This post was written by music collector and journalist John Book. It’s the first guest blog post by John, a Hawaiian with a passion for all music styles. It’s also the first-ever guest post on Aloha Got Soul. John gives us his favorite Hawaiian albums in addition to an important lesson in Hawaiian music history, describing an era when artists expanded the sounds of traditional island music into something new—something the people have never heard before. It was the start of a revolution, a movement that pushed the limits what Hawaiian music should sound like to new heights. I hope you enjoy John’s post as much as I have. —Roger Bong
“Why did you become a record collector?”
It’s a question that leads to different answers and variations of those answers, and I’m not one who will settle on one, not with everything I have listened to in my life. I have been a longtime fan of rock ‘n’ roll, hard rock, heavy metal, jazz, soul, funk, progressive rock, disco, hip-hop, electronic music, electronica, dance, noise, Indian classical music, punk, hardcore, stoner, sludge, doom, and many other styles of music, and that comes from years of listening, researching, digging, buying, and absorbing.
The same goes for my love of Hawaiian music. Not only do I enjoy listening and learning from it, but it represents a time in Hawaiian recorded music history that is getting older and will never return again. It means something to me, because much of the Hawaiian music I love comes from what I was raised on, some of which were around before I was born. These were the sounds of my parents and grandparents.
By the time I came to be, there was a revolution in Hawaiian music that was a powerful force, one that has never been able to be captured again, or at least not on the level that it was.
Not only that, but I am Hawaiian, and thus the music represents a culture, a community, a history, and a big part of who I am as a person.
Taking chances: collecting vinyl
Collecting records is all about enjoying music as a means of entertainment, and with that, a curiosity for what else exists. If one sees a face on a record cover, one will want to see more albums with that face or name. If one sees a record company logo, one will associate that with being a “trademark of quality’. If one hears a certain style of singing or playing, that will become a staple of what sounds good, and perhaps what else could sound good. Then it’s about taking a chance and finding something new, familiar, strange, weird, bizarre, foreign, twisted, etc.
Collecting records is a way to explore the documentation of the world through sound, sometimes in ways that cannot always be achieved through writing, photographs, or movies. Or if anything, it’s a fun way to hear as much music as possible, especially when music is something you enjoy.
Hawaiian music at the core
Hawaiian music was not my first love, even though both of my parents are part Hawaiian. I had a healthy dose of sounds, and they never closed my ears to any of it.
Listening to Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin in my grandmother’s house was not the Filipino thing to do, and she was sure her grandson was going to hell because of it. But by observing some of the listening and record buying habits of my family, it was obvious that Hawaiian music was the core of who they were. I would learn songs and know the lyrics by heart, even though I may not have known what they were singing about.
As I would learn about Hawaiiana and get deep into the language, culture, and history, those songs would mean so much more because I now knew about the flowers, I could imagine the tales, and in time I figured out some of the double endentre that a song might be disguised as, and why that played a major role in the music.
It wasn’t just the records that were around me, but it was on the radio on a regular basis, I could turn to KCCN 1420AM and I’d look forward to hearing Honolulu Skylark tell the time in Hawaiian, or say “this land of aloha”.
Just typing that just gave me chicken skin.
Adjusting to the mainland
After my dad died, my mom moved us to the Pacific Northwest and as I dealt with a bit of mainland culture shock, I became protective, defensive, and even more proud of who I was and where I was from, even though that wasn’t an easy road for me to navigate on.
I had always felt it was difficult to be proud of a culture and source of influence when everyone associated me with a stereotype. I had a serious “fuck you” attitude to anyone and everyone around me for the longest time, and by the time I balanced that cultural thin line of confidence and arrogance, I decided to wear that as a badge of pride.
Say it loud, I’m Hawaiian and I’m proud. We go kanikapila.
A timeline of “What was”
I collect a wide range of records, but one thing I always make sure to look for are Hawaiian records, be it the traditional stuff released by Hawaiian record labels, or perhaps something released on a mainland or international label. I like listening to the variety of Hawaiian music that was written, recorded, and released, trying to find out more about these records because even though they are means of entertainment, they are also a timeline of a Hawai’i that once was.
Why “once was”?
I grew up in a time when it seemed every record made and released in Hawai’i was incredible, whether it was some hard rock by Schnazz, a bit of jazzy soul from Lemuria, or maybe something you would catch on Brown Bags To Stardom or hear on a Home Grown album.
