Ke Kali Nei Au and the Hawaiian Opera

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.39.20 PM

Having just entered into the sacred union of marriage I decided to commit some time into researching the history of one of the finest Hawaiian songs ever composed, the insurmountable “Ke Kali Nei Au” also known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song”. It was hard to dig up too much information other than this very interesting aspect of this song’s history. Mainly that according to this very informative article published in Hana Hou! magazine it was originally written by Charles King for a Hawaiian operetta titled “The Prince of Hawai`i”. This article got me thinking about the opera in Hawai`i and based on the fine history of singers in Hawai`i if anyone from here has gone out to perform on the operatic stage.

Well as you can read if you go to the above link to the article is that yes, there is certainly a pretty big history of opera in Hawai`i and opera singers from Hawai `i. Digging further I came across this very informative paper published in the Hawai`i Journal of History. I strongly suggest you read both as they are full of information and historical antidotes. One tidbit I found really interesting was the discovery of Tandy MacKenzie who is considered the greatest opera singer to come out of Hawai`i. The story goes that as a member of a glee club in Massachusetts where he was studying pre-med, he was heard by famous Irish tenor John McCormack who made the suggestion to MacKenzie that he pursue singing as a professional vocation.

Another interesting anecdote found in the Hana Hou! article concerned Kamehameha IV working as a stage manager in Verdi’s Il Trovatore with Queen Emma singing in the chorus. Or the royal princesses Likelike and Pauahi Bishop singing in Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. All of these performances took place at the little Irwin Music Hall across from `Iolani palace whose picture is found at the beginning of this post. You can read more about this opera house’s history by clicking on this link.

All very fascinating and under documented historical incidences. But when you look at history and the context that Hawaiian music plays in the cultural context of the Hawaiian, a historical relationship with opera it makes sense. As famed musician and Director of the Royal Hawaiian Band Aaron Mahi says “In Hawaiian music, the most important aspect is the mele [text]. The mythology of Hawaii lends itself to storytelling, and the folklore is full of deep, dramatic settings. That’s very much a part of opera.”

But just to bring it all back to Hawaiian music, there are recordings of the fine opera singer Tandy MacKenzie singing traditional Hawaiian tunes. Listen to his rendition of “Mai Poina `Oe Ia`u” in particular.

And as for that little wedding song that started this whole investigation. Well I am particular to the version sung by The Makaha Sons and Nina Keali`iwahamana.

Unfortunately I couldn’t dig up much more than the fact that it was originally written for this unrecorded operetta in the 1920s. I guess all we can do then is just sit back and listen to this beautiful mele.

Defining the Undefinable

Each time the issue of defining slack key is addressed by either a specific artist or some governing body of musical societies, I find the divisiveness of these definitions and categories on the one hand interesting, but also unfortunate on the other. I do see it as a basic human trait to try and classify things into specific groupings, it is something we have been doing since the advent of language after all. But when it comes to the arts I struggle to see the need or inherent necessity of doing this other than to create differentiation and separation among people all trying to achieve the same thing, a desire to express their inner most emotions and feelings into a tangible form.

This issue as it relates to slack key guitar playing recently came to mind while reading an essay by Makana titled “What Is Slack Key Guitar”. Now right off the bat I was a little skeptical as he is clearly stating that he will attempt to define something that to me as an art form is undefinable. Please read his essay yourself to get an idea about his view point directly from the source, but I will clarify some of the main points here.

What I really struggled with when reading his essay is that in defining slack key guitar he actually makes the definition more muddled and convoluted. In the process of defining what slack key is, he mentions so many exceptions to its components that I was left scratching my head as to how you can decisively define such a varied and ever evolving style of guitar playing. For example he says “The strings are tuned relative to each other so that when strummed open (without fretting) the final result is a CHORD. Doing so emancipates the fretting hand from having to hold chords- the guitar is already holding a chord for it (there are exceptions, of course)” (emphasis mine). Also “Often (again, there are exceptions) some of the strings are “slacked” or loosened, hence the name “kī hō’alu” (“to slacken or relax”) (emphasis again mine).

So according to this the strings can or cannot be tuned to result in an open chord and the strings can or cannot be loosened. Basically in one fell swoop he covered every possible guitar tuning known in the history of the instrument, amazing!

He then moves on to the technique aspect of playing slack key. The first technique he addresses is an alternating bass line using the thumb. He goes to state that “Uncle Ray Kane as well as Uncle Sonny Chillingworth were VERY STRICT about this.” (emphasis his in this case). But then he follows that up that “when you listen to Peter Moon (Sr), and the Gabby BAND (not solo) recordings, the two of them aren’t playing the bass a lot of the time.” (emphasis on BAND his). So again a major contradiction is being presented here.

