each member on their own was a force; Dennis Pavao’s soaring falsetto, Ledward Ka`apana’s innovative reverbed electric guitar and Nedward Ka`apana’s thundering bass combined to create something that was true to the roots of Hawaiian music and yet so modern and cutting edge as well. Talk about HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries!

What I would like to focus on is Nedward’s bass playing. To this day, after no matter how many listenings, I am still fascinated with how he approached his instrument. Historically the bass player in Hawaiian music plays a solid backing for the rest of the band to build off of. Usually the bass player focuses on the root notes, leaving wide open spacing for the other instruments like `ukulele, steel guitar and slack key guitar, to embellish over. What was unique about Nedward’s playing was he seems to take the opposite approach. It sounds as if he is constantly soloing over the chord progressions, never settling in one region of the neck and never repeating the same pattern more than once.

This approach to bass playing reminds me quite a bit of legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown. Ray was well known for his combination of a walking bass line that is melodic and inventive, supplemented by unsurpassed tone and rhythm. Here is an example. That is Nedward’s playing in a nutshell. I will point to the song Kaimana Hila as an example. Make sure you are listening on headphones or external speakers, as built-in computer speakers won’t properly capture the bouncy rhythms of the bass.

Stay with me on this myspace page as I site examples from other tunes on this amazing album. It should let you play them without an account, if not, you should be able to login using your facebook information if you have one. You are probably saying, “wow, myspace that still exists?!” Well it does, and I have found it to be a nice resource for streaming music. If this doesn’t work, try spotify as these songs are available for streaming there as well.

Really this entire album is full of extremely inventive bass lines that explore the melodic potential of this often over looked and undervalued instrument in Hawaiian music. On Ka Makani Ka `iIi Aloha”  the slow ballad is built on a bass at steady tempo that is accentuated with subtle flourishes in the upper registers. Also listen how he intersperses the steadiness of the bass with short walking phrases during the chorus. By the guitar solo Nedward has already introduced three different techniques of bass playing within one song. During Ledward’s spacey lead parts, Nedward is almost soloing in his own right. Again the flourishes in the upper registers are there, but notice how he quickly jumps back to the lower end of the bass creating a sound that is full and balanced. At times it sounds as if it is Nedward himself who is doing the soloing!

“Punalu`u” is another song that features a jazzy walking type bass line during the verses. Listen to the alterations he adds to the end of the first verse starting at the 22 second mark. He enters into some sort of improvised free wheeling section that is all over the place yet still firmly situated in the root notes. You never feel like he is veering too far off course, but on close examination what he is doing is truly revolutionary. There is no other bass playing I have found that had explored this type of approach to the bass. Again during the solo he employs what is sort of a signature Nedward technique, a low note on the root and then a jump to the relative high tone with quick embellishments. During the end ha`ina section he settles back in to a “normal” bass line, taking you full circle back to something familiar after the world wind tour of notes the song takes you on.

Another section I would like to point out is on the song “Kealohalani” at the 1:18 mark. I am not sure I can put into words what he is doing here. Take a listen for yourself. He builds a phrase that ends in a crescendo of notes at the 1:31 point in which I believe he is doing note sliding that one would associate with Jaco Pastorius. I am firmly convinced by playing such as this that Nedward must have been familiar with jazz playing from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew sessions. Otherwise Nedward independently conceived of bass playing techniques that are considered at the forefront of the capabilities of this instrument.

Finally listen to what Nedward is able to accomplish on the instrumental tunes at the end of the album. The sliding techniques are featured somewhat again early on in “Ku`uipo Onaona” but also of note is the slight syncopation he uses right at the end. On “Maunaloa” what I find interesting are the sections in which he complements Ledward’s fast picking with some forward thinking use of right hand techniques. Not only are the quick slides there, but he seems to be using some quick fluttering of the index and middle fingers interspersing with the walking bass lines.

What this all adds up to is an approach to his instrument that is HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. My question is where did it come from? Was he mimicking techniques from the jazz realm that he adapted to Hawaiian music? Is this something he heard another bass player from Kalapana doing? Or was this completely invented on his own? What I do know is I haven’t been able to find another bass player in Hawaiian music approaching the bass in this manner and I have yet to hear someone consistently play this way. I do hear inflections of some of these techniques played during isolated sections in some bass players, but I have yet to hear someone apply this approach to every song one plays.

I hope you listen to and appreciate the musicality of Hui `Ohana in a new light. Often Dennis Pavao’s falsetto and Ledward Ka`apana’a guitar playing get mentioned as being the notable aspects of the group’s sound, but for me, what Nedward is doing in the back ground is equally important. What is does for me as a musician is inspire HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries in how I approach my playing. I hope it does for you too.