The artistry and music sounded hungry, and when you heard a countdown on KCCN, every single song immediately floored you.
I also have a thing for the cheesy and schmaltzy, along with the completely embarrassing. When Hawai’i turned from a territory to a state in 1959, there was an explosion of souvenir records which made it possible people to make Hawai’i their tropical paradise. In many ways, there was also a bit of exploitation too, so along with good records made from the Hawai’i Calls radio show, you also had complete crap like Leni Okehu, whose Hawaiian lyrics were nothing but gibberish that meant absolutely nothing in any language. If you look at various major label Hawaiian records, they are songs written by composers no one had heard of before (or since), performed by musicians who had never set foot on Hawai’i with names that sounded more like someone looking at a street map and going “okay, I am Steven Kapahulu” or “you are Willie Waialae”. Even those are interesting to explore, and I try to find some good in everything I find.
Journey into Hawaiian Music: Top 5 albums
For me, there will always be a core of records that will be what I define as the best Hawaiian music ever recorded.
It is hard for anyone to create a Top 3, Top 5, Top 10, or Top 20, especially if you’re meant to define them in order of importance. I’ve done that many times over the years with various genres, and sometimes it ends up being a diverse list of things that are all good.
In this case, my list is very much that: a collection of albums I think that are great, if not incredible, although there is and will always be one record that will forever me on top of that list.
For this article, I will simply list four albums from 5 to 2, in no particular order, and explain what these albums mean to me and why. These are albums I would highly recommend to anyone who asks “what is your favorite Hawaiian music? or “if I wanted to start exploring Hawaiian records, where should I begin?”
For me, your journey can begin here.
5. Olomana – Like A Seabird In The Wind (Seabird Sound)
When I first heard this, I liked it because part of “The Lion” was based on The Tokens song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, which was a favorite of mine as well. It was weird hearing that song move into a completely unrelated song, yet it sounded great.
The songs seemed powerful long before I knew what they meant, and when I heard songs like “Grandfather’s Music”, and “Home”, I could relate to it to a degree because its messages were clear. I loved “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” for how “pretty” it sounded, and being raised with records by Loggins & Messina, along with having a dad, uncles, and aunties who played music at various get-togethers and parties, this was just a sound that was a part of my listening norm.
I realized that the song was about missing something, but it really didn’t hit me until much later, when I was already living in the mainland. I realized the song told the story of someone longing for good and innocent times, ones “hanabata days” when one could roam the land and never have to worry or be concerned about being concerned.
A chorus repeats three times in the song, with the third line changing each time, and it almost comes off as if vocalist/songwriter Jerry Santos is trying to confess his sorrow or shame for departing a place he knew inside and out.
He realizes that life is about the adventure and meeting people, even though at times it is nothing more than a voyage that we all go on alone, because it is our own. Each verse expresses nostalgia and beauty, but the choruses is a mixture of pain and heartbreak, along with a hint of despair.
I know for me, each time I return back home, there are things I remember that are still there, but each time I can see parts of my past slowly going away, as if my new experiences help to close more chapters in my life.
There’s also that fear of debating what truly changes: the land we call home or our perceptions which comes through living life:
“Last night I dreamt I was returning
and my heart called out to you,
But I fear you won’t be like I left you
me kealoha ku’u home o Kahalu’u.”
The song also indirectly spoke to those who were leaving the islands at a rapid pace in the mid 1970’s, while also observing the many changes the Hawaiian islands were going through.
For kama’aina (Hawaii residents) who would move to a new place, this would become one of many “instant homesick” songs. While Olomana’s version always pulls the heartstrings, Hui Ohana’s cover version does it brilliantly, too.
The album cannot be a whole without celebrating the other half of Olomana, guitarist/vocalist Robert Beaumont, whose guitar work stands out throughout this album.
The music is done in a way that brings not only the care for acoustic instruments, but brings on the influences of folk music and the California sound that had been popular with many rock bands in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
As for “The Lion”, I never got a chance to sit with him and asked him what drew him to the group and their songs, but as I look to the lyrics of the song, originally performed by Van Morrison, there’s talk about sailing away and finding something else.