According to Makana an alternating bass pattern is a fundamental aspect of slack key guitar playing, in fact it may be the most important as it is the first one he lists. Also it was emphasized by two leading masters he mentions Sonny Chillingworth and Ray Kane, but two other leading masters of slack key didn’t play in an alternating bass style? He does qualify this statements saying “that is because they had multiple instruments accompanying them..this is still often considered “slack key” as they used the tunings and the melodies of Hawaiian mele”. All in all these are confusing and contradictory statements.

So again, if I tune my guitar in a slack key manner (which according to his opening section on tuning can mean anything really) I am still playing slack key if I play the melodies of Hawaiian mele?

For the second component of slack key playing Makana says “Fingers of picking hand execute the primary melody of the piece. This usually occurs on the two or three highest pitched strings, but of course varies broadly”. Again, I use the highest two strings to execute the melody, but it “varies broadly”. Here he seems to be even more inclusive of all variations of how the melody is played on the instrument. It can be played with the bass strings then I assume, or any of the middle strings as well.

Then for the final third component he says “Both thumb and pointer finger occasionally impart what I call a faux rhythm, to infer the illusion of an accompanying background strumming rhythm guitar. This is more apparent in styles like Gabby’s solo work as well as that of Atta Isaacs. It is a technique that is very difficult to articulate/ teach, therefore it is rarely incorporated, but it is witnessed in the playing styles of the legends.” What does this even mean? There is some sort of fake rhythm that is generating as an illusion, but it can’t be taught or explained and it is rarely incorporated? That makes absolutely no sense. Something exists, I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain it  and it is rarely ever incorporated…but it’s there! My response would be, well then why are you even bothering writing an essay titled “what is slack key”.

Actually for me this component three seems to best summarize the entire definition of slack key. The whole thing is an illusion. Why even bother defining it. It just is. I do like the quote that Makana includes that Led Ka`apana uses to describe slack key, “slack key is the way we love each other, the way we share our Aloha with each other.” That to me is more tangible and more easily accessible than Makana’s definition full of contradictions and fuzzy logic. Because if I were to summarize Makana’s definition in my own words I would say “Slack key involves tuning your guitar in some manner that may or may not include slacking or loosening the strings and it may or may not result in an open chord. The guitar should be played with an alternating bass rhythm as it is an integral component as taught by the original masters, but often other master players ignore this component and don’t play with an alternating bass rhythm especially when playing in a group setting. The melody can be played on any string and there is great variations to what strings play the melody. And finally there is an unexplainable background fake illusionary rhythm that exists in the playing but it is very scarcely ever heard or seen and I can’t be taught.” How does that sound? Again, he is basically just explaining finger picked guitar, other than the esoteric “faux rhythm” part.

And I’m gonna stop there with referencing Makana’s essay as I can’t really accept much of anything of his conclusion based on the contradictions found in the entire body of his essay. What I can say is he goes on to explain in a whole host of lengthy justifications about what is and isn’t slack key and who can and can’t play it. You can read the essay for yourself to hear his explanations and justifications for these viewpoints.

But all kidding aside I think my points have strong validity and good reason to be brought up, and here’s why. A few years ago there was a big uproar in the Hawaiian music community over who was and wasn’t getting a very prestigious music award for best Hawaiian music album. The winners were consistently playing in what they called a slack key style and for the most part either resided outside of Hawaii or were produced by people not born or raised in Hawaii. The arguments and name calling that resulted ended with the particular awards committee dropping the category for best Hawaiian music album all together. We got so caught up in trying to define who we are that the broader music community said, you know what, since you guys can’t figure it our, we’ll just shut you out all together and just make your recordings available for the “American Roots music” category. Now this is fine by me, but I think has resulted in a vast void of self identification of what Hawaiian music is or does.

But for me as a musician living and working in Hawaii is a pretty apt summarization of where the industry as a whole is. So what am I trying to say? Well, that for Makana to try and define what slack key is he is doing himself and slack music as a whole a great disservice. As we say in Hawaii “just let the kids play”. Is there a deep and long history of a specific style of finger picked acoustic guitar playing in Hawaii? Yes or course! Does it matter what we call it, no I think not. It is a traditional folk style, that at this point is dead and has evolved past any specific labels or definitive components that can be easily establish, defined and categorized. Just get over it!