Jus’ Cruzin’ With Uncle Led

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One of the most innovative and accomplished musicians in Hawaiian music history is Ledward Ka`apana.  Starting with the group Hui Ohana in 1972, Uncle Led set a new standard for what sounds were possible within the realm of Hawaiian music.  His electric guitar playing with added reverb was new and exciting.  He was never afraid to push the boundaries, or HO`ANALU, of what was being done with slack key guitar.  He was by no means the first to play an electric guitar in a slack key tuning, but his extensive use of it and explorations of the outer realms of creative possibility was revolutionary.  Along with his twin brother Nedward on bass (another post solely about his bass playing is due) and falsetto vocalist Dennis Pavao, Hui Ohana was a Hawaiian power trio.  Exploding on the scene in Waikiki in the 70s these Big Island boys from Kalapana set a standard of musicianship and execution unmatched by anyone other than the all time greats the Sons of Hawai`i.  The group disbanded in 1978 when Dennis Pavao decided to pursue a solo career.  Led continued on, forming the group I Kona.  The group did reunite in 1987 to record the album “Hui Ohana”

Over the next 30 or so years Ledward has established himself as THE master of slack key.  Comfortable in any tuning, including standard, and with his emotional and well crafted falsetto voice, Uncle Led is a master musician in any culture, any musical environment, any where, any time.  Chet Atkins himself called him the greatest guitarist he ever saw or heard.  Go take a listen for yourself.  His albums are numerous and readily available.  While some of his work from Hui Ohana and I Kona are out of print, much is available on iTunes, as are his solo albums.  Especially notable is “Waltz of the Wind” which he recorded in Nashville.  It’s Hawaiian music with a bit of country, featuring guest artists like Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs and Bob Brozman to name a few.

Which brings me to his most recent piece of work “Jus’ Cruzin'”  Always willing to innovate, and go beyond what is known, ready to take risks, to push what we know of Hawaiian music, Uncle Led embodies the concept of HO`ANALU.  Which makes sense as the Hawaiian teacher who brought the term HO`ANALU to light for me also worked with Led to come up with his phrase “Jus Press.”  This album is a collection of traditional Hawaiian tunes recorded on the autoharp.  The autoharp is a stringed instrument with 36 strings that is played by strumming the strings with one hand and pressing a series of buttons with the other that depress and mute certain strings to create chords.  It is a fascinating instrument that is most often played in folk and bluegrass music.  It was used extensively by the Carter Family and can be heard in many of their recordings.  To say it is rarely heard in the world of Hawaiian music would be an understatement.

The fact that Led decided to record an album with this instrument is in line with who he is.  He is not afraid to play what he feels, to let the sounds come out of him as they may, unabashed by fear or prejudice.  He has one foot so firmly placed in the past that he can stretch it forward as he may.  When he plays “Sanoe” it sounds like it was composed on the autoharp.  When you hear “Kanaka Waiwai” you think “how did this song exist before the autoharp?”  No matter who or how Hawaiian music is recorded or with what instrument, anyone could tell you the only true requirement is how it FEELS.  It has to feel right.  It doesn’t matter the tuning, the microphone, who produced it, what custom koa guitar you use or how many Grammys it was nominated for, it has to feel right.  And that is something that can’t be taught or transferred without time and conscience understanding.  It comes from within.  There has to be that something inside your heart that you want to transfer through your music.  Without that it is just notes on a guitar or an ukulele or an autoharp for that matter.

I went to see Led play once at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.  Between songs I went up to put some money in the jar.  He said mahalo and asked me where I am from.  I told him I am from Waimea.  He immediately says, “Oh, you one paniolo then eh.  You play music?”  I said “Sure I play a little.”  He asked if I would like to play something on his ukulele and he would back me up.  It was a transcendent moment.  Uncle Ledward Ka`apana the great slack key guitarist asking me, a little haole boy from Waimea by way of Honaunau to play a song with him.  To say I jumped at the opportunity would be an understatement.  I decided to play “Kaula `Ili” to pay homage to my Waimea roots.  I asked him to sing the added O`ahu verse to create a connection between my journey from the Big Island to O`ahu.

It was so magical.  This was early in my development as a musician and player of Hawaiian music.  To be able to stand on stage with the great master and share and play told me I was blessed with something special from Ke Akua.  That I must nurture and share this great gift the world.  I was grateful and humbled to have the experience.  The moment was HO`ANALU in action.  I was lifted beyond the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of and blasted into a new dimension of what was possible.  And to this day, whenever I see Uncle Led he always says to me, “Eh, the paniolo from Waimea!”

I love that man.  Take a listen.  Get to know his music.  Listen to his playing of the autoharp and imagine.  How can I HO`ANALU?  What can I do in my life to go beyond the boundaries of what is known?