In 2014, four days before Howard Shapiro's birthday, I sent him an email through his website, Performing and Fine Artists for World Peace.
I had no idea it was his birthday (unlike my encounter with Mike Lundy, where I knew before our interview that we shared the same birth day). I didn't receive a reply from Howard for several months. In February 2015, a month after the label's first release, I wrote back to check in.
"Did you receive my note?" I wrote.
Yes, he had — in fact he replied right away and was awaiting my response.
Funny how it's so easy to go back four years and find specific emails still saved, but ever so often a message gets lost along its way. No reply meant he probably wasn't interested, I thought. On the contrary, Howard was very excited to hear from me.
The album Lead Me To The Garden by ʻĀina sat on the top of my wantlist ever since starting the blog. A few LPs remained in Howard's personal collection, and he was willing to graciously part with them, some 40 years since their original release.
The story begins in 1977 when two young men met out west in the town of Mākaha on the island of O ̒ahu, Hawaiʻi. Howard Shapiro and Michael Joao loved the beautiful surf, uncrowded beaches, and homegrown music of Mākaha. They discovered shared a passion not only for music, but for pressing issues like environmental protection, human rights, Native Hawaiian rights, and hunger and homelessness.
Together they formed the band Earth, which they soon changed to ‘Āina, meaning land or earth in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language.
During the 1970s, Āina performed throughout Oʻahu at various gatherings that addressed environmental protection and Native Hawaiian rights. In 1978, ‘Āina recorded a 7-inch single for Greenpeace, entitled "Greenpeace: To Save the Whales".
In 1980, the band entered Honolulu’s Audissey Recording Studio and soon released their only LP, Lead Me to the Garden. The resulting album is a pleasant, uplifting spiritual journey of AOR and soft rock with samples of Hawaiian music.
Reminiscent of artists like Seals & Croft, America, and Hall & Oates, the album includes well-known Hawaiʻi musicians Dennis Graue, Jon Tsukano, Walter Rickard, and Roscoe Wright. Nohelani Cypriano appears on the LP as well, with backing vocals on “Your Light” and “Lead Me to the Garden.”
When the box of LPs arrived to me from Howard, the music came to life as soon as the needle hit the groove.
"Your Light" especially, since that was the tune I was hoping to include on the then-in-progress Aloha Got Soul compilation with Strut Records, which released in 2016 to much success. (The comp is currently sold out as of November 2018 with two or three represses; not sure yet if we'll be repressing!)
We had a pleasant conversation by phone that February, talked about recording in the 1970s, Howard's solo projects in subsequent decades, how he and Michael Joao (the other half of ʻĀina) met in Makaha and made a song for Greenpeace.
I still hadn't a clue when his birthday was.
In 2016, we did an interview via email where Howard shared insights into the band's ethos, recording with Jim Linkner at Audissey, and sharing a stage with acts like The Brothers Cazimero and Olomana.
And then all of the sudden, I was on the Big Island with Lei and a trio of young Brazilian filmmakers — Pedro, Filipe, and Pedru — working on a (still in-progress) Aloha Got Soul documentary film. Who else to meet but Howard?
For the first time, we met in person. Though flights from Oahu to Big Island are about 45 minutes, it's not often I get to island hop for the sake of interviewing artists. (I would like to do this more often, of course!)
Howard and his wife, Marsha, invited us into their home in the forested neighborhood just outside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here, Howard shared with us uplifting, intimate, emotional stories of Hawaii and creating music. As we listened to a CD of Howard's solo work, Marsha stood up and danced hula in the living room.
It was a powerful, moving meeting, captured on camera. I believe it was then that we discussed reissuing the Lead Me To The Garden album.
Many people ask me what it's like to run a record label, especially when it comes to licensing old music. Every situation is a little different, although licensing isn't as difficult as you might think.
What's most important are the relationships that build from licensing music and the friendships that form while getting to know artists and their music, their stories.
Over the past two years, our friendship has grown as we've discussed the necessary items to reissue Lead Me To The Garden — tracklist, credits, updated liner notes, artwork.
In January, Howard spent the month in Makaha residing at an oceanfront apartment overlooking the surf. A friend of Howard’s owned the real estate company that rented the apartment. Howard visited her office and there was a copy of Lead Me to the Garden next to her surfboards.
During our discussions, we agreed it would be beneficial to update the album with timely songs relevant to current happenings in Hawaii — "Silent In The Night", for example, was written about Mauna Kea, the mountain that became a controversial topic over the construction of the TMT telescope.
"Our group ‘Āina was created to use our music as a means to address issues that we cared greatly about such as Native Hawaiian rights, environmental protection and peace... We, like many people during the 1970’s, were also on a personal spiritual journey and our music reflected that." (From our 2016 interview.)
As summer 2018 drew to a close, Howard suggested releasing the reissue on his birthday, November 21st. "That would be such a gift to have." I agreed. This is when I learnt of when his birthday was.
We are happy to announce that on November 21, 2018, Aloha Got Soul will reissue ʻĀina's Lead Me To The Garden, available worldwide through digital platforms.
The vinyl is underway, expected arrival in February 2019. Pre-order the vinyl here.
Howard will return to Makaha again in January 2019, during which we plan to spend time exploring the neighborhood together, visiting the house he used to live in and the places he and Michael Joao spent their days.
Join our mailing list to receive updates on the vinyl LP release.