Island Mele: Na’auao returns with ‘Lehua Beauty’
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
At least a couple of local record labels became infamous in the 1980s and 1990s for putting out Hawaiian albums without annotating the music.
Sean Na’auao (Mountain Apple)
Consider how easy it can be to mishear lyrics when trying to learn them by ear — think of the misheard lyrics for songs like “Runaway” and “Levon” and “Purple Haze” — and the importance of providing the Hawaiian lyrics for kumu hula and singers is obvious.
Sad to say, Sean Na’auao’s new album is a throwback to the bad old days — it doesn’t even have composers’ credits, let alone lyrics and translations. Na’auao has been has been an important figure in both Hawaiian and Jawaiian music for more than two decades, and he deserves better from his label. So does Hawaii, and so do Hawaiian music fans everywhere.
On the plus side, Na‘auao has always been a talented singer. He and his studio musicians do beautiful work. The title song is mesmerizing even without understanding the lyrics or having any knowledge of their kaona (hidden meaning). “Ekolu Mea Nui,” a Hawaiian hymn written by Robert J.K. Nawahine 90 years ago, is another highlight number.
Three hapa-haole songs fall on the English side of the language barrier. “Pretty Red Hibiscus” shows his skill at interpreting Territorial Era classics. “Ua Mau/Ki Ha‘aheo E Ku‘u Hawai‘i” is a mele ku‘e (song of resistance) that calls on Hawaiians to “stand together as one” and defend their sacred lands “from the mountains to the sea.”
The third, “The Kumu Song,” honors a hula teacher who shares her knowledge with Hawaii nei.
Sharing knowledge of Hawaiian culture is necessary if the culture is to survive. However, those who have this knowledge also have the right to choose not to share it. Oh well.