Hoku winners singing "Hawai'i Aloha" are Keali'i Reichel, left,
Robi Kahakalau, center, and Na Leo members, from second from left,
Nalani Choy, Angela Morales and Lehua Kalima.

Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin



Reichel, Na Leo sweep Na Hoku

Hawaii's '90s superstar eclipsed only
by sweet-sounding trio at 19th annual music awards

By Burl Burlingame
Star-Bulletin



WHAT'S with all the black? Fashion-wise, Na Hoku Hanohano award ceremonies tend to resemble a funeral.

Black, of course, is always in fashion. The Hoku affair resembles - in form, if not function - the grand old days of the Hollywood Academy Awards, before actresses hired wardrobe wranglers to dress them stylishly. Here, folks still have to dress themselves. When in doubt, go black.

All of the ceremony trappings, however, is secondary. The real news about Na Hoku night is who won, and the list is on B-4.

If you count the public-vote Favorite Entertainer of the Year, and the award for Haku Mele, Keali'i Reichel tied with Na Leo Pilimehana at four awards each. Robi Kahakalau won two awards. A bunch of others, one each.

Reichel, who sings, dances, choreographs, writes and leaps Aloha Tower in a single bound, is the closest to a legitimate Hawaiian-music superstar in the '90s, and possibly the nearest to mainland-breakoutability.

The thoroughly pleasant young ladies of Na Leo are sensitive, hard-working, family-oriented girls-next-door whose combined voices offer an unexpected bouquet of sweetness that isn't cloying. Both seem to offer something to fans that's beyond mere music. If they ever team up, yikes.

Like it has ever since 1987, the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) awards were held in the Hawaii ballroom of the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, a hangar-like structure with surprisingly good sound, considering it looks like the Astrodome redecorated for a Star Trek convention. The "Day of the Triffids" stage decorations were a nice touch.

The size of the room made viewing difficult for those in the back. The press table, for example, was banished to Outer Mongolia and lacked things like illumination. Hey, HARA, next year cough up a candle or two!

A few technical awards are given out early, and then the group settles in for some maximum grindage. The guests, who paid $80, had an hour to wade through some good-looking cuisine before the show went live on TV. More than enough time for the working press to duck into another fine-dining establishment where the Western Whopper Value Meal leaves a few coins out of $4, but not enough time to locate a Coleman lantern for the table.

Then there are writing problems. Is it Hokus or Na Hoku? Do we risk the wrath of those who demand Hawaiian grammar?

In the meantime, musician-shaped specks are moving around on stage while meals are wheeled in on dinner gurneys with the clangor of Marine M60s rat-racing across the Iraqi desert.

Would another venue be better, like the newly restored Hawaii Theatre? Would Hawaiian musicians stand an award ceremony without dinner and a glass to raise to the nominees?

The awards went on despite these musings. A giant TV screen gave the audience not only a better view of the action, but of dead-silent TV commercials. Winners managed to thank either (A) The Academy. (B) Their Co-Workers. (C) Mom and/or Dad. (D) God. And some managed to work in all four.

Curiously, Religious winner Alex McAngus was just about the only guy not to thank God.

Musical performances were first-rate, but trying to describe music with words is like trying to nail Jello to a tree.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole provided the most affecting moment. He launched into one of his free-form raps - Iz' spontaneous raps are more focused, cogent and intelligent than anything you'll hear out of a politician's mouth and he urged Hawaiians to take responsibility for their actions and their children's actions. Typically, he used himself as an example.

He then started playing a song from the days when he and the now Makaha Sons were one (as the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau), a song they hadn't played together in decades, and the Sons hesitatingly joined him on stage. Years of acrimony melted away. We all burst into tears, you bet.

The Sons' troubles are a paradigm of the divisions in the Hawaiian community, and if the magic of a song can bring them together, then maybe there's salvation for us all.



Hoku winners

Female Vocalist: Robi Kahakalau, "Sistah Robi."
Male Vocalist: Keali'i Reichel, "Lei Hali'a."
Group: Na Leo Pilimehana, "Flying with Angels."
Most Promising Artist: Darren Benitez, "Broken Hearts."
Favorite Entertainer: Keali'i Reichel, "Lei Hali'a."
Anthology: "Vintage Hawaiian Treasures Vol. 9, Aloha Hula Hawaiian Style," Al Kealoha Perry and His Singing Surfriders.
Popular Hawaiian Album: "Lei Hali'a," Keali'i Reichel.
Island Contemporary Album: "Sistah Robi," Robi Kahakalau.
Contemporary Album: "Flying with Angels," Na Leo Pilimehana.
Instrumental Album: "Hawaiian Touch," Barney Isaacs and George Kuo.
Comedy Album: "Babooze!" Frank DeLima.
Christmas Album: "A Bright Hawaiian Christmas," Teresa Bright.
Religious Album: "Grace," Alex McAngus.
Single: "Friend in Me," Brothers and Sisters.
Song: "Flying with Angels" by Lehua Kalima, Na Leo Pilimehana.
Album of the Year: "Flying with Angels," Na Leo Pilimehana; Na Leo Pilimehana and George Makuakane, producers.
Graphics: Nelson Makua, "Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters."
Engineering: Jim Linkner, "Lei Hali'a."
Liner Notes: Skylark Rossetti-Ota, "Ulana Ke Aloha."
Haku Mele: "Ku'u Pua Mae'ole" by Keali'i Reichel.
Lifetime Achievement: Anuhea Brown, Sonny Kamahele.
Bankoh Slack Key Award: Ledward Ka'apana.
HARA scholarships: Justin Young, Kalaheo High; Matthew Swalinkavich, Aiea High.




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