My dad was someone who loved the ocean, surfing, and boating, and it seemed some of the songs he loved also had similar metaphors, Loggins & Messina ‘s “Vahevala” and the Beach Boys’ “Sail On Sailor” as perfect examples. While I caught “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” references, perhaps my dad was hoping that the lion within him would find a way to escape and make “a new start”.
I also think a lot of people who listened to this at the time of its released in 1976 felt the same way, looking at dead ends and simply wanting better. Every song on this album received a lot of airplay as if each song was a single, and I’m almost certain most people don’t realize that the title of this is Like A Seabird In The Wind, for it’s not listed anywhere but the spine of the record cover.
For a few generations, this is forever “the Olomana album”.
For years, I was curious about the significance of the album cover, or at least where the photo was taken. Little did I know that the photo was a random shot taken during the photo shoot for a completely different record released a few years earlier on Panini. When I realized the connection between Olomana and the other album, I was like “oh, I now see it.” That album happens to be my #4 pick.
4. Gabby Pahinui – Rabbit Island Music Festival (Panini)
Let me be honest: it was very difficult to pick what album from Pops Gabby Pahinui I would choose. I did know that I would select a Pahinui record, but which one would be selected was close to impossible. In fact, if this list was based on a list of mandatory artists to listen to, Pahinui would most likely be on top.
Pahinui was a favorite of my grandfather’s and father’s, so by the time I was listening to him, he was already an old man. Yet within his rough voice was history, strength, and power, a true elder, someone you felt like honoring, like your own grandfather.
While I had always seen Pahinui’s Gabby album (nicknamed “The Brown Album” because of its brown tones of the cover photo and graphics, but the look and feel of the gatefold cover was closer to the vibe of Led Zeppelin II, nicknamed by fans as “The Brown Bomber”) pretty much everywhere, I didn’t listen to it until later. Keep in mind too that Gabby’s music was always on the radio, whether it was his work with the Sons Of Hawai’i, his early recordings from the 1960’s, or the Royal Hawaiian Band albums from the mid to late 70’s. As a kid, there wasn’t a need to hear the album if I could just turn on the radio and wait patiently.
Yet there were two albums that were a part of my collection. One was the great Waimea Music Festival double LP on Panini, which featured a full side dedicated to Pahinui, and the other is my choice here.
As someone who grew to like music festivals and gatherings, I always wondered why no one tried to top Woodstock with a massive event dedicated to nothing but Hawaiian music.
I do remember one festival as a kid out in Makaha, where the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau played. I was there with my dad, and it was great to see all of these people listening to the same music we did at home. I was very excited about that.
Also, when we would go on our monthly drive around Oahu, we would always head out to pass and see Rabbit Island, occasionally stopping to glance at it. I always wanted to head out there and wondered why I couldn’t, whether it was to swim (good luck on that), or on a boat. I was told it was owned by the government and no one could go on it without permission. Yet I wanted to go on the island because I had the album at home where Pahinui, his sons and friends, were able to have a music festival on it.
I saw the album cover photo, I could relate to seeing my dad get a guitar or ‘ukulele, bust out a picnic chair and just jam. Why not my dad? Why not me? Well, there are governmental rules, but still. On top of that, I could open up the gatefold cover and see Gabby, shirtless and smiling, acting like one of the birds.
The album begins with a brief on-location recording of Gabby and friends playing on Rabbit Island while all of the birds are making a commotion. Then the actual music begins, and when you have Randy Lorenzo and Sonny Chillingworth playing alongside Gabby, it sounds remarkable.
I liked these songs because some of the places discussed, especially “Palolo”, were those I had visited many times before.
Then the album ends in a very regal way, perhaps a reflection to Gabby’s youth, and the album ends with the birds returning as if to applaud the music just heard, saying “hana hou”. Who wouldn’t want to play in front of an audience of favorable birds?
On my bucket list: to recreate the photo of Gabby spreading his wings, like a seabird in the wind.
3. Rap Reiplinger – Poi Dog (Mountain Apple)
I grew up with a small but steady diet of Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy. As a student of records, I also learned very quickly that the same kind of laughter I could experience in TV shows and cartoons, I could also find on my stereo.
