She's an old-fashioned girl
Raiatea Helm will be the youngest headline performer ever to do the "Hana Hou!" concert series
YOU CAN call her a "new traditionalist" in Hawaiian music if you need to hang a tag on Raiatea Helm, but the young rising star feels she's just giving the beloved music of the islands its due.
Helm, 21, along with 24-year-old Kaumakaiwa "Lopaka" Kanaka'ole, will be the youngest headline performers ever to do the "Hana Hou!" concert series at the Hawaii Theatre.
Concert featuring Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole and Raiatea Helm, with special guests, kumu hula Snowbird Bento (Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lei Lehua) and Kaleo Trinidad (Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La)
» Place: Hawaii Theatre
» Time: 8 p.m. Friday
» Tickets: $30, with discounts for military and seniors, and half off for college students and those 18 and under, with valid ID
» Call: 528-0506 or online at hawaiitheatre.com
Recovering from a cold she originally got while in Honolulu performing as part of the Hawaiian Grammy award nominees bill at the Hawaii State Art Museum during the monthly First Friday downtown, Helm realized the importance of Friday's concert.
"This is a big deal. It's at the Hawaii Theatre, and every year, as part of the Hana Hou series, people like Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, the Makaha Sons and Na Palapalai get invited, and look at us, with people saying, 'Wow, you guys young!' So people will be curious about what we got, and we're excited about it.
"I first met Lopaka a while back through a relative," the Maui resident said earlier this week by phone. "We became close -- he's a really nice guy -- and we've recently, over the last couple of months, went on tour with the Makaha Sons to San Diego."
Helm herself has toured places like the West Coast, Texas and Japan over the past three years, "sometimes with my own band, or with the Sons."
Helm is a multiple Hoku award winner, and her Grammy-nominated sophomore album, "Sweet & Lovely," garnered her a second consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year, as well as this past year's Favorite Entertainer of the Year kudo.
WITH AN enthusiastic tone in her voice despite her frequent coughing, she gladly embraces being typed as a new traditionalist. "To me, it means perpetuating an older style of music. It's rare that people our age carry on this legacy," one that her late uncle, activist-musician George Helm, kept close to his heart.
"I wasn't introduced to my uncle's music until I was in my young teens. I think, when I was younger, I wouldn't understand what he passed on to the music. But when I found out about him, I fell in love with his music and style of singing. He helped motivate me. It was a nice feeling to know that I had a family member, my dad's brother, who other musicians who knew him say he was a nice guy, and very talented."
And it's not hard to hear a bit of George Helm's moving leo ki'eki'e (falsetto) voice developing in Raiatea's own vocal style.
While she's been favorably compared to such legends as Lena Machado and Aunty Genoa Keawe, Helm also found inspiration in the classy stylings of Nina Keali'iwahamana.
"Nina has such a different style," she said. "I remember one year, I just happened to see her performance on TV during the hoike of the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest. She sang 'Pua Tuberose,' and her sound was more of leo ki'eki'e. Her range was so beautiful. Since we recorded the contest, my dad would teach me the chords, and I would mimic what I saw.
"Looking back, I was disappointed I wasn't introduced to this kind of music at first. It was like held back a generation, so it's rare that a 20-year-old like me would sing like a 50-year-old. My friends don't listen as much to Hawaiian music, so I've had to go on my own, I've had to find the old style for myself. I'm just trying to perpetuate this beautiful music as much as I can."
BORN IN Honolulu, but raised mainly on Molokai until age 18, Helm made the decision several years ago to join her brothers to live on Maui.
"I had a choice to go the University of Hawaii at Manoa to pursue music or start a music career and go to a two-year college. Because of my brothers being there, plus having lots of family on Maui, I decided to go there. Since then, I've made a lot of friends here, and I love it. You know, not too much traffic compared to Honolulu.
"Right now, full-time school is on hold. I really haven't decided what my degree will be, but I am taking Hawaiian language at Maui Community College."
Her toiling over a six-month period to complete "Sweet & Lovely" has paid off with a Grammy nomination in the Best Hawaiian Album category. "The quality is so nice, compared to my first album, so much pureness came out. ... And it's under my own label, so all the hard work paid off, yeah? It was tough, stressful, and I learned that you got to be on it ... got to be focused and take care of yourself."
It's an album that, with her family's help, has some real musical jewels on it. One of her heroes, Aunty Genoa Keawe, is part of a loving, nearly poignant duet with Helm on one of Keawe's signature songs, "Hu'i E." Helm successfully captures "that Iz style" with her solo rendition of "Kahealani," a fine balance between her voice and her ukulele. And father Zachary joins his daughter in a harmonious blend of voices on "Sweet & Lovely's" showcase number, "Kalama'ula."
And she'll be working with co-producer Dave Tucciarone again soon on a third album that should be out sometime around the end of summer and the beginning of fall.
Needless to say, this is an exciting time for Raiatea Helm. "My dad and I know my limits, when it's time it's cool down, but I do work hard."
Plus there's this Grammy award ceremony thing next month. "I'm so excited to go! Isn't that great, for someone like me, to come from Molokai, such a small island, and be discovered in mainstream music? I'm someone who listens to Mariah Carey, and she'll be there and, wow, I'm going to be there, too."