Island Mele: ‘Kuapaka’a’ is Grammy-worthy
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Kaawa’s recently released album, “Kuapaka‘a,” follows three previous solo albums — “Hwn Boy” (1999), “Hwn Groove” (2003) and “Kanikapila Live” (2007) — and many more projects with other artists. They include his work as a member of the Hoku Award-winning quintet Hokule‘a (Best New Artist, 1978), two albums as a member of Na ‘Oiwi (with Dennis and David Kamakahi and Jon Yamasato), and another, “Force of Nature,” with Ledward Kaapana.
Mike Kaawa (Hwn Boy)
“Force of Nature” receieved a Hoku Award (Favorite Entertainer) in 2009 and was a Grammy Award finalist for Best Hawaiian Music Album that same year. The Hawaiian music category no longer exists but “Kuapaka‘a” — performed almost entirely in Hawaiian, and with traditional Hawaiian instruments — would be an excellent representative of Hawaiian music next year in the catch-all Regional Roots Music category that replaced it.
Almost all the songs are new compositions. Kaawa wrote several with lyricist Kelii Taua, a friend since their days as members of Na Keonimana and Hokule‘a. The title song is one of their new works; it speaks of traditions that are shared from one generation to the next.
The 12-string guitar has been Kaawa’s instrument of choice since the ‘70s. Add his deep melodious voice and each of these songs has a distinctive and instantly recognizable sound. Analu Aina (bass) and Paul Kim (steel guitar) complete the instrumentation; the three long-time friends also work together as members of the Sons of Hawai‘i, and as members of a separate quartet with Ocean Kaowili, so they’re as tight as it gets. The music is beautiful throughout.
And, give Kaawa and Hwn Boy Records credit due for including the Hawaiian lyrics and English translations for all the newly-written songs as well.
Kaawa closes the album with an imaginative reworking of “Holoholo Kaa” that he correctly attributes to Clarence W. Kinney rather than Johnny Almeida, and plays in an arrangement that’s closer to acoustic blues/rock than to standard hapa-haole hula music. With Kaapana sitting in with the trio on six-string, Kaawa shows that a contemporary traditionalist can contribute to the evolution of Hawaiian music as well.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.