My grandfather was a huge fan of Kent Bowman, and he would allow me to play No Talk Stink even though it was a record that, at the time, was not meant for children. Bowman’s style of humor was very kolohe (rascal) and far from dirty. I knew this because when I’d go to my Omama’s house, she would allow me to listen to Redd Foxx, who I knew as Fred G. Sanford but was much dirtier on his records. At a very young age I knew that some people watched with Fugg, and that someone people spelled B-A-T-H-R-O-O-M very slowly, but for what, I had no idea.
My Omama also let me listen to Richard Pyror, which allowed me to listen and hear every bad word that my parents told me were raunchy. Forget the fact I had no idea what some of the stories meant, but to hear someone speak that freely on a record? This was the same Pryor that was in Car Wash? Wow!
Before I heard of Rap Reiplinger, Hawaiian radio disc jockeys would often talk about Booga Booga the same way some comic fans praise Monty Python: with the utmost respect and analyzation.
One problem: none of the radio stations were allowed to play Booga Booga because of its “racy” dialogue.
Their live shows were always promoted as club events, which meant “18 and older” or “no children allowed”. I would see various Booga Booga concert posters and flyers and wonder “these guys look fun, why can’t I listen?”
When the news that Rap Reiplinger was leaving Booga Booga to start his own career, this was big news. I didn’t pay attention to it too much, other than knowing that Reiplinger was the man people should pay attention and listen to.
I still remember the day my dad bought me Poi Dog. It was at Records Hawai’i, and I laughed at seeing this bolo head guy that was half man, half woman, with his hand in a poi bowl, making a shaka. He was asking like a kid, because who didn’t want to stick their hand in a bowl of poi? You could never do it, or risk a scolding or (oh oh) a spanking.
I would stare at the cover, wondering what kind of guy would dress up like this. I looked at the back cover and wonder about the curious love note. I wondered about the keys. I wondered about the people who played on the album with names like Sticks Cabang and Sterling Silva. Who are these people, do they exist?
I couldn’t wait to get home. I put it on our record player, and I think for about a year, I played that record endlessly. I wanted to memorize the routines and skits, I wanted to be able recite them all with the proper accents, I loved the fact that the majority of the voices and music heard on the record was all Rap. I wondered if I could do something similar.
A few years later, I found myself collecting comedy records on a serious basis, and while I loved Bowman, Foxx,and Bowman, Reiplinger was one of my first comedy heroes.
I think what I also liked about it too is that it was very “local”. Reiplinger sounded a lot like my cousins, my dad’s friends, and some of the people I went to school with. He could speak eloquently as one character, but then broke da mout’ li’dat under another character.
While his routines were very much to entertain, he also put a bit of Hawaiian history into things like “The Young Kanakas”, making a joke about Wendell’s 12 inch laulau, and how things silently changed from being a place with young kanakas to young missionaries, and without asking why, Reiplinger went right into “Room Service”, where as if by magic, we’re hearing the missionaries in the form of Mr. Fogerty, a visitor to the islands who wants to eat their cheeseburger deluxe with side order cheese in the comfort of his hotel room.
With “Haikus”, we got a chance to hear about the communities of people in Hawai’i, spoken through Japanese poetry. We now understood about being stuck in Kahuku with ten Samoans, or being in a bathroom with no urinals. As a kid, we didn’t quite understand what any of that meant, other than it sounded funny.
There are so many highlights on Poi Dog, but the one track that always does it for me is “Lolo Telethon”. I was always the nerdy kid, but my parents never hesitated to say that I was sometimes lolo, or that other family members were not so akamai, we’ve all heard it.
One could watch telethons with Easter Seals or the MDA, but a telethon dedicated for lolos? Who wouldn’t want to take part? I know I did, and it was great to hear a gathering where one could watch an unusual dog act from Ewa Beach, Auntie Agnes Kealoha and her goards, and the almighty Pohaku 4. Or 5.
On top of that, one was able to listen to a man from the HHHH Institute: the Hawaiian Hospital for the Helplessly Lolo. Sure, you might notice the error and go “wait, shouldn’t that be the HHHL Institute” but see, telethon Jansen Mefi Mataho was a bit lolo. Who didn’t want to give up some bucks for lolos? On top of that, Reiplinger, as Mataho, was able to share his store about his cousin on Kauai.
Even now as I’m writing this, I don’t have to proceed to the next part of the track because I know what’s going to happen, I’m laughing right now.
The point is that, Poi Dog became permanently embedded in my mind.
