It's not that easy to go out and find inspiration. Sometimes inspiration has to find you. For musician and producer Kenneth Makuakane, it was the Cooke ladies of Manoa, come a-knocking on his door.
The music of Manoa
A CD takes the pulse of a diverse valley
Album captures Manoa but lacks a few key songs
by burl burlingame
Mary Cooke, a founder of Malama O Manoa, and daughter Cathy, who had recently created a music company -- MPI Talent Communications -- had been involved in producing James Rumsfeld's "Kahalaopuna, the Beauty of Manoa," a charming children's book about Wa'ahila Ridge, part of a plan to create public awareness of the Manoa ridge's cultural heritage. Many Manoa residents are opposed to Hawaiian Electric's plan to march electrical poles up the ridge.
Hawaiian Electric has already spent more than $5 million to sell the project. Wa'ahila Ridge was named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Sites in 1997.
What's next for the grassroots organization? Some sort of music project, perhaps ...
Makuakane listened to them, intrigued. "I had worked on an Iolani Palace music project, but that was very focused," said Makuakane. "Manoa is different. They don't have generations of Hawaii culturalisms to draw on. There are different peoples living alongside each other. But they all have something to lose by industrializing the ridges -- loss of native plants, perhaps a poisoning of the artesian water system.
"Cathy had such passion about music being a force for education. They had been sort of door-to-door salesmen, selling the idea of Manoa's beauty. It was a mom 'n' pop operation. A professionally made recording would be more efficient in getting the word out. They just didn't know where to start."
"Wa'ahila" official release reception: 6 p.m. Friday
Place: Pacific Club, 1451 Queen Emma St.
Buying the CD: "Wa'ahila" will be available through the holidays at Neiman Marcus Ala Moana and Manoa Longs, and commercial distribution will begin in January.
More information: Background on Wa'ahila Ridge can be found on the Web site www.malamaomanoa.org/rfeis.html
"Learning curve!" laughed Cathy Cooke, waving a hand over her head.
The variety of experiences of Manoa's residents, ranging from farmers to retirees to UH professors to working-class laborers, indicated to Makuakane that a compilation recording would be most effective, blending dozens of voices around the theme of Manoa and Wa'ahila. He began to research the area's music and quickly decided new music was required, and he'd have to write it.
"Creative people need time to create. I'd sit at Wa'ahila Park, watch the sun go down. I drove all over Manoa. I absorbed. It took a couple of months. Manoa's a different living style than everywhere else. A sub-community. The heartbeat is a different rhythm.
"Suddenly, it hit. I felt at home. It came pouring out. I believed I belonged," recalled Makuakane, who lives on the Windward side. "The incubation period had passed. The songs ... Manoa residents would say, 'Wow! That's exactly how I feel!' All creative people go through this process."
He wound up with about half new songs, half other tunes that reflected the valley. "I went out and contacted commercially viable groups and artists, gave them demos of the songs, they learned them and modified them to suit their styles. I put them into the song, tear them down and build them up, until they and the song are one entity. Until it sounds like they could have written it themselves, even to changing the melody. It's teamwork. Everyone puts artistic energy into it. It's not about ME, it's about the emotion."
Participating artist-musicians include Robert Cazimero, Obrian Eselu, Kenneth Makuakane, Ku'uipo Kumukahi, Jeff Rasmussen, Pandanus Club, Maunalua, Kala'i Stern, Pai'ea, John Feary, Leina'ala Kalama Heine and Quinn Kelsey; many Na Hoku Hanohano award winners.
Despite the psychic and artistic preparation, it went quickly; three to four months from bright idea to shiny CD. It will debut at a reception Friday.
"It exceeded every expectation I could have had," said Cooke. "I learned so much in this process. All so super lucky. We managed to get grants from several terrific organizations, so that the costs of the first 7,500 CDs are covered, so ALL the monies will go to Malama O Manoa's Educational Endowment Fund, which provides grants for community and environmental projects statewide.
"Some of the luck was just happenstance. I ran into some folks at a barbecue, and they suggested this brilliant artist as a designer. But she was pressed for time and suggested her dad, a fellow named Jim Wageman. He turned out to be a former art director for the Museum of Modern Art and a genius!"
Makuakane shook his head. "Cathy's the most inexperienced in all this, and she got it all together somehow. Goodness! The people she brought in were incredibly talented.
"It's a wonderful project. It's commercial enough to stand on its own, but at the same time, there's a human scale and emotion to it. It's not shiny and smooth. It's organic. And that's perfect, because that's what the cause is all about."
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