What I would like to see, and what I have tried to do in my capacity as a music teacher and educator is to do what I can to show and teach kids about his style of playing so it can hopefully live on in what ever capacity that it can. And good for Makana that he brings this up “we must encourage the keiki to learn Kī Hō’alu at a young age”. Now what he is doing to accomplish this I don’t know. I have not seen or be heard about what he is doing to actively engage and facilitate the learning of slack key guitar playing in the next generation. I really feel like he blowing some hot air here and just saying something that he thinks sounds and looks good. And in the context of his statement he was trying to justify his point that unless the very first guitar style you learned how to play was slack key you’re not playing real slack key. So if you were really breaking it down he is using the veil of the need to teach kids slack key as a way of proving his points about how he thinks slack key should be defined, pretty offensive if you ask me.

I have seen Makana in concert multiple times and if I were to make a general analysis of his demographic I would say they tend to be in the 50-65 year old category. I will say that judging by some recent promotional materials he has put together that it appears to be his desire to change this. You can see this particular you tube video that attempts to market his upcoming mainland shows to a new audience with the goal of changing the perception of what Hawaiian music is. In addition, his recent composition showing political support of Bernie Sanders may open up new audiences to his playing, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I would challenge Makana to really use his connections, resources and musical influence to get kids playing, learning and performing slack key music. If he values this deep cultural heritage and if he is so adamant about the fact that “Kī Hō’alu’s PURITY must be understood, valued, and considered, always.” He better get on it because it is disappearing and it is disappearing fast. I can see it and hear it in how the guitar is played by many of the next generation of guitar players in Hawaii, Makana included.

The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 2: The Church

Image

This is a continuation of my last blog post that covered the influence of outside musical cultures on modern Hawaiian music. If you haven’t already please see part 1 in which I introduce the topic and discuss the elements of traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian music that laid the foundations of modern Hawaiian music. These posts were inspired by the current World Cup happening in Brazil which got me thinking about all the different forms of music from around the world that were brought to Hawai`i and had an influence of the music from here. What I will be covering in part 2 is the influences of New England Church Music on modern Hawaiian music.

NEW ENGLAND CHURCH MUSIC

The first missionaries to establish a strong presence here were Protestants from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Massachusetts. Led by Hiram Bingham this group of New England missionaries arrived on Hawai`i Island in 1820 and quickly asserted their influence on many of the religious and daily activities in Hawai`i. One are where their influence was clearly evident was in the music. The first way their influence became evident in what was not allowed. When the Queen Ka`ahumanu converted to Christianity a ban was placed on the performance of traditional Hawaiian religious practices. This prohibited the performance of hula and the accompanying chants, as these were directly associated with religious ceremony.

In its place church hymnal singing was introduced to the people of Hawai`i. First the concepts of melody, counter melody and harmony were placed at the forefront and established as an emphasis for the presentation of a song. Singing schools were created by the missionaries at the newly built churches. A repertoire of tunes was created consisting of adaptations of Protestant hymns with composed Hawaiian lyrics. Topics were predominantly restricted to those of Christian faith and Biblical teachings.

What was taken from these times are group singing, complex harmonies and melodies based on Christian hymnal music. All these elements played a key role in the development of modern Hawaiian music over the next 200 years or so as we hear all these elements still strongly in the music of today. Of course we still hear large group choral singing if Hawaiian music inside and outside of the church. Many schools continue to have choral groups that sing in this manner, not only singing tunes of Christian nature but adapting modern Hawaiian tunes for this environment. One of the most well known examples of this type of singing is in the annual Kamehameha Schools song contest. Here is a recent example from the 2014 concert. Worth noting is that many modern Hawaiian music performers come from the Kamehameha Schools system or from a church singing background.

One final aspect of Hawaiian music that was supported and fostered by the missionaries was Hawaiian falsetto singing. The idea of breaking one’s voice in this manner was already in place and utilized in Hawaiian chants, but the hymnal singing put a melodic value to this technique. Later coined leo ki`eki`e, this has become an important part of Hawaiian singing. Originally this was a technique restricted for use by the men, but later in the the 1950s and it became a signature techniques for females, mostly resulting form the amazing talents of Genoa Keawe and Lena Machado. I would highly recommend the album Hawaiian Songbird to hear this amazing vocal technique in action. Today this style has come back into favor among the male singers and an annual falsetto singing contest is held every year on the Big Island to showcase singers of leo ki`eki`e. One of the most well known male singers of this style are the Ho`opi`i Brothers who can be seen and heard here.

