Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Ho'okena is nominated for a Grammy Award for its album "Cool Elevation."

Grammy nod elevates
Ho‘okena’s cool

Manu Boyd leans back in his chair in a 12th-floor downtown Honolulu office and stares toward Diamond Head. The public information officer for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs seems to have something serious on his mind.


In the days leading up to Sunday's Grammy Awards, we will present daily profiles of the artists nominated in the new Hawaiian music category.

Yesterday: Charles Brotman, producer of the compilation "Slack Key Guitar Vol. Two"
Tomorrow: Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K; "Amy and Willie Live"
Thursday: The Brothers Cazimero; "Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell"
Friday: Keali'i Reichel; "Ke'alaokamaile"
Saturday: The Grammy process, demystified
Sunday: Hawaii's artists partake of the L.A. experience leading up to the Grammy Award ceremony.

"I got it!" he tells friend and fellow Ho'okena musician Horace K. Dudoit III. "I'm thinking a kind an Armani aloha thing. I'm going for it."

Boyd is the vocalist for the group, one of five nominees in the new Best Hawaiian Music Album category. This week, he'll travel to Los Angeles to attend Sunday's 47th annual Grammy Awards ceremony.

"We're going to go contemporary ... but we will have lei. That will be our tribute to the culture."

"Armani?" says Dudoit, who hasn't thought about what to wear.

"What if we hook up with some big star?" Boyd says. "I don't want to look like I'm from the country."

Ho'okena -- including vocalist Glen H.K. Smith and bassist Chris Kamaka -- is nominated for its album "Cool Elevation," which is marked by a spare instrumental style that keeps the focus on the quartet's deep, rumbling baritone harmonies.

Ho'okena, which means "quench thirst" in Hawaiian, has been together for nearly two decades and tours the mainland and Japan annually.

"The nomination is one of my biggest achievements because it's a national thing," says Dudoit. "It will give us the kind of exposure we couldn't reach before. And since it's the first time for the category, we can always say Ho'okena was one of the first."

Boyd describes the recording sessions for the CD as "the best we've done as far as feeling and really functioning as a cohesive group."

"We were amazingly in synch," Boyd says of the album that took just nine weeks to complete.

Ho'okena's reputation is that of a group that embraces the changing times for Hawaii's people and culture, taking the ancient and traditional, and "fusing it with where we once were and where we need to be," Boyd says.

"I think our music has a kind of rejuvenating character," he says. "And when we lock into that groove, we all really come together."

Dudoit is more subdued. "Every CD has its charm but this one was special," he said.

The album was nominated last year for several Hoku awards, but the group came up empty.

"I thought we were so done with 'Cool Elevation,' especially after that; I was very disappointed," Boyd said. "But then this nomination happened, and we didn't even know someone had entered us."

Ho'okena has recorded seven other albums: "Thirst Quencher" (1990), "Choice of the Heart" (1991), "Na Kai 'Ewalu" (1993), "Ho'okamaha'o" (1996), "Ho'okena 5" (1999), "Home for the Holidays" (2000) and "Treasure" (2001).

That's prolific considering every member has "a real job." Dudoit's other job is as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service; Kamaka is production manager for his family-owned ukulele business, Kamaka Hawaii Inc.; and Smith is a production controller at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

"We're all stable in our other careers, so we can totally focus on the art," Boyd said. "Music does not equal money to us. It is not an economic sustenance for us. I would give it away I love it so much."

EVEN BEFORE the Grammy ballots are counted, Smith is a big winner. He appears on three of the five nominated albums: Ho'okena sang backup on Keali'i Reichel's CD, and Smith plays slack-key guitar on the Brothers Cazimero's album.

There are other connections among the nominees. Boyd is a graduate of Robert Cazimero's Halau Na Kamalei and now kumu hula of his own school, Halau o ke 'A'ali'i Ku Makani.

"Robert (Cazimero) was my teacher for 27 years," Boyd said. "(Ho'okena) has been very influenced by the Cazimeros. Roland was a guitar teacher of Horace's. We've worked with Keali'i since he started recording."

Boyd can't hide his respect for the Cazimeros. "I know this is going out on a limb, but I would be so proud if the Brothers Cazimero won," he said. "They have done so much for Hawaiian music."

Then he jumps to his feet, grinning again. "But of course if we are talking about just one specific recording, well, for sure Ho'okena takes it hands down," he says.

ASIDE FROM accolades, increased exposure and album sales for the group since its nomination, Boyd says there are equally important political benefits.

"OHA supports Hawaiians' right to self-determination, and we try to keep open the process of federal recognition," he says. "Hawaiians are struggling, at least officially, to be acknowledged as the indigenous people of this land with certain rights. Taking Hawaiian music and having the requirement that records must be predominantly in the Hawaiian language ... does a huge service in acknowledging native Hawaiian culture as being distinct and separate and beautiful."

Dudoit says the Grammys' criteria might help separate genuine Hawaiian music from "the tacky, cheesy representation" often used in film and television.

"People will be able to see and hear and know what real quality and honesty is," he said.

But they're not discounting the social benefits of the upcoming event.

"All the nominees are friends, family really, and oh, my, we are definitely going to party up there," Boyd said.

Dudoit says he'll be "really surprised" if Ho'okena wins the award, but says, "Then again, I won't be. I guess that means no matter what happens, we're going to be surprised, and if we win, we're heading to Vegas to keep the party going."


Capsule review

Tight harmonies and crisp acoustic instrumentation continue to be Ho'okena's hallmarks. Chris Kamaka's work on acoustic bass gives the arrangements on "Cool Elevation" a force that was absent in the years after founding member Bozo Hanohano left in 1991.

Manu Boyd and Glen Smith distinguish themselves as singers, and although Boyd has said that Ho'okena is most interested in reviving and reinterpreting Hawaiian classics, the group's originals fit in perfectly.

A bilingual rendition of "The Prayer" is a successful departure from Ho'okena's Hawaiian-language repertoire, but the use of electronic keyboards on "Enchantment" gives that song a New Age sound that would fit better on another album.

By John Berger

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