Island Mele: ‘Kulaiwi’ by Faith Ako

Sep. 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

‘Kulaiwi, My Beloved Homeland’

Faith Ako (Faith Ako)

Expatriate islander Faith Ako, formerly of Kahuku and currently a resident of the Bay Area, excels at doing Hawaiian standards in traditional nahenahe (soft, melodious) style. She does so here with beautiful arrangements of “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua,” “Puamana” and “Poliahu,” and introduces three newly written songs as well.

faith akoTwo of the new songs are intended for folks who are fluent in ‘olelo Hawai‘i. “Na Pua O Ka La‘akea” is her “thank you” to the halau that encouraged her to record her first album. “Kawahine O Ka Po” is one of her favorite songs by avant garde kumu hula Mark Ho‘omalu.

The third, “My Hawai‘i,” written by her nephew, Keenan Kanahele, is hapa-haole. It expresses the sentiments of everyone who has lived here, now lives elsewhere and misses the islands. Ako sings it with heartfelt conviction.

The other English-language song on the album is a timely 50th anniversary remake of Roy Orbison’s 1963-vintage “B-side” classic, “Blue Bayou,” that shows Ako’s potential as a mainstream pop singer. Ako’s “Blue Bayou” could easily be the preview cut of an entire album of pop chart remakes. Adding Hawaiian lyrics to it, as Ako and her translator do, isn’t necessary but makes their version more than a straight remake of Orbison’s timeless song.

Songs with ties to specific locations are an important and popular tradition in Hawaiian music. So are medleys. The medley of Maui songs she does here contributes to both traditions. It also continues the personal musical “journey” she started in 2007 with a medley of Kauai songs on her first album, “Ku Kahi.” On her second album, Ako made a musical stop on the Big Island with a Hilo medley. With a few more albums she’ll reach Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kaho‘olawe and Ni‘ihau as well.

Whether the songs are newly written or island standards, Ako maintains the nahenahe feeling, singing and accompanying herself on 8-string ukukele. Her studio musicians — guitarists Jim Cramer and Tadd Aiona, steel guitarist Sean Allen and bassist Tua Poueu are the core of the group — do excellent work. Piano, cello, Tahitian “banjo,” congas and Hawaiian percussion implements enhance several arrangements.

Ako’s love of her island homeland extends to Samoa (“Ta Elena I Petesa”) and Tahiti (“Vaihiria” and “Huahine”). Additional information on the songs and their personal significance for her  is available at www.faithako.com.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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