While it is unfortunate that the influence of the Christian missionaries on the religious ways of the Hawaiian people resulted in the initial reduction of the use of the hula and chanting in daily life, it did allow for an opening for new musical influences. Later during the reign of King Kalakaua these harmonic and melodic elements had become firmly rooted in the music of Hawai`i which when combined with the traditional chanting created an entirely new style of music that is still in use today. This is true HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. Here is a theme that unfolds time and time again in the history of Hawaiian music. With the outside world coming into Hawai`i change is inevitable, but what endures through all these changes are the fundamental foundations of the original Hawaiian musical characteristics. The traditions of Hawaiian music have the unique ability to be flexible enough to take on new influences, but strong enough to remain true to the original values and intent.

Please come back as I will next look at the influences of Mexican Ranchera and Jalisco Son Music on modern Hawaiian music. Future posts will cover Portuguese Folk Music of the Madeira Islands, European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music as I explore the theme of the influence of world music on modern Hawaiian music during our World Cup season.

Another One Leaves Us Too Soon

chino

 

I only met Chino once, but he left a lasting impression on me.  A few years back I went by the Kahilu Theatre to check out the free show during the Slack Key and Ukulele Institute series.  I had seen the name “Chino Montero” on the bill, but wasn’t familiar with him or his music.  What I saw that night blew me away.  The way he shredded on the guitar in such a relaxed and humble manner was shocking to my eyes and ears.  The way he tastefully and artfully completely ran circles around the melody put me in awe.  “Shredding” per se isn’t something that is overly valued in Hawaiian music. The idea is to humbly state the melody and embellish within the bounds of a restrained approach. Not to say there aren’t people who play fast or overly complex, it is just not something that is emphasized.  But there was something in the way this man did it that was so proper and fitting to who he was a musician.  He would be constantly smiling and laughing as he was playing like he was just as amazed himself as we were as to what he was playing.

Later that evening I was excited to see him and some of the other members of the Slack Key Institute at a show I was playing with Braddah Smitty.  After the show we all sat at a table together and do what musicians do after they have all played their gigs: eat and talk story.  The conversation was lively as it was a collection of eccentric musicians (what musicians aren’t!) talking story, shooting the shit and busting each others balls.  I was the greenest and youngest member of the group and just sat and listened the whole time.  I mean what can I really contribute when you have heavy weights like Aaron Mahi, Sonny Lim, Braddah Smitty and Benny Chong and others around?

Because musicians are always playing at different venues every night, it is rare that a bunch of them are able to get together at one time.  Add in that many of these guys live on O`ahu, there was a lot of catching up to do.  That night I happened to be seated next to Chino and his wit, charm, story telling and humor were second to none.  Topics ranged from Rap Reiplinger to seeing the original Makaha Sons to the status of various venues long gone in Waikiki to Gabby and Sonny getting drunk at the old Waimea Hotel (which is now the HPA Village Campus where I now work!) to well anything and everything.

Amongst all this discussion, Chino took the time and talked to me.  He said he was watching me while I was playing and he noticed that I was listening.  He noticed I was paying attention to what was happening around me.  He said my playing was respectful, restrained and refined.  He told me to keep at it.  He told me there was still time for me to learn and to improve. He told me I needed to HO`ANALU….to go beyond the known boundaries.  He told me to be grateful for my opportunities, continue to improve, never be satisfied, learn more, take chances and above all stay humble.  It made me practice harder, prepare better and it set a fire in my belly to humbly develop what I could do with my `ukulele

I will never forget that night.  It took me awhile to comprehend everything that I heard and that went on.  When I heard of Chino’s passing I immediately thought of this short moment I got to share with Chino.  The album of music he recorded before he passed “Made In Hawai’i” is sweet and soulful.  Chino may not have been in the realm of the “heavy hitters” in the business, but he deserves to be.  He is one of the countless many in Hawai`i who humbly went to work every evening perfecting his craft and constantly improving.  There is so much talent here it amazes me sometimes.  I have seen guys in the backyard to a no name guitarist in a trio at a hotel gig who could play circles around some of those that have shelves full of awards and accolades up the wazoo.

Unfortunately another one has left us to soon.  I am sure I am just one of many who Chino touched with his playing and his positive joyful attitude.  I am so grateful I had the opportunity to meet this man who contributed to my own journey of HO`ANALU, of going beyond my known boundaries.

Jus’ Cruzin’ With Uncle Led

Image

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?

