Winging it at EKK

To view Anne E. O’Malley’s slide show of Monday night’s EKK click here.

Odd couple makes great music together -- Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole and Sean Na'auao together are as rare a pair as one will ever see performing together on stage. Each is a major solo artist coming from different worlds but when they play together, they seem to communicate with each other family style where just a nod of the head, a faint mutter, or the shrug of the body let's the other know what song is bubbling up, and all evening long, songs and dances bubbled up to the surface from this seemingless endless well of their collective repertoire. Sean's exceptional versatility and guitar skills sets the mood for whatever Kaumakaiwa came up with in his unpredictable impromptu style; whether he is singing, chanting, acting, or telling exaggerated tales, Sean is right there with him and exploding with laughter at all the unexpected words that pour out of Kaumakaiwa's mouth. Kaumakaiwa introduces Sean and his music with such eloquent words, "....everything from Hawaiian to contemporary genre, from the simplicity of island life to the complexities of the heart, he has covered it all in his songs and his words...and he is my dear friend Sean Na'auao." Their mutual admiration society is what holds them together as each surprises the other all the time.

For one who has been dancing hula for 21 of his 27 years with only week-and-a-half break, which amounts to three rehearsals, performing hula would be second nature like breathing and eating...and so it is for Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, 15th-16th generation in his hula lineage that traces back very, very, very far. "I went to boarding school with Queen Liliuokalani...it was an all girls boarding school," he kidded; his comedic bent popped out everywhere with unexpected comments that has to be experienced. Repeating the things he said would get lost in translation because so much about Kaumakaiwa is in the delivery.

Besides being acknowledged for his musical accomplishments with many Na Hoku Hanohano Awards garnered from a very young age, and carrying on his shoulders the weight and history of generations of hula dancers in the Kanaka'ole tradition, Kaumakaiwa should add "actor" to his list of artistry for he can't tell a story without a chameleon-like transformation of characters necessary to his stories. From kung-fu avenger of lunch-stealing birds, to little sweet skinny girls with child-like giggles, to powerful Mommy image, to dynamic chanter and sensuous hula dancer, Kaumakaiwa slips easily from one persona to another even mid-song.

He opened the program with a chant that made you feel like you were standing on the fiery precipice of Halema'uma'u crater; his shock of wild black hair blown askew by the fiery atmosphere, his voice took you back generations to the early days where chanting was the main form of storytelling and music.

Together the artists blended their voices in the beautiful "Ka Pilina" by Frank Hewett; Sean definitely has an affinity to songs composed by Frank, and his beautiful voice and arrangements do justice to these memorable compositions. As Kaumakaiwa raises his beautiful voice in song, his hands need to speak out the words in graceful motions and his body sways to the sounds of the accompaniment so appropriately played by Sean.

With Sean keeping the rhythm on his trusty guitar, Kaumakaiwa shares his version of the famous Sam Lia song about Halialaulani, the name of the double waterfalls -- Hakalaua and Hi'ilawe -- found in the famous Waipio Valley. This unique Valley with its taro patches was the weekend home to Kaumakaiwa from Friday afternoon to Monday morning from the age of 8 to 17; Hilo was his home during the school week. When he sings it in his soprano voice which is the "skinny girl inside of him", he literally lets his hair down, gives his coif a feminine swoosh and sings melodically in a very high sweet voice. Verse after verse he narrates the geographical description where the action takes place, and changes his singing style to suit each verse, and finally he takes a transformational body spin and lets loose as his mom, the inimitable Kekuhi Kanahele with her characteristic kumu-with-an-attitude pose and her powerful resonating primeval voice that wells up from some deep place.

Artists will often sing the songs of the host island where they are performing and because Kaua'i is blessed with so many special place songs, Sean could show off his beautiful voice with a medley of "Beautiful Kaua'i" and "Hanalei Moon." The audience joined in the singing and the aisle was filled with beautiful dancers from Leilani Rivera Bond's halau and others. How often have I heard visitors state their desire to see a real hula dancer while on island; this certainly made a lot of dreams come true....and the best part is that it's the real deal hula.

Kauamakaiwa sang another beautiful song about Kauai; "Ko'ula" (red sugar cane) speaks about a little village tucked away in the remote recesses of Hanapepe Valley, where the fresh water pond is fed by springs called "Manowai'opuna", another name for the village and the song. Vern Kauanui shared his graceful hula to this classic mele.