I remember when one of my friends did the “Room Service” skit in a school assembly, but it was only one sided, as he would only recite the room service guy, not Mr. Fogerty.
To show how much time has passed, I still remember hearing the word “fricken” in “Room Service” and thinking that I might not be allowed to hear this record anymore. “Fricken” was equal to all of the dirty words (or at least the ones I knew at the age of 8), and maybe that’s why I ended up using it in high school and today, where “fricken” is now something casual and no longer offensive.
For me, as someone who admired comedians and comedy at an early age, there was a sense of freedom in being able to tell stories that made people laugh, which may also teach in the process. There were a few lessons in the work of Reiplinger, which was fully realized in his last project before he died, the television show Rap’s Hawai’i.
Poi Dog was not a true start, but a continuation of the genius of Reiplinger that he had started with Booga Booga. By the time I found a copy of the first Booga Booga album, I finally realized that Reiplinger had been putting a lot of these stories and “amazing pinball techniques” in his back pocket, hoping to put it to good use one day. When Andy Bumatai had taken to the scene with his style of comedy, it was a great time to listen and learn because they were teachers who spoke funny and weren’t afraid to be like one of the kids, as Bumatai would show in High School Days and All In The Ohana.
Reiplinger influenced a generation that still honors his work, and I hope future generations will be able to explore his work in the same way that I did in my childhood.
2. Hui Ohana – Young Hawai’i Plays Old Hawai’i (Lehua)
Hui Ohana were perhaps the bridge between the old ways and new ways of Hawaiian music, honoring their culture along with family and friends, and the title of their debut album said it all.
Released in 1972, Young Hawai’i Plays Old Hawai’i may have seemed to be nothing more than a group of young men ready to honor the musical traditions of the past, but it was so much more.
There was a bit of attitude and solemn swagger in their smug faces on the cover, sporting their stage uniforms and carrying their instruments, as if to say:
“Yes, we are Hui Ohana, we may look like those Hawaiian groups of the past, which is good. But we’re about to give you so much more.”
To see the young faces of brothers Ledward & Nedward Ka’apana, and their cousin Dennis Pavao, on the cover was like seeing family at a gathering, or something you might take during high school graduation.
The group represented the town of Kalapana on the Big Island, and even if you didn’t know that, you knew that their sound was a bit different from most of the records out in the marketplace at the time.
The opening track, “Nani Waimea”, sounded like something you might catch in a nightclub, a park, or at the beach, just some incredibly sounding Hawaiian music with a two-guitar/one-electric bass trio, with what would become some of the group’s trademark vocal harmonies. It was definitely a mix of the old cha-lang-a-lang with something more hip and modern.
But one thing that is rarely discussed is the influence of jazz on all of them. Ledward would later talk about a love of jazz in various interviews, and he would be known for doing solos with a bit of flash but always with finesse.
Take a listen to Ned’s incredibly intense bass work in “Nani Waimea”. Hawaiian music was always heard cool, calm, and collected, and in performances, one could see the bass player maybe get “wicked” by doing something one wouldn’t expect. But Ned’s bass riffs here could have been something pulled from a Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath record if you didn’t know it. Grandma might have no idea who Geezer Butler or John Paul Jones was, but you, the young Hawaiian music listener did.
Throughout the album, the group spoke of the places they were raised and visited, the people they’ve met, and everyone who was a part of their lives. They wanted to bring you into their world, so if they wanted to talk about some pani’olo (Hawaiian cowboys), they would do so in “‘Ulupalakua”. If it was a song about the ocean, which may very well be code for the waving motion of something more sensual, you might hear about it in “Hula O Makee”. If it was about the joy of certain scents, “Pua Lilia” is sure to revive fond memories.
You’d do so by embracing the vocals of the group as a whole, but Pavao’s sweet falsetto blew people away from the get go. Led’s singing was also powerful, and it didn’t matter if the song was meant to be sacred or something that moved you to shake your okole, he could do it without fear.
The group’s output for Lehua Records would continue for a few more albums before jumping to the Poki label, and in time they would try out solo careers.
Young Hawai’i Plays Old Hawai’i is the music of a group who looked to become a part of perhaps a renewed appreciation for Hawaiian music, even though it never really left. Maybe the music was also a reaction to those who were leaving the islands in droves for the first time, or simply wanting to strengthen what had existed.
