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Island Mele: Bygone home inspires new album
(Rhythm & Roots)
Copies of Ledward Kaapana’s latest album went on display at Borders late last month, but the recording was evidently released at least four months before that. How do we know? Because the deadline for the 2011 Grammy Awards was Sept. 30, and Kaapana is again a finalist in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category. This year he joins Tia Carrere, Daniel Ho, Jeff Peterson and Amy Hanaiali’i & Slack Key Masters of Hawai’i on the ballot.
Just in case any Grammy voters don’t already know what Kaapana does, producers Chris and Milton Lau splashed the subtitle Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar across the bottom of the front cover. Those who listen to the CD will find that Kaapana also sings in Hawaiian and English (falsetto and lower register) and that he plays ukulele as well as guitar.
The anonymously written liner notes reveal that the album was inspired by a visit to the remains of Kalapana — Kaapana’s hometown, now mostly buried in lava. The songs are Kaapana family favorites that he grew up playing in the ’50s. The selections include “Hi’ilawe” and “Ikona.”
A single new song, “The Legend,” was written by Kaapana’s brother, the late George Kaapana Jr., and is included to honor a request from George.
If George Winston had been the producer of the project, it would have included information on the slack key tunings Kaapana uses, composers’ credits for the songs and brief explanations of their cultural significance. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.
Grammy voters might not care about that information, but it is essential to properly document Hawaiian recordings.
Heartfelt emotion infuses songs
‘Play with Me Papa’
The challenges involved in being the caregiver for your grandchildren inspire the title song of Big Island slack-key guitarist John Keawe’s new album. The lyrics are expository, Keawe’s delivery honest and heartfelt as he describes the everyday experiences of stopping work to help change a doll’s clothes or “play pretend.” The kids — Naomi and Shelly — are enthusiastic harmonizers; family photos in the album art personalize the song further.
Keawe sings four other songs, some in Hawaiian, others in English. “E ‘Ilima E” is a love song for his wife — he explains in the liner notes that ‘Ilima is her middle name. “Paniolo Waltz” is a contemporary hapa-haole song honoring paniolo past and present. Keawe develops it into an authentic country-style dance tune with support from Charles Recaido (bass/percussion), Elmer “Sonny” Lim Jr. (dobro) and Dave Moran (violin).
“The Hawaiian Man” is a new version of a mele ku’e (“song of resistance”) Keawe wrote 30 years ago. In it he mentions some of the changes that have taken place since the overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian government in 1893. “They make the laws that rape the land, still he remains the Hawaiian man,” Keawe sings, adding that someday God will judge us all. “Time has passed (since first writing the song in 1981), but some things remain the same,” he comments in the liner notes.
Eight instrumental selections display Keawe’s talent as a guitarist. “Warriors” opens the album with a tune honoring the combatants of the Wars of Unification. “Kauholo” commemorates the successful effort to hide the newly born Kamehameha from warriors who intended to kill him.
Big Island history also inspires instrumentals celebrating the birth of Kamehameha, the ministry of Saint Damien in Kohala and the legacy of Clyde “Kindy” Sproat.
Keawe’s liner notes provide information necessary for appreciating and understanding his work. How else would the public learn that a song titled “Pu’uwai Ho’ano (Sacred Heart)” is about Damien’s work on the Big Island, rather than, say, the girls school on Oahu?
However, he doesn’t include the Hawaiian lyrics of “E ‘Ilima E” and “Kohala — Ku’u Home,” or English translations for them. Perhaps his friends on the Big Island don’t need them.
Tunes cover all the angles of romance
(Lost Coast Sound)
George “Fiji” Veikoso and Laga Savea are the maestros at the helm of this recently released album by mono-monikered Kiani. She’s the voice, they’re the producers and primary writers; the two music industry veterans wrote or co-wrote almost every song.
Give the guys credit for being adept at writing from a feminine perspective. They cover just about every romantic situation a young woman might encounter — from anticipating a night with the man of her dreams (“you know I got all night long … do what you want to do”), to the challenges of keeping a relationship together, to fending off men who don’t have marriage on their mind.
“I been around the corner too many times,” Kiani sings in “Bedroom,” adding that the only man she’d allow into her sanctum sanctorum “would be my (bride) groom.”
The most poignant song is “Tehani Girl,” one of the two Kiani helped write. The song is a requiem for a beloved child who died eight months after birth. The lyrics describe some of the mother’s experiences since then — empty days, unanswered questions, memories of the child’s “kicks and little hiccups.” Monarch butterflies, seen on the album cover and also in the interior art, tie into the song’s lyrics.
“Sixteen,” one of three songs not written by Kiani’s production team, stands out for other reasons. The song is a paean to a 16-year-old heartthrob who is “a bullet in your heart.” That in itself is a very odd lyric image, considering that the result when someone is shot in the heart is not pretty. The song also seems an odd choice here since many of the other songs describe the experiences of adults rather than high school students.
Kiani and her mentors move from Jawaiian to mainstream urban pop with “Just Want You to Know.” Urban pop could be where Kiani will go musically in the future. She co-wrote the song with Fiji, and the smooth, sultry sound is more commercial in national terms than the Jawaiian or “local-style reggae” sound that prevails otherwise.
Elsewhere there’s male vocalist Siaosi joining Kiani on “Sweetest Sound” for an upbeat account of true love blossoming, and Fiji adds dramatic impact on several other songs, doing a variety of faux-Jamaican dialect bits.
—John Berger / firstname.lastname@example.org