Monday, August 11, 2003

Raiatea Helm performed at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in May.

Falsetto singer
won’t let success
slow her down

What's next for Raiatea Helm? The petite 19-year-old Hawaiian falsetto singer made local music history earlier this year, and she isn't coasting on her successes. If anything, she's doing all she can to build on them and expand her capabilities as a singer, musician and entertainer.

"I want to be able to play all kinds of instruments," Helm said. "I'm learning how to play upright bass, and next semester at MCC, I'm going to take piano."

Born and raised on Molokai, Helm lives on Maui and attends Maui Community College. She has been honing her skills on bass during weeknight performances as a strolling musician in the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Restaurant at the Grand Wailea. Her first instrument is still the ukulele, but she enjoys switching instruments during the evening.

"It's good practice for me and it's pretty fun," she said.

"I like to sing because I make people happy. ... I like to touch people's hearts and make them feel what I feel. I have this sort of emotion when I sing. I don't know how to explain it ... but it touches people, and it's just awesome."

Helm recently got the baby Taylor guitar she'd had her eye on, and now has three treasured ukuleles. One of them is a Kamaka that she received as a gift from Chris Kamaka, who plays acoustic bass with Ho'okena and Hema Pa'a and who worked with Helm and her father, Zachary, at the Great Hawaiian 105 KINE 105 Lu'au in March.

The luau was the start of a great year for her. Johnny Kai named Helm Female Vocalist of the Year at his Hawaii Music Awards in April, and her debut album, "Far Away Heaven," earned her two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards -- Female Vocalist of the Year and Most Promising Artist -- in May.

Helm's performance at a songwriters workshop on Kauai in June resulted in some new friendships with mainland writers and record producers. She also appeared as a guest at Roy Sakuma's annual ukulele festival in Kapiolani Park in July, and joined the Makaha Sons, Robi Kahakalau and Ten Feet in two "Sounds of Hawaii" concerts in California.

"I've been very busy," she acknowledges, adding that there was a time when she preferred sports to music and didn't like the idea of performing in public. "But now I love it."

This is going to be a particularly busy week for her. Helm plays the AT&T Wildest Show in Town at the Honolulu Zoo on Wednesday, the Kuhai Halau O Kawaikapuokalani Pa 'Olapa Kahiko Ho'ike on Saturday and the Made in Hawaii Festival and the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival, both on Sunday.

Helm and her father are also starting work on her next album. "I've got my list (of songs), and me and my dad are going through it, but we're going to take our time on this one."

Although she is the most prominent Hawaiian female falsetto singer of her generation, Helm's musical horizons extend in many directions. She flew over from Maui for both nights of the KCCN FM100 Birthday Bash XIII last month "just to watch," and hopes to check out the Honolulu jazz club scene while she's here this week.

"It's cool to sing Hawaiian songs," she says emphatically, but adds that someday she may experiment with some jazz or pop standards.

She's also working on a "look" that will reflect where she's coming from as a modern Hawaiian woman and falsetto singer. Helm has already come out with some hot fashion statements onstage -- the aloha print minidress and platform sandals she wore at a Makaha Sons concert in June, for example -- but she's still weighing a potpourri of ideas that she hopes to eventually refine into a unified concept or maybe even a clothing line.

"You've got to have the full package. You gotta have the appearance, the poise, the style, the attitude, everything -- you can't just have a voice."

Helm's plans do not include tattoos, despite the current popularity of body art ("You're going to change your body forever, and some people put anything on their body," she explains).

As for her friends' suggestion that she have her tongue pierced?

"No way! How am I going to sing?"

There are two things she would like do when she gets the chance. One is to appear in concert with Matt Catingub and the Honolulu Symphony.

The other is to try ice skating.

In concert

Raiatea Helm has a busy week of performances:

AT&T Wildest Show in Town: 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Honolulu Zoo. Gates open at 4:35 p.m. to allow time for 30-minute guided tours of the zoo.

Admission is $1; call 531-0101.

26th Annual Kuhai Halau O Kawaikapuokalani Pa Olapa Kahiko Ho'ike: 2 p.m. Saturday at Castle High School. Admission is $15; call 239-4852. (Helm appears with the Lim Family and Olomana. Genoa Keawe, 'Ale'a and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom will be featured in a 7 p.m. show.)

Made in Hawaii Festival: 11 a.m. Sunday at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Admission: $2; call 533-1292.

21st Annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Kapiolani Park. Admission is free; call 239-4336 or visit

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