COURTESY DAN KENNEDY
The Mana'o Company is Kaulana Pakele, left, Danny Kennedy, Sean Na'auao, Jan Luna, Salaam Tillman, Eric Ho and Frank Sua. Da boys will challenge the women of Na Wai to a Jawaiian music contest.
Old Jawaiian style competition
Sometimes you find what you're looking for right around the corner.
David "Davey D" Daniel's, program director of KCCN FM 100, wanted something new and memorable to cap the station's two-night Birthday Bash 17 concert at the Waikiki Shell this weekend. He found what he was looking for in his own studio, where morning show co-hosts Lina Girl and Pipi preside each weekday over a hugely popular call-in contest they call "Battle of the Sexes."
KCCN FM 100 Birthday Bash 17
On stage: 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Place: Waikiki Shell
Tickets: $21 (grass), $22.50 (terrace), $30 (pool); two-day tickets are $32 (grass) and $34 (terrace). Available at Blaisdell box office, Times Supermarkets and ticketmaster.com
» Friday: Natural Vibrations, Katchafire, Ekolu, Kapena, B.E.T., Kawao, Next Generation and the winner of the Battle of the Bash contest
» Saturday: Fiji, Koauka, Holomua, the Opihi Pickers and Kaipo, and a "Battle of the Sexes" featuring KCCN FM 100's Lina Girl and Pipi with Mana'o Company and Na Wai Ho'olu'u O Ke Anuenue
His first take on doing "Battle" at the Shell was to select a man and woman from the audience. Then he decided to supersize it as a musical battle of the sexes that would feature reunion performances of two of the biggest Jawaiian acts of the early '90s.
"The two groups that immediately came to my mind were Na Wai and Mana'o (Company)," Daniel's said. "Both groups were instrumental in the Jawaiian movement in the early '90s, and both specialize in tight harmonies. It was a perfect matchup."
All the more so because Na Wai -- full name Na Wai Ho'olu'u O Ke Anuenue -- was originally a female quartet, and Mana'o Company has always been all-male. Na Wai later became a quintet with three women and two men, but the guys are long gone, and founding member Luisa Finau says that the fourth original member -- none other than Lina Girl -- "will probably be jumping in" when Na Wai competes against Mana'o on Saturday.
"We're looking forward to it. It's been a long time for us. I don't want to put a number on it, but looking back at everything, you think, 'Wow, it's been a long time' " Finau said.
On the other side, four-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Danny Kennedy is bringing most of Mana'o Company's original members and a few new recruits to do battle on behalf of the men in the audience.
"We're going to be (changing things) during the set, but the core of the band is myself and Kaulana Pakele, and Salaam Tillman, our original drummer. Frank Sua has played off and on with us before on keyboards, guitar and vocals, and Eric Ho (is) on bass and vocals," Kennedy said.
Delia Ulima-Parker, left, Luisa Finau and Bella Finau -- Na Wai -- will play Birthday Bash 17.
The Mana'o Company will be reinforced by a three-man horn section, and will welcome back for the night founding members Sean Na'auao and Jan Luna.
When it comes to the future of this version of Mana'o Company -- MC 3.0 if you will -- Kennedy said that "we're taking our time ... we're just seeing where it takes us."
"We are gigging, mostly the bigger events, because 90 percent of us have full-time jobs and so we do music on the side. ... We are talking about putting out a single sometime this fall to get something new out there, but we're just seeing how it goes. We don't have to rush into anything."
Although Jawaiian music was already booming in the early '90s the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts did not establish a reggae category until 1999 -- long after both Na Wai and Mana'o Company had disbanded. Kennedy put the group back together with almost all the original members in 2001; its first recording project won five Hoku Awards, including Song of the Year and Album of the Year in 2002.
Finau remembers the year that Na Wai's Jawaiian single, "Girlie Girlie," was up against Henry Kapono's mele ku'e (song of resistance) "Broken Promise." Without a category of their own, Jawaiian artists didn't have a chance.
On the other hand, neither group had planned on being a Jawaiian hit-maker, even when Na Wai was getting massive radio play with "Girlie Girlie," and Mana'o Company was hitting big with "96 Degrees in the Shade" and "Drop Baby Drop"/"Who Loves You Pretty Baby."
"We never expected people to even remember us, believe it or not, or that there would be interest in a reunion," Finau said.
"We entered Brown Bags to Stardom as a group, the four of us, and we played Hawaiian (music), and one of the judges was Mr. John Chang, who owned Kahale Music. We came in second, we just missed the opportunity to do the recording contract (with KIKI radio) ... and we were so disappointed. John Chang wanted to get us into the studio just to cut maybe one or two tracks, and we ended up doing a whole CD."
Finau recalls that Na Wai's first album -- of Hawaiian music -- was released at about the same time that another girl group hit the local airwaves with a far more upbeat sound. Chang saw which way the market was going and suggested that they revamp the group and, as Finau puts it, "go the Jawaiian route."
"Although we were in touch with our roots, we wanted to do the bumpin' music (and) that's how we got out there."
Kennedy had a similar experience with Mana'o Company.
"When we started the (first) album, our concept was to be a mix of the Makaha Sons-slash-Surfers-slash-Invitations type group, and do a little harmony, a little Hui Ohana, falsetto and even some four-part arrangements." At the last minute, they decided to add two reggae songs. "Everything kind of evolved that way."
Kennedy added that when the group "chased the reggae thing" on their second album, they heard from fans who liked the other parts of their repertoire.
"With 'Spread a Little Aloha' (in 2001), it was a majority contemporary (island music), but we're thinking that the next project, if it does happen, is gonna go a little more back to the roots, and show a little more versatility, with acoustic music and Hawaiian as well."
But that's all in the future.
For this weekend, Kennedy said, Mana'o Company will be playing to win with its biggest Jawaiian hits and "the heavy-hitting reggae 'cause that's what the people want to do -- they want to dance and party."
Count on Na Wai to do the same.