Certainly a show featuring Kaumakaiwa is not for the uptight as one cannot predict what will spring out of his spontaneous brain...anyone uptight might feel that G-string pulling a little tighter than comfortable, so one has to be prepared to hang loose when coming to see/hear/experience this versatile artist. Kaumakaiwa shares his lunchtime encounter with one of the resident fowls whom he dubbed "the devil chicken" for its aggressive gutteral sounds and actions to take his precious lunch away; Kaumakaiwa's entire dramatization of the incident that left him shaken left the audience in laughter. In honor of the chicken, both of them sang Frank Hewett's lively alphabet song "Ka'ililauokekoa".....auwe! auwe!

Kaumakaiwa introduces in Hawaiian the song written for Queen Kapiolani on the Day of her coronation and dedicates it to all the women -- grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters. Moving to the edge of the stage, he sang without amplification his voice ringing out throughout the large hall; his grace as a hula dancer shows his 21 years of dedication to the art of hula. He moved with the grace and agility of a jungle cat to "Ka 'Eha Ke Aloha" sang by Sean. Had I thought that far ahead about the importance of keeping my body agile and flexible into my senior years, I would not have quit hula classes so early...yet another example of "I should have listened to my mother."

"Pohai Ke'aloha," a slow sensuous falsetto, is the only Maui song that he remembered. It was delivered by the skinny girl inside of him; he confessed he ate her 15 years ago but she appears to burst forward at any given time whenever a lovely high voice is called for.

He gives the background one of his great grandmother's most famous hula number danced by hula dancers the world over. Everyone thinks "Ka'ulu Wehi O Kekai" was written in Hilo but there is no limu growing in the cold rocky sandless waters in the Hilo area; she wrote it as she was driving to Laie where limu abounds along the warm sandy shoreline. Of course Kaumakaiwa's little humorous tangent here is an observation of how warm sandy beaches on Kaua'i have sudden temperature changes caused by "shishi" water, something he claims he has never experienced and only heard about. He invited hula dancers up but cautioned them about cutting up the rug dancing the already suggestive lyrics of this song .... he did not want to be responsible for the 27th year of EKK being the last year of this wonderful program. Of course any hula dancer who could move fast enough to dance this hula could not resist the music so the entire room is lined with hula dancers each enticing the audience with the sensuous movements of a song with so many underlying messages. These must have been the original "subliminal messages" that supposedly later filled TV commercials.

Kaumakaiwa started talking about "tasting all the flavors" and "never being satisfied" after tasting all the favorite local foods. I thought he was "talking dirty in code" because Sean was cracking up; it turns out to be a unique intro to one of Sean's popular numbers "Fish and Poi". When he got up and started lip synching at the stand-up microphone with boogieing moves, Sean could barely hold himself together. They really have fun performing together.

Crowd screams hana hou when they make their moves to leave and Kaumakaiwa tells them you cannot hana my hou yet. He shares his family genealogy which traces back through generations of powerful women. He is the eldest son of Lopaka Kealoha Santiago of Maui and Kekuhi Kanaka'ole Kanahele-Frias who is the eldest daughter of Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele who is the eldest daughter of Edith Kanakaole, who is also the mother of Nalani Kanakaole, sister of Pualani and great aunt of Kaumakaiwa.

Finally, with Sean singing "Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha" by Matthew Kane, Kaumakaiwa moves from the small claustrophobic stage down to the floor where his powerful hula movements find enough space to fly free and be as expressive as he can be. They were definitely winging it all night but with so much talent, training and passion, they were definitely flying high.

Sunday, February 21, the extraordinary kumu hula and composer Cody Pueo Pata of Maui -- along with two musicians and three of his hula halau teachers, put on a very special "teaser" gig at Shutter's Lounge at the Kauai Beach Resort from 7:00 - 8:00 pm. Many who just happened to be in the lounge are definitely going to make it to the Jasmine Ballroom on Monday, February 22, where Pueo Pata's six member group will be presenting their program of music and hula at EKK. The instrumental hour goes from 6:00 – 6:45 and the main program goes from 6:45 – 9:00 pm. Food and drink is made available by Kauai Beach Resort so you can come straight from work.

Tune in to KKCR Radio -- Linda Lester will be interviewing Cody Pueo Pata on Monday, February 15 at 8:15 am.

Contact the Kauai Beach Resort at 245-1955 for EKK Special Room Discounts.

(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, www.gardenislandarts.org -- “Celebrating 33 years of bringing ARTS to the people and people to the ARTS”

E Kanikapila Kakou 2010 -- Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, and Garden Island Arts Council supporters with support from Kaua’I Beach Resort.

Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Legislature of Hawai’i and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.