COURTESY THE MAKAHA SONS
In 1976, the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau were, from left: Jerome Koko, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Moon Kauakahi, Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole and Sam Gray.
Makaha Sons: 30 years of walking the country
Three decades after he founded the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau with Sam Gray, Jerome Koko and Israel and Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole, after several changes in the lineup, one death, one extremely acrimonious departure and a name change, Louis "Moon" Kauakahi says the biggest challenge he faced over the years was keeping the group together and focused on playing Hawaiian music.
"Take a Walk in the Country 4"
Makaha Sons' 30th Anniversary Concert
» Place: Blaisdell Arena
» Time: 5 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $100 (includes buffet dinner) and $15 (upper level); $30 loge seats are SOLD OUT
» Call: 591-2211 or on-line at ticketmaster.com
"That was the biggest challenge for me, trying to keep things together and keeping the group focused on the kind of music we were going to play. The group has been through many changes, and along with the changes came different ideas," Kauakahi said during a quick Monday morning telephone call.
It has been a long weekend for the Sons, with shows on two neighbor islands and a stop on Oahu in between. For the rest of the week they'll be busy preparing for their 30th anniversary concert this weekend.
Known since 1993 as the Makaha Sons, the group is headlining "Take a Walk in the Country 4" in Blaisdell Arena on Saturday. The name of the show may not seem to match the venue, but that's nothing new. Their old-time "Makaha Bash" concerts were held for several years at the Waikiki Shell, not in Makaha.
As for those challenges, Kauakahi says that co-founder Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, his brother-in-law, came up with lots of things over the years that would have taken the Sons well outside traditional Hawaiian music. Some of them worked OK as late-night nightclub material, and others were eventually included on the group's albums, but Kauakahi drew the line somewhere this side of Jawaiian.
"When the reggae thing came on line, I guess he wanted to incorporate some of this reggae in the group, and I kept it down to the minimum. And there were times with (other) members before that when the focus was almost (moved) towards the C&K kind of music. It was hard trying to keep the group's focus on Hawaiian music -- which is what we'd started off with -- and staying on that track.
"There were times when Israel would be hinting (that we should play Jawaiian music). He'd be playing this reggae beat, I guess, just before we'd go on stage, and be talking to John and Jerry, and I'd be off on the other end, and I'd look at them and shake my head. No!"
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole recorded an album of mostly Jawaiian music as a solo project in 1990, and although it won two Hoku Awards the following year, Kauakahi says that it "never really got in the way" of what the Sons were doing.
There was at least one show where Kamakawiwo'ole performed as a solo act with his own backing band, and then returned to headline the show as the fourth member of the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau. The quartet's next two albums were Hoku Award-winners as well.
The current three-man roster -- Kauakahi, Jerome Koko and Koko's brother, John -- have been together since 1982. Jerome Koko and Sam Gray left after the group's first two albums, but Koko returned, bringing his brother with him, after Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole died and Mel Amina, a first-cousin of the Kamakawiwo'ole brothers, and Moon's cousin-in-law, left.
COURTESY THE MAKAHA SONS
John Koko, Jerome Koko and Moon Kauakahi have preserved the Hawaiian sound that Makaha Sons fans love so well.
The name change to Makaha Sons was made after Israel quit the group several days before their "Makaha Bash 6" concert in 1993.
The trio has gone from success to success ever since. No one doubted Israel's potential as a solo artist, but the Sons have done well too. Joining the celebration on Saturday are Genoa Keawe, the Brothers Cazimero, Ho'okena, Hapa, Na Kama, Fiji, Daniel Ho & Herb Ohta Jr., Hoku Zuttermeister and kumu hula Chinky Mahoe & Hula Halau 'O Kawaili'ula.
One of the most amazing things about the Sons' success over the years is that for most of that time they've scheduled concert tours and recording sessions around the requirements of nonmusical "day jobs." Kauakahi spent 28 years with the military, Jerome Koko worked construction until the mid-1990s, and John Koko retired only a few years ago from a full-time career in auto upholstery.
"I had to juggle careers, really," Kauakahi says. "What would happen is we'd have to project my (military) leave way in advance, especially when we were flying out somewhere, but it was difficult juggling two careers. I think the most difficult part for me was the down time, (because) there was almost no down time. Whenever I was off from my full-time military (job), we would be doing something on the music side. It was almost like 24/7. My family life was almost shot, so the most difficult thing for me was not being able to spend more time with my family. But it came with the territory.
There were times back around 1980 when the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau were playing Hank's place, a popular Kaimuki bar, that Kauakahi would go straight to his office in Diamond Head Crater and sleep there rather than make the round trip to Makaha and back.
"When I also had to work weekends on the military side, I would sleep over at my unit and go to work early the next morning. That was a doozy!"
Kauakahi says that when the original group started out, back in the mid-1970s, they all had dreams of doing nothing but playing music, but decided that their wives and children deserved a better living than their early earnings could provide. By the time their income as musicians started to improve, Kauakahi already had another successful career going. Jerome and John kept their days jobs too.
In the larger scheme of things, Kaukahi says the original members of the group "just wanted to be part of the music scene. Back then, there were a lot of music groups that were established. The Sunday Manoa and the Brothers Caz came out maybe a year or two after that, and then the Sons of Hawaii. We wanted to be a part of that, although we knew we had a long road ahead of us. I don't think any of us imagined that we'd get this far and, well, it's been 30 years."