Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 20, 2001

The guys are reunited, with some new members: from left,
Danny Kennedy, Salaam Tillman, John Baricuatro Jr.
and Kaulana Pakele.

Big spreads of aloha

The Mana'o Company's
first release since 1991 is
hitting it big on the airwaves

By John Berger

Ever dream of joining your favorite band? That's the dream-come-true Kaulana Pakele is living these days as the youngest member of Mana'o Company, although he wasn't sure he was worthy of the job.

"When they asked me at first I said no, because I felt that I wasn't at the level that they are at, but Mana'o has always been my No. 1 inspiration," he said. "Just to be part of that and carry on the legacy, I decided to take it on."

Mana'o Company has coming back big since three out of five original members decided the time was right for a reunion. "Spread A Little Aloha," the third Mana'o Company album, and their first since 1991, was released last week but hit early with prerelease radio play.

Weldon Kekauoha, a Hoku Award winner in 2000 in the "Most Promising Artist(s)" category, is the fifth member of the new group -- TMC for short. Robert Kekaula, Kekauoha's mentor and the head of A Guava Ding Thing Records, is lending his support to TMC as well. He befriended the original band back when the line-up was Danny Kennedy, John Baricuatro Jr., Sean Na'auao, Kuhio Yim and Salaam Tillman.

The Mana'o Company.

Kennedy, Tillman, Baricuatro and Pakele met for an interview and some four-part jamming at the Blue Tropix, speaking fondly of the days when Pakele was just another young fan.

"Kaulana was a high schooler when we used to play at the Crown Room in Hilo. Every time we came in we'd see him. He invited us to come to one of the parties that they had and we checked it out. He had his little group and they were under a tree playing ukuleles," Kennedy said.

Pakele later gained fame as a member of Ehukai. The band won two Hoku Awards in 1997 on the strength of its recording of "Moloka'i Slide," but eventually disbanded. ("The [scene] changed to more of a reggae/hip hop/R&B thing," Pakele said.)

Pakele was playing with another group when he saw Kennedy in 1998 and asked him to sit in. Kennedy agreed and discovered Pakele's band was playing old Mana'o Company repertoire. "I knew he was a great singer from Ehukai and "Moloka'i Slide," and then the way he was doing our stuff I saw that he had great range too," Kennedy said.

That's where things stood when Kennedy, Baricuatro and Tillman heard people were talking about a Mana'o Company reunion.

"When 98.5 started coming back on the airways one of the things they said they were going to do as put all these old groups together and we heard that Mana'o Company was one that they talked about. We'd see each other and we'd joke about it," Kennedy said.

Na'auao was invited to rejoin the band but the demands of his solo career, and duties as head of Poi Pounder Records, prevented his return.

Mana'o Company's success as one of the first big Jawaiian bands happened almost by accident. The guys grew up playing traditional Hawaiian music. The Jawaiian boom was already in motion when Mana'o Company was recording "Just Beyond the Ridge," so they decided to include a couple of Jawaiian songs. The album was released in 1989 with Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards, and the title track was an original, but the Jawaiian remakes of "96 Degrees in the Shade" and "Drop Baby Drop" overshadowed everything else.

"It was kinda weird because our initial goal was to be the next cross between the Makaha Sons and the Invitations with a little bit of Ikona. We wanted to conquer the Hawaiian side with a lot more harmonies," Kennedy said.

So much for that plan! The same thing happened when their second album, "True Inspiration," was released in 1991. But two hit albums weren't enough to keep the group together and they disbanded by 1992's end. Some of the friendships remained intact, and when KCCN/FM100's "Davey D" Daniels asked them to reunite for the FM100 Birthday Bash, they recorded "Stepping Out" to promote the event. It was done as an all-star project with Fiji and Three Plus as guests. The response to the recording and concert was overwhelming.

"That's pretty much what got us into it," Kennedy said. Cutting an album was the next step, and the first Mana'o Company album in almost 10 years was not going to be a cut-rate project.

"It's easy to play your songs on the ukulele, give it so a sequencer, have him add a reggae beat and some fat bass sounds, and you add your vocal, and you're done," Kennedy said. "Some guys who come back into the scene do that because it's easy and it's simple and it's cheap, but we took our time because we wanted to put out a solid project."

The group included its three-way hit with Fiji and Three Plus, and enlisted Damon Williams, Ho'onua, B.E.T. and Keali'i Reichel as guests. They closed the album with a bold dance-club remix of "96 Degrees."

"Now that we're coming around again we'd like to push the envelope a little bit and do something a little different that everyone else may not be doing. Just push the envelope a little bit more," Baricuatro said.

With two major "island music" stations in Honolulu there is even more exposure than when Mana'o Company first hit. The new TMC is working closely with several stations. The core quintet performs "unplugged" tonight as 98.5 Island Rhythm stars Lanai & Augie T reopen the Comedy Shack at Dole Cannery. Then it'll be TMC at full force with "TMC horn section" members Steve Ware (trumpet), Pat Hennessee (trombone) and Larry Cook (sax/flute), for the KCCN/FM100 11th Annual Birthday Bash at the Waikiki Shell next Friday.

The horns are an integral part of the new TMC sound. "It makes it a whole lot bigger and better and we just love that whole power music thing," Baricuatro said.

Kennedy says TMC's next album will be Hawaiian. "A lot of people are doing half Hawaiian-half reggae and it's more the Hawaiian listening crowd that can't get into that. We decided that we would do a contemporary album and then do a Hawaiian album as a separate project."

The Mana'o Company

What: At KORL 99.5 FM's Aloha Friday Pau Hana Show
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. today; seating from 5
Where: Sheraton Moana Surfrider, 2365 Kalakaua Ave.
Cost: $35 per person for Hawaiian buffet dinner; two drink minimum for cocktails-only; validated parking is $2.
Call: 922-3111


What: Lanai & Augie T Comedy Shack
When: 8:30 p.m. today; doors open at 7:30
Where: Dole Cannery
Tickets: $12 VIP seating tickets available at The Body Shop; $10 general at the door
Call: 951-0931 (The Body Shop)


What: KCCN/FM100 11th Annual Birthday Bash
When: 5:30 p.m. July 27 (gates open at 4; pre-show entertainment from 5 p.m.
Where: Waikiki Shell
Admission: $25 pool seating; $19.50 terrace; $18 grass. Two-night tickets available for upper terrace and grass seats. Mana'o Company performs Friday only.
Call: 296-1003

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