Hawaii becomes the 50th State
After statehood in 1959, Hawaiian artists were split between what was being sold to tourists as souvenirs and creating pop music to please them in Waikiki nightclubs when they didn’t want to be “overwhelmed with nativeness” all the time.
Don Ho represented the “beach boy lifestyle” of a beachcomber, someone who hung around walking around in the sand, could sing a song with a drink in hand, and get any and all ladies with a snap. Ho became the first face of Hawai’i post-statehood and there are a few generations who still see him as the state’s ambassador.
Even though his music was straight out of an International Marketplace lounge, his live recordings showed he was not afraid to be snappy and at times political about who he was and what it meant to be Hawaiian. In fact, there’s an album made for a hotel chain where he speaks about hoping tourists will come and visit, so that one day the people who work there will be able to buy back some land.
In the 1960s, artists like Gabby Pahinui, Genoa Keawe, and the Kahauanu Lake Trio recorded many albums that not only showed a festive side of Hawai’i, but important parts of Hawaiian music’s songwriting and musicianship.
Some of the songs they recorded were originally written, performed, and released when Hawaiian music was the pop music of the United States in the 1920s, including countless “hapa haole” songs that may have sounded like novelties (and perhaps a bit of buffoonery), but still documented a side of Hawaiian history that is unique to the music.
Yet people saw the many artists releasing records and noticed how all of them were in their customary uniforms. It was a sameness that was making people impatient for something new, and something more.
Just as the summer of love brought on a revolution in rock ‘n’ roll, Bob Dylan was becoming electric, Miles Davis and John Coltrane brought the vitality of jazz to a newer and younger audience, and James Brown was finding himself in 1966 by embracing different styles of soul and jazz for a recipe he would call his own, there was a Hawaiian group who would change the way Hawaiian music was made, perceived, and created forever, but it would take them three albums before they got the formula correct.
Enter Sunday Manoa.
1. Sunday Manoa – Guava Jam (Hula)
Sunday Manoa were originally the backing band for singer Palani Vaughan when they released their debut album on Hula Records.
Vaughan was very much a pop crooner and would move on to start his solo career with the album Hawaiian Love Songs. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1970s when his career would get a major boost with a string of albums that many consider a huge influence during the time of a Hawaiian renaissance.
With Vaughan, The Sunday Manoa consisted of Peter Moon, Cyril Pahinui, and Alfred “Baby” Kalima, When Vaughan left, Cyril left as well and was replaced by his brother James, better known as “Bla”. Together they recorded the powerful Hawaiian Time, released in 1968.
There seemed to be a bit of attitude in the photo of the musicians, smiling, ready to take on whatever is front of them, even if it meant going through tall grass. Obstacles? No problem. Plus, the album was subtitled “Young Hawai’i today with Hawai’i’s own slack key sound.”
“Young Hawai’i”? Perhaps the musicians had taken a bit of flack with their debut album, as the record with Palani sounded like something very much of the past. These were guys in their early 20s and they did not want to be pop artists, they were true to their mission in taking Hawaiian music to a new place.
“Hawaiian Time” is of course slang for someone being slow, but it could also be interpreted as a way of saying “it’s Hawaiian time, it’s our time, now let’s shine on our own time.” Moon’s guitar and ‘ukulele work was a stand out and made an impact on anyone who listened carefully.
Eventually, Bla and Baby would leave the group as well, and in time it would be known that Sunday Manoa was very much Moon’s “baby”. He would welcome in two brothers who were singers, musicians, and students of Hawaiiana as well, so their participation in making music was much more than just casual.
Together, Moon, Robert Cazimero and Roland Cazimero would end up recording what I feel is the best Hawaiian album of all time.
Guava Jam, the album
Guava Jam features the sub-title “Contemporary Hawaiian folk music”. It acknowledged itself as being folk, during a time when folk traditions from other regions of the U.S. and the world were gaining respect. “Folk” might have been regarded as a look into reviving dead and dormant musical styles, traditions passed on from generation to generation, but the Sunday Manoa were saying what they were doing is contemporary, it was very much of the “now”.
Or it was a way of saying that they were “contemporary Hawaiians”, honoring the past but they were young people in their early 20’s, making music on their own terms. They did it with a sound that would haunt listeners forever, the opening drums coming off like a calling of the tribes. These were not the sounds of the Kodak Hula Show, this was tribal, this was honor, this was a cry.
