Hīmeni Hou - The Return of Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana

Author: 
Kīhei de Silva

Photo: pilioha.com
Pilioha, winners of Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana 2006: Glenn Mayeda Jr., Kamuela Kimokeo, and Kalehua Krug.

 

The lights went out last August on my favorite song contest, Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana, after 22 consecutive years of unamplified Hawaiian music performed mostly in the nahenahe style. "Not enough entries," explained Richard Towill in a letter of apology to his long-time supporters. "Another one bites the dust," I grumbled to myself, letter in hand. "You watch: it’ll suffer the same nalowale-i-ka-huliau fate of Kanikapila, Nā Mele o Hau‘ula, and probably Prince Lot." Lost to the changing times.

Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong. Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana returned in full force to the Hawai‘i Theatre on Saturday night, August 12, with fourteen groups vying for $3500 and a Hula Records’ CD contract. The amazing turnabout, apparently due to the recruiting efforts of Elena Hollinger-Martinez, prompted an apology of a different sort from Towill. "Well, I guess we succeeded this year; we actually had a few more groups than we really needed -- sorry for running so late," he mumbled in gracious, absent-minded fashion to the packed and equally gracious house.

Although the length and quality of the program could, indeed, have benefited from a four- or five-group trimming, the new Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana held remarkably true to the intent of its founders:

We are bombarded by so many noxious sounds today that we seldom experience the joy of listening. It is not necessary to force music on listeners with loudspeakers, for if singing has quality, people will become quiet and listen . . . Because we often forget the style of music that came before, this contest is intended to provide balance in the music offered in our islands today.

The night began when "people became quiet and listened" with obvious pleasure to guest artists Holunape (Kama Hopkins, Kanai‘a Nakamura, and Kekoa Kaluhiwa), winners of the 2004 contest, who set a standard of sweet musical excellence that was to be matched by at least three of the groups that followed: by Pilioha, Ho‘omālie, and Waiaulu.

 

  • Pilioha (Glenn Mayeda Jr., Kamuela Kimokeo, and Kalehua Krug) is already well known for the tight falsetto harmonies and Hui ‘Ohana sound that characterized its opening number, "‘Āina Moloka‘i."  But for its second song of the night (each group does two), the trio stepped out of this Ka‘apana-Pavao comfort zone to perform a haunting, Kahauanu Lake-inspired version of "Keolaokalani" complete with paukū composed by Krug in response to the "How do you do it? / This is how it’s done" prompting of the original. Pilioha has long been delightful in H.’O. mode; its newly demonstrated capacity for unplugged, older-school excellence gives me confidence that Pilioha will evolve into a group whose identity is as grass-rooted, distinctive, and influential as that forged more than 30 years ago by three young men from Kalapana.
  • The quartette Ho‘omālie (Kimo Hussey, John Enos, Lopaka Ho‘opi‘i, and Zanuck Lindsey) consists of musicians and composers with wide ranging affiliations in the Hawaiian and local music scenes; ‘ukulele virtuoso Kimo Hussey, for example, collaborated on the Carol Wilcox songbook He Mele Aloha, and guitarist Zanuck Lindsey’s Hula Joe and the Hutjumpers was the Nā Hōkū 2000 winner of the jazz album of the year. Although not as vocally gifted as Pilioha, Ho‘omālie excelled -- for one number, at least -- in song selection, arrangement, vocal blend, and gentlemanly charm. The group’s opening medley, "Hawai‘i nō e ka ‘Oi / Mahai‘ula" took us back to a time before Nā Palapalai and the Caz. I heard, instead, echoes of the Hilo Browns and Kalimas, and the genius of Tūtūman Nahale-a. It felt like every toe in the house was tapping and every head bobbing to the barely contained excitement that only such music can engender.  I don’t know if Ho‘omālie was just a one-event band. If it was, it shouldn’t be.
  • Waiaulu (‘Ilima De La Cruz, Millie Kawa‘a, and M. Keaulana Holt) probably takes its name from the classic George Kaleiohi composition for love that is (a)waiāulu -- bound fast by time, patience, and maturity into something that soothes the heart and brings all needs to fulfillment. It is hard to imagine a name that better defines the ‘ano of this trio and its music. First there is the warm, queenly dignity of Aunties ‘Ilima and Millie, a dignity derived, I think, from their long affiliation with the Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center and Tūtū Mālia Craver. And then there is Keaulana Holt who is tall enough to make his bass look like a stand-up ‘ukulele and wise enough to let the aunties run the show. Millie introduced their two song set -- no medleys here, just the mele themselves in complete, unembellished glory -- with the explanation: "We are only a trio, but we bring all of our kūpuna on stage with us." It was this aloha leo kūpuna, this love for ancestral voices, that set Waiaulu apart. The three, the many, sang Lili‘u’s "Nohea i Mu‘olaulani" and followed it with Kalākaua’s "Waimānalo" -- perfectly matched and delivered songs of waiaulu love for place and person composed by our last monarchs, sister and brother.  Waiaulu sang from a deeper place, with a deeper understanding, than any other group that night. It sang words-first -- not instruments, not arrangements, not personalities -- and I hung on every word. I could easily have been, for those magical seven minutes, on the veranda of the Queen’s Kapālama home, their sweet words weaving a "lei popohe i ka la‘i, nohea i Mu‘olaulani."

Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana closed with its usual awards ceremony, an activity rendered almost inconsequential by the greater victory that occurred with the event’s successful return. I’d be overstating my case to say that nahenahe music cannot thrive in Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana’s absence, but the year of silence -- of lights out -- clearly points up the significance of Richard Towill’s showcase: it draws the soon-to-be-greats out of their comfort zones, it unites disparate talents in toe-tapping synergy, it brings unknown treasures to the fore, and it provides us -- when the kūpuna are invoked -- with a touchstone of inestimable value. The words come first, bound-up in sweet, enduring love. Kudos to all involved.

Results:

1. Pilioha (Glenn Mayeda Jr., Kamuela Kimokeo, Kalehua Krug)
2. Waiaulu (‘Ilima De La Cruz, Millie Ka‘awa, M. Keaulana Holt)
3. Ho‘omālie (Kimo Hussey, John Enos, Lopaka Ho‘opi‘i, Zanuck Lindsey)
4. Keauwena (Alapa‘i Chang, Dwayne La‘anui, Kale Gouveia, Keoki Davis, Paul Apo)
5. Pōmaika‘i (Ron and Pōmaika‘i Loo)
6. Mona Joy Trio (Mona Joy Lum, Roland Aton, Dewayne Conching)

© Kīhei de Silva, 2006