A Painting of Eddie Kamae Takes Me Back

Image

 

I humbly believe that the greatest ukulele player ever was Eddie Kamae. He recorded what I find to be the best ukulele album in existence “Heart of the Ukulele” in 1962. I was very blessed to have the opportunity to share the stage with and play with Eddie Kamae when I played ukulele for Braddah Smitty. It wasn’t my best night and I was honestly rather intimidated to be playing with such a master. As he sang “E Ku`u Morning Dew” and I transposed in my head the often played version in G to D, I prayed he wouldn’t ask me to pa`ani. Of course he did and I proceeded to mangle what is a perfectly constructed melody in my attempt to quickly transpose the melody up a fifth. This is a lot more challenging on an ukulele with its limited range and peculiar re-entrant high G tuning.

None the less, afterwards Smitty related to me Uncle Eddie’s impressions of me as a player. When Smitty asked him how “the boy (me)” did, he responded with “the boy still has lots to learn.” When Smitty said “I think in a couple years he get ’em” Pops said, “I think in 20 or 30 years he might get ’em.” That remains the most humbling assessment of my skills as an ukulele player and something that always reminds me to keep working at my craft and more importantly be ready for the moment. This painting is currently on display at the Isaacs Art Center at HPA, it is what got me thinking about that moment when Eddie Kamae sang “E Ku`u Morning” and tossed me the solo. An adjunct is I totally nailed “Ka Lama `Ae One.”

 

Kou Aloha Mau A Mau

                 palaka-fabric

 

The palaka print is for the Reverend Dennis Kamakahi, who joined the Sons of Hawaii in 1973 replacing Gabby Pahinui. He played with the Sons until 1995 and for a time with my mentor Uncle Braddah Smitty. Uncle Eddie supported Dennis’ song writing and encouraged him to blaze his own path and put his own stamp on the group. He wrote such beautiful and classic numbers as Wahine Ilikea, Pua Hone, Koke`e, Ka `Opae, Sweet By and By, Aloha Mau A Mau, Golden Stallion, Kanaka Waiolina, Honeymoon Hotel, E Hihiwai, Hualalai, and on and on and on…

Of course he went on to a magnificent solo career, but it was with the Sons that he got his start expressing himself as a song writer, something I deeply respect him for. I was very privileged to get a first hand account from Smitty about the composition of Wahine Ilikea as he was with Dennis when he wrote the song. The art of Hawaiian song writing is an under appreciated art and Dennis was a master at it. He will always live in my heart and in my mind as I compose mele.

Thank you Uncle Dennis for inspiring me. Thank you for reading this, if you are not familiar with the Reverend Dennis Kamakahi I suggest you listen to some of his recordings which are widely available. He was a true true master artist in the world of music. You will be missed, your enduring spirit was valued. Your originality and expression of the Hawaiian way through your mele is truly remarkable. Aloha mau a mau, aloha ke akua.

 

HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries

Me and da boys waikoloa                     smitty in hilo

On June 9th, 2012 I was standing deep in the jungle on the eastern end of Hawai`i Island.  In the silence of the moment I looked up and saw a falling star streak across the sky.  In the still of one of the remotest places in the world, where I had not heard a sound for hours, in the distance a dog barked.  I knew my friend had arrived safely on the other side.

I first saw Braddah Smitty at the Broiler in Waimea after I had returned home from college.  I walked into the bar area and saw a well built Hawaiian man in a palaka shirt singing music that reminded me of the time from my childhood.  It was that peculiar singing so unique to the people of Hawai`i and the odd rhythmic strumming of the guitar.  This was the sound I had longed to hear.  It had been locked in my memory from the braddahs under the tree at Napo`opo`o Beach and from the gatherings in the backyards of South Kona.  I needed to know who he was, I needed to know how this sound is created, I needed to know how I could find my way onto a seat at this jam session.

Over the next 5 years I had the privilege and honor to get to know Braddah Smitty, to get to know how this sound was created and finally onto a seat at the greatest jam session I ever got to know. What happened is what I have come to know as HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. This phrase was given to me by a keeper of the knowledge of the Hawaiian way. What my experiences in playing music has taught me is that there is a place beyond what is known.  There is something existing, not beneath the surface, but further past the limits of what we think we know.

I would like to explore these boundaries.  Through the stories shared with me, through the things I have seen and through the knowledge passed to me, it is my time and I would like to share.  I would like to use this blog to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries.  It was in that moment standing in the dark amongst the trees around me and the damp grass beneath my feet that I was confronted with his spirit.  And what he told me will stay with me forever.  I knew it was my time, it was time to HO`ANALU….