Fifteen years is a long time for a group to survive. Ho'okena has done more than survive for 15 years. The quintet has thrived and celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend.
Hookena celebrates with hula
By John Berger
"We must be doing something right," said group spokesman Manu Boyd, who is also publications editor at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and kumu hula of Halau o ke 'A'ali'i Ku Makani.
Boyd will wear two of those three hats this weekend when Ho'okena joins the halau in 'Aha Mele IV, a fund-raising concert to support the halau's cultural and educational activities. Kahikina and Robert Cazimero's Halau Na Kamalei will also perform, although kumu hula Cazimero will not be with them.
Boyd's roots in hula go deep. He joined Na Kamalei in 1978 and graduated as a kumu hula in 1995. He formed his own halau two years later. Ho'okena's roots also run deep in the culture and music of Hawaii -- Boyd, William "Ama" Aarona, Horace K. Dudoit III and Chris Kamaka won the Fourth Annual Ka Himeni Ana competition in 1986.
The original name of the group was Kipona Leo Hawai'i. The group's history gets scrambled after that because Kamaka left the group, and Bozo Hanohano and Glen Smith joined it, by the time Ho'okena recorded its debut album, "Thirst Quencher!," in 1990. Ho'okena hit big at a time when supporters of traditionalist Hawaiian music became concerned about its survival ("ho'okena" translates to "to satisfy thirst"). The popular response to "Thirst Quencher!" -- and the three Hoku Awards it received in 1991 -- left no doubt that the group's music indeed slaked those fears.
Of course, the group's "overnight success" hadn't come overnight.
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
'Aha Mele IV Featuring Ho'okena, Halau o ke 'A'ali'i Ku Makani, Halau Na Kamalei and Kahikina
Where: Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: $25 and $20, plus $2 per-ticket theater restoration fee
"We were out there already," Boyd said. "Before we came out with the recording in 1990, we performed -- not a whole lot, but we'd been to Merrie Monarch and played the big public venues. We'd done a couple of things at the Shell. As a group we were really almost 4 years old by then.
"When ('Thirst Quencher!') came out, it got a great reception and reviews. I think it became a benchmark for other Hawaiian recordings at that time."
Ho'okena has since become the link between older traditionalist groups like the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau (known since 1993 as the Makaha Sons) and the next generation of neo-traditionalist groups -- most notably 'Ale'a, Maunalua and Pai'ea -- that have come on the scene in the last few years.
Boyd, Aarona, Dudoit and Smith maintained the close harmonies and crisp acoustic instrumental arrangements throughout the '90s. Hanohano left the group after the release of the second album, "Choice of the Heart," late in 1991. His departure left Ho'okena without a bass player. John Koko worked with them for several years on a job-by-job basis, but Ho'okena was officially a foursome until Kamaka decided to return.
"Ho'okena 5," recorded in 1999, marked the original quartet's reunion and the first time Kamaka had recorded as Ho'okena member. "Ho'okena 5" won two Hoku Awards last year.
"It's like a family," Boyd said of the group. "We've been through all kinds of good stuff. The best part is that we get to travel a lot and perform a lot. That really is the best thing."
The group maintains its ties by getting together at least once a week. A semisecret weekly one-nighter at Chai's Island Bistro also gives them a chance to catch up on things. "We can handle our business stuff, catch up on family things and really -- with no effort at all -- put on a nice 2 1/2-hour show at Chai's without really thinking about it."
The big 'Aha Mele IV concert will give the guys a chance to perform again on a bigger stage with a larger production. It's a big night for the halau, too. Because the halau calls Kaneohe home, the kahiko segment will focus on Oahu. "We're so used to seeing things for the Big Island, for Pele, and Kauai, so we decided to spend a little time celebrating the island we live on," Boyd said.
"The event highlights what the halau has learned over the year, and we expect to have a lot of friends and family in the audience that will be called up. It's your nice Hawaiian-style concert at the Hawaii Theatre."
Ho'okena plans to record a new album for release early next year. Boyd says that just as Ho'okena has tried to quench the thirst of those looking for traditionalist Hawaiian music, the music refreshes the group as well.
"Getting together and performing, whether it's rehearsing or onstage, is almost like a spring that you keep going back to because it sustains. It's hard to find that spring when you're not actually doing it, but when you get to that point and you're all in harmony, the music is going and (hula dancer) Nani (Dudoit) is dancing, it creates kind of a spell that affects us as well as the audience. That's what it's all about and that's why we're still here."
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