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Island Mele: Cazimero feel permeates album
‘On the Summit’
KUmZ (Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang)
The living legacy of kumu hula Robert Cazimero, at right, permeates the latest album by Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang — aka KUmZ — longtime members of Cazimero’s Halau na Kamalei who eventually received from him the title and cultural responsibilities of kumu hula in their own right. First, the duo’s vocal arrangements are reminiscent of Cazimero’s award-winning recordings with his brother, Roland. The duo’s inclusion of piano on several songs brings to mind the work of their kumu as well.
And, just as the Brothers Cazimero have used the men of Na Kamalei as a choral group on some of their recordings, the members of the duo’s Halau i ka Wekiu serve KUmZ well here.
Baker and Casupang write in the liner notes that their music “documents our life through Halau I Ka Wekiu as our kupuna did with their oli and mele.” They also explain for the benefit of all who aren’t fluent in Hawaiian that the name of the halau translates as “halau on the summit.” This is useful information to have.
Almost all the “documentation” is done in Hawaiian; two hapa-haole songs, “The Light Within You” and “Embrace Me,” share a portion of the journey with everyone outside the Hawaiian language community.
English translations are not included in the album, but people seeking translations and other information can contact KUmZ at www.halauikawekiu.com.
Bluesy tunes convey a surfer’s life
‘Dancing with the Dragon’
Surfer/songwriter Bill Hill explains in the liner notes that “the Dragon” is a Garden Island surf spot “where an underwater cave channels the swells into breaking waves.” It is possible to “play with the Dragon,” he continues, “But when the swells get bigger, the dance can get serious. … She can take you down for an underwater spin in the jagged reef — or snatch your board, and leave you out there, alone.” In short, he says, surfing can be fun, or it can mean “facing your worst fears and overcoming them.”
Hill shares his observations with 10 originals written and sung in the style of an old-time folk or blues singer. His voice is well worn, sounding untutored and self-taught, but, well, it’s been 50 years since Bob Dylan showed the world that a trained voice is optional when a songwriter has something to say. Hill has plenty to say about the Dragon, surfing, the ocean and mankind.
Guitar is his main instrument; he uses it to good effect playing several styles of rock and blues.
The songs describe a day on the water. The album’s opener, “Another Day in Hanalei: Morning,” establishes the premise and follows Hill and his friends out to sea. With the closing “Another Day in Hanalei: Evening,” he bids the Dragon good night and goes home. The songs in between them describe the experience of being out there, explore topics intelligent surfers might ponder between sets, and share Hill’s love of the sport.
He shifts from surf-rock to the blues with “Take the Whole Wave.” It’s a slice of practical philosophy he credits to surfer and sometime recording artist Titus Kinimaka: If you’re going to do something that’s worth doing, do it all the way.
Hill finds humor in adversity with an acoustic blues number — “Black & Blues” — lamenting the tragedy of being “too sore to surf” after a bad session with the Dragon.
All intelligent surfers are environmentalists — no one wants to surf in polluted water, and no developer has ever made a better surf site than those created through the natural interaction of water and shore. Hill describes the experience of sharing the waves with the turtles and seals in “Dancing on Liquid Glass” and views things from a global perspective with “One Ocean.” Yes, all the oceans of the world are one body of water worldwide — and all the diverse peoples of the world are connected as well.
There is one thing that must be said: “Dude! Learn the Hawaiian pronunciation of ‘Hanalei’!”
Lovely album is award-worthy debut
‘Lei Pua Kenikeni’
(Hulu Kupuna Productions)
From an artistic and cultural perspective, there are still many advantages to releasing a physical copy of an album rather than a download-only project — especially for Hawaiian artists and, in particular, a debut album. Mark Yamanaka and his production team make good use of those advantages on his behalf with his first album, and the result is everything it should be.
Yamanaka introduces himself with an assortment of Hawaiian standards and newly written Hawaiian songs, plus a remake of one of his favorite contemporary country chart hits. Kuana Torres Kahele provides backing vocals and most of the instrumentation (ukulele, rhythm guitar and acoustic bass); Greg Sardinha adds Hawaiian steel guitar, and Shawn Ishimoto, electric bass. With those three veteran musicians behind him, and Kahele as his musical arranger, Yamanaka has an award-winning team behind him.
Yamanaka proves himself worthy of their support with the first bars of “Wailana,” a love song attributed to Kalakaua by some, to Maile Kaleikoa by others. The mystery of authorship might never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but Yamanaka and Kahele do a beautiful job with it.
After the first three songs establish his credentials as a falsetto vocalist, Yamanaka shifts to his lower-register voice for the English half of a beautiful hapa-haole medley, “Sweet Memory”/”Makalapua.” His lower-register voice also fits nicely on “Kaua i Hilo One” and “Kaleo’onalani,” the latter a hapa-haole song written for his daughter. A Hawaiian-language version of “How Great Thou Art,” performed with a choir behind him, adds a traditional Christian song to the collection.
Yamanaka brings no new insights to his remake of Collin Raye’s 1992 country hit, “Love, Me,” but kupuna and family ties are valued highly in both cultures and the story easily could be a Hawaiian one.
Yamanaka and Kahele complete the package with the Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and background information. Downloads don’t provide lyrics and translations, and that information is an essential part of the documentation of any Hawaiian-language recording.
Yamanaka’s work here certainly rates him a nomination in the Most Promising Artist(s) category at this year’s Hoku Awards. Thinking bigger, he’d represent Hawaii nicely in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category at the 2012 Grammys as well.
—John Berger / email@example.com