Review of Ho‘okena's new CD, below

Ho‘okena's fourth CD "Ho‘okamaha‘o"

is a happy marriage
of four

‘We’re all of one mind when it comes
to creating our sound’

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

WHAT'S the secret to keeping a successful group together?

"Patience, tolerance and the ability to compromise. We try to be reasonably sensitive to what everybody thinks," Manu Boyd replies.

"Having respect for the other members, and being aware that when we come together as a group we're working as one," Horace K. Dudoit III adds.

"We basically have one common goal - to make music the best way we know - and we all depend on each other. It's sort of like a marriage," is Glen Smith's comment. A member of two other high-profile groups before Ho‘okena, he mentions "personalities" as the downfall of some otherwise successful groups.

"We're all of one mind when it comes to creating our sound, but we're open-minded to each other's suggestions. I don't think the public out there really cares to hear the same song done the same way by 10 different groups (so) we put an effort into making a song sound interesting," Ama Aarona concludes.

The four members of the multi-Hoku Award-winning group were contemplating the start of their second decade together while enjoying a light dinner at a Ward Centre restaurant. It's been 10 years and four beautifully crafted albums since they debuted (as Kipona Leo Hawai'i) in a Hawaiian-language song contest. A spirited rendition of Lot Keawe's kaona-rich song, "Ho‘okena," helped power them to victory and inspired the name change.

"Thirst Quencher!" introduced Ho‘okena as a recording act in 1990 and won them Hoku Awards for Most Promising Artist(s), Traditional Hawaiian Album of the Year, and Group of the Year the following spring. They followed it later that year "Choice of the Heart," released "Na Kai 'Ewalu" in 1993, and are now celebrating the success of their newly released fourth album, "Ho'okamaha'o."

"It's never been our intention to be better (than someone who recorded a song before us) because even the oldies sound good to us," Smith says of the group's approach to its repertoire of Hawaiian-language standards. All four contribute ideas; Dudoit handles the instrumental arrangements; Boyd arranges the vocals.

"I don't like to do something just to be different. I like it to be purposeful (and) creative but keep the (original) essence in mind. I try to arrange other people's compositions in a way that I think would be pleasing to them. I've become very choral music minded but I try to not have everything Ho‘okena does sound so choral because that's not what we're all about (either). There's beauty in simplicity but I think we have the wherewithal to do things that some people may even feel are overarranged. Sometimes it's fun to do that too," Boyd elaborates.

A decade can equal a century in the music business. To put it in perspective, karaoke contests were still in the future and the entire "Jawaiian" pseudo-reggae boom was barely on the horizon when Ho‘okena won that singing contest. Local "kanakafarians" were dominating Hawaii's "Thirst Quencher!" but the group never faltered in its commitment to the Hawaiian music, language and culture.

"Playing "Jawaiian" would have been fast money but we would not have been true to our art form or our culture," Boyd says simply.

"I think there is a lot in our own culture to nurture as opposed to going off into someone else's' culture. Not to put anybody (else) down for (doing) it, but it works for us. We hope that the kupuna accept our music and I think they do," Aarona adds.

Ho‘okena is generally tolerant when observers superficially compare them to the Brothers Cazimero. Boyd has been a member of Robert Cazimero's halau since 1978; graduated as a kumu hula last year, he still dances with Robert's Gentleman of Na Kamalei on special occasions.

"My response as a student - and we all have been students of Robert and Roland in one way or another - is that if we didn't sound (at all) like the Cazimeros something would be wrong," Boyd explains patiently.

"I think it's important to acknowledge your teachers and acknowledge your sources - what a wonderful compliment to my kumu! (However), when people make that comparison in a cynical way they miss the whole cultural point of continuing the cultural legacy. I get away from (the Cazimeros' style in my music) but sometimes it works perfectly."

Boyd mentions Helen Desha Beamer, the Kahauanu Lake Trio and the Makaha Sons as some of his other inspirations. Dudoit traces his interest in Hawaiian music back to an elementary school encounter with Kaipo Hale (Dudoit returned the favor years later when he produced Hale's excellent 1994 solo debut album, "My Thoughts My Music My Time.") Smith "fell in love with slack-key" as a teen-ager; Keola Beamer, Raymond Kane, Leonard Kwan, Gabby Pahinui, Peter Moon & Sunday Manoa were his early favorites. Aarona grew up listening to Hawaiian music and mentions Darrell Lupenui, Sam Bernard, Kekua Fernandez and Keali'i Joy performers who inspired him.

Listening to the foursome it's easy to sense the camaraderie still unites them 10 years after that song contest in Manoa.


Something wonderful

Ho‘okamaha‘o By Ho‘okena

Ho‘okena makes it four for four with the release of "Ho'okamaha'o," a beautifully crafted and lovingly detailed album. Aptly titled - the suggested English translation is "to be or do something wonderful; to take a new and more splendid form" - it showcases the quartet's familiar strengths and offers a few surprises as well.

The most immediate surprise is the inclusion of a relatively modern hapa-haole song, "Lovely Way," which finds the band members singing in English. The unobtrusive participation of saxophonist David Choy on several songs is another successful experiment.

Crisp arrangements and tightly knit harmonies prevail throughout. Attentive listeners will likely be particularly impressed by the vocal interplay on "Nou E Nani" (Horace Dudoit III recruited Manu Boyd as lyricist in creating this beautiful song as a loving tribute to his wife.)

Ho‘okena has excelled over the years in interpreting Hawaiian-language standards. A contemporary yet traditionalist arrangement of "'Alekoki" awaits discovery and will certainly delight. Notable as well are two beautiful songs by Boyd ("Papahi Lei Ho'oheno" and "Ka Lei Aloha"), while a four-way collaboration between Boyd, Robert Cazimero, Kaipo Hale and Mahi Beamer results in another musical gem, "Ku'u Lei Pikake Anuhea" - a tribute to the beauty of a lei and Keolalaulani Dalire.

Ever since the release of their self-titled first album, "Thirst Quencher!" (an approximate English translation of "Ho‘okena") in 1990, the group has strongly endorsed the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian language and music as a living culture. They maintain that commitment here not only as performers but by providing English translations and additional information on each song.

How else would the general non-Hawaiian-speaking public appreciate the subtle nuances of Boyd's lyrics, the kaona in songs such as "'Ahulili" and "'Alekoki" (the latter said to have been written by King Lunalilo after he was stood up by Princess Victoria Kamamalu), or the ways in which the final song, "Ka Nani Kamaha'o," relates to a recording by the Makaha Sons?

Lyrics and translations are essential on all Hawaiian-language recordings; background information is valuable in sharing the context and significance of the selections. Ho‘okena consistently contributes to the culture by providing both.

This is one of the best Hawaiian albums of the year by one of our foremost contemporary Hawaiian groups.

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