The song was “Kawika”, which had been performed countless times over the years, but never like this. “Kawika” had generally been performed as a kahiko (chant) by others, and the song started off as you might have heard it in chant form. After hearing 45 seconds of percussion, the abrupt cut into hearing ‘ukulele on the left channel, guitar on the right, and stand-up bass in the middle felt so different from what had come before, I’m sure people might have been scared off by it.
“This is not how it is supposed to sound”, and yet the song, written about King David Kalakaua, may have given off the power of the man many knew as the “Merrie Monarch”, for Robert’s lead vocals, and the harmonies from Roland and Moon sounded like the party you weren’t ashamed of being seen at. Then Moon plays one of the most beautiful ‘ukulele solos and, as foreign as it might have sounded when it was released, this would eventually define the sound of home for many generations of Hawaiians.
The album then moves into “Only You”, and it sounded like you were witnessing the revival of the Hawaiian monarchy, with pageantry and costumes all around. The song was a simple waltz that celebrated the love of two people, and I know for a fact that this has been used at countless weddings over the years. Even if you didn’t know the meaning of the Hawaiian lyrics, the English lyrics told the story: “Only you. You and I…”
“Heha Waipio” began with acoustic guitars that could have easily been based on records Moon may have heard by The Byrds, but the song itself is a Sam Li’a Kalainaina Jr. composition. If Moon’s playing is meant to sound like it was done with attitude and sassiness, perhaps that’s on purpose, for as the song may simply be about being respectful to the place you call home, it is said to be a sly reference to sexual pleasures, and being proud of the emotions that are involved.
The intro to “Mehameha” has always given me chicken skin, for when I hear it I imagine being out in the North Shore on Oahu at 6am, waiting for a car to make itself known, and once a bit of the sun shines, a car comes into the scene. The title may make it out to be a song about King Kamehameha, but instead it was written by a Texas man (Richard Bibbs) who wanted to write about what Hawai’i meant to him. The lyrics were beautifully translated by Alice Ku’uleialohapoina’ole Namakelua, as it tells the tale of a “lonely one” who finds joy and sadness in the islands. My favorite part of the song is when the group stops, starts, stops, and starts again, surprising listeners a few time as you hear the organic sounds of wood and metal from the instruments.
“Maika’i Ka Makani O Kohala” is another incredibly beautiful love song that takes place on the Big Island. According to Hula Records founder, the late Don McDiarmid Jr., when the group recorded the song, they wanted to open with an oli (chants), not unlike how many hulas are introduced. A few ideas were tossed around on how it should be done, but nothing was working. McDiarmid decided to record the chant, but during post-production, he slowed down the tape so that the oli would sound like it was spoken by someone older, giving it a very eerie feel. It was mixed in, and that was it.
The album closes with the instrumental title track, sounding as if the group were saying “I hope you had a great time, we had fun making this, we’re going to play you one last number, so let’s kanikapila.”
A quick and fast jam session, nothing too fancy, no bells and whistles, just three musicians taking it easy as if it was truly a Sunday in Manoa, and then the album was over in 35 minutes.
Elements of a time now past
You can listen to these albums as something beautiful, representing the people, the language, and the culture of Hawai’i.
You can also listen to them as elements of a time long gone, honoring a part of recorded history that was done as a means to make music and nothing more.
Maybe because there wasn’t a big need or push to archive it in a serious manner, this is why I have always fought hard to preserve these stories for these albums. They very much are a part of my life, and when I hear them, I remember my childhood, some of the good and bad times as a teen, and that longing I have for places, faces, scents, and foods that I’m not able to see and experience on a regular basis.
These artists may not have taken risks as a part of their mission, but the missions they did execute helped inspire more music to be written and recorded, so that more stories could be sung and shared as a continuance of the fabric of its people.
Recovering the soul of Hawaii
My interest in music made in Hawai’i is not just that of the traditional, but a wealth of doo-wop, pop, exotica, rock ‘n’ roll, hard rock, folk, soul, funk, and disco records, which is why I’m here at Aloha Got Soul.
I want to be able to have a healthy exchange in the hopes of not only covering and recovering these lost and forgotten records, but to preserve the stories so that others will be able to make the same discoveries as I have.