Star-Bulletin Features

By Michael Tweed, Associated Press
The Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Sam Wong,
works out under Hollywood's super-sized version
of the Waikiki Shell.


Hawaiian music in Hollywood
is an event full of Wonder

By Tim Ryan

HOLLYWOOD --Backstage in Keali'i Reichel's packed Hollywood Bowl dressing room, legendary singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder hugged the Hawaii performer, saying "God bless you and your music."

"It is so wonderful," said Wonder, dressed in a floor-length, white cape embroidered in gold. "The blending of your music with the classical was incredible."

By Michael Tweed, Associated Press
Keali'i Reichel performs a chant, dressed in
a T-shirt reading "Hawaiian We Are."

Reichel, who invited his idol Wonder to the concert, a debut event for the Honolulu Symphony and many Hawaii performers, was teary-eyed and trembling under Wonder's praise.

"You are marrying your culture with western culture and it is a unique sound," Wonder said. "It is a language that we all understand. It's your music that now will inspire me."

It was a magical, unusually clear, balmy August night of aloha under the stars at one of the most well-known venues in the world just a few miles from the Hollywood and Vine.

Three hours after last night's concert began at the larger, better-sounding version of the Waikiki Shell, Agnes Wisner, 70, was weeping.

"If I died tomorrow I could say I have seen some of Hawaii's best, like I had been there and heard it, and felt what you people call that aloha spirit," she whispered.

The widow from Echo Park says she's "too old and poor" to ever be able to visit Hawaii, so she did the next best thing.

Slack-key guitarists and vocalists George Kuo and Dennis Kamakahi, tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy, Miss Universe Brook Lee, guest conductor Aaron Mahi, musical director Sam Wong and Reichel -- with 16 of his Halau Hula O Ka Makani Wili Makaha O Kaua'ula -- overwhelmed listeners as much with songs and melodies as with the 50th state's mystique.

Most of the 8,200 in the audience wore some kind of aloha wear.

By Michael Tweed, Associated Press
George Kuo, left, and Dennis Kamakahi perform
at the Hollywood Bowl last night.

Every symphony musician and conductor Wong wore an aloha shirt donated by Hilo Hattie. Guest conductor Mahi wore tuxedo pants and crisscrossing suspenders with his aloha shirt.

Brook Lee introduced the evening's program with an exaggerated greeting of "a-l-o-h-a." And when the audience responded in kind, Lee said, "My goodness I'm back in Hawaii."

The evening was planned to showcase Hawaii music in a casual atmosphere, and to help transplanted Hawaii residents renew their sense of local pride.

Reichel confessed to nervousness even at mall performances, but that quickly turned to levity and charm onstage. He won the audience's hearts with his lack of pretension.

When Lee introduced him, Reichel pointed to the microphone and told the taller beauty queen, "Eh, I no can reach up dere."

Lee also was nervous. "Hey, this is not the (Waikiki) Shell," she said. "There are no brothers from Waimanalo yelling encouragement like, 'Hey sistah.' "

Outside the Hollywood Bowl's ticket gates, Tower Records set up a kiosk to sell Hawaiian music. Hundreds of people ate plate lunches.

"We left Hawaii seven years ago and each day I ask myself why and how can I get back," said Kainoa Smith, 36, of Hollywood. "I came tonight to renew, brah. To feel da kine, the spirit I left behind."

By Michael Tweed, Associated Press
Miss Universe, Hawaii's Brook Lee,
performs a hula.

The expansive Bowl stage was decorated with 1,000 pounds of flowers flown in Wednesday.

Claire P. Johnson, owner of the Flower Farm in Kaneohe, and her son Koa, brought red and pink ginger, orchids, heliconia, pothos, red and green ti stalks, palms and ferns.

Guest conductor Mahi led the symphony in the first portion of the concert with "Hanohano Hanalei," then introduced Kuo and Kamakahi who talked story and played "Palolo," "Ipo Lei Manu," "Whee Ha Swing," "My Maui Mountain Home" and "Ahe Lau Makani."

At one point, Kamakahi's ukelele-playing teen-age son, standing at center stage, took out a camera and snapped a picture of the surprised audience.

Under Wong the evening took on a more serious note, beginning with the overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla. Ikaia-Purdy sang "Cielo e Mar" from "La Giaconda" and "Nessen Dorma" from "Turandot."

After intermission, Reichel quickly proved he is as much at home in pop and Hawaiian songs as he is in Hawaiian chant. He sang eight songs: "Eo Mai," "Kananaka," "Kawaipunahele," "Lei Hali'a," "Toad Song," "Patchwork Quilt," "Ku'u Pua Mae'ola" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

After thousands of hana hous, and a 10-minute standing ovation, the performers returned to the stage flashing shaka signs.

"Welcome to your first experience with chicken skin," Lee yelled into the microphone.

The Bowl concert gives the symphony more recognition and brings Hawaii music to the entertainment capital of the world, said symphony executive director Michael Tiknis.

It could become an annual event, he said. "Part of the Symphony's mission must be to help nurture the Hawaii music business. As of now there is no Grammy Award category for Hawaiian music and just maybe by exposing the mainland to it more often we can help to get that changed."

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