Star-Bulletin Features

Sounds of the Season

Island musicians find
Yuletide inspiration for their
new releases

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

CHRISTMAS seems second only to love as an inspiration for modern songwriters and recording artists. Long before the advent of "oldies radio," Christmas songs returned year after year as part of the festivities.

That tradition exists here too. R. Alex Anderson's "Mele Kalikimaka" and Ed Kennedy's recording of "Numbah One Day of Christmas" have defined the season for generations. Christmas albums by Henry Kapono, the Brothers Cazimero, John Keawe, Kapena and Willie K, and Dancing Cat's "Ki Ho'alu Christmas" anthology are best bets for holiday listening.

Here are this year's additions to the Hawaiian Christmas discography:

Christmas Day in Hawai'i Nei: Makaha Sons (Poki)

THE Makaha Sons, Moon Kauakahi, and John and Jerome Koko, own one of the decade's best island Christmas albums with this beautiful collection. The trio and producer Kata Maduli present a perfect mix of holiday music: Christian and secular, traditional and contemporary, haole and Hawaiian. Instrumental add-ons to the Sons' acoustic sound are kept to a minimum. Their seamless harmonies tie it all together.

"Silent Night" is a highlight. The Sons sing it in English. Hawaiian-German Robi Kahakalau sings in German, Rocky Brown in Tagalog, and Darlene Ahuna in Hawaiian. The kaona (hidden meaning) is beautiful.

Originals -- three by Kauakahi, two by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett -- offer fresh perspectives. The title song celebrates secular Christmas customs. The other four address the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sons' fans will rejoice at finding several songs that are now staples of the trio's Christmas concerts.

Original art, lyrics, translations of the new songs, complete performance credits, and the liner notes conveying the Sons' sentiments, complete this perfect Christmas album.

Hitown Family: A Very Special Love: Various (Hitown )

THIS Christmas anthology was originally released without fanfare or promotion a year ago but too late in the season to review. Back then it was a showcase of Matt Young's Hitown artists. Now it is a time capsule. The top acts on the label then, Tenderoni and Damon Williams, have moved on.

There's a definite sense that it is/was an amalgamation of two projects since there are seven Christmas songs and four that have nothing to do with the holidays. Those are Tenderoni's beautiful "Together You & I," Cecilio Rodriguez' updated solo arrangement of "About You" from an album he'd recorded for Hitown, a generic ballad by a run-of-the-mill urban vocal group, and an ensemble rendition of the title song by almost everyone except Rodriguez and the urban group.

Several of the Christmas songs are plug-in the vocalist arrangements; any of several Hitown artists could be lead vocalist. The Christmas recordings of Williams, Tenderoni, and Ka'awa stand out elsewhere. So does "Merry, Merry Christmas," a local rap parody of "If I Ruled the World," by Young's longtime associates, I-94 program director Alan "Da Kruzah" Oda and I-94 DJ Lanai. The duo is reinforced by I-94 DJ Freska and Kool "E" who was at I-94 then but is now at KQMQ.

Reggae Christmas: Children for Peace featuring Marty Dread (no label) cassette

MARTY Dread and Bob Rock did this Christmas single to raise money for the Montessori School of Maui. A catchy electronic reggae arrangement

drives a cheery ode to Christmas worldwide. The participation of the students adds to its appeal as Christmas souvenir. For information call: (808)-573-0374).

Mele Kalikimaka: Dennis Kai'imi Keohokalole (Pacific International Productions)

DENNIS Ka'imi Keohokalole debuts as a recording artist with an impressive 11-song collection of seasonal favorites. Almost all are sung in Hawaiian. The selections range from "Pomaika'i Wale Ko Ke Ao" ("Joy to the World") to "Kani Na Pele" ("Jingle Bells").

Keohokalole keeps the instrumentation basic and traditional; modern technology allows him to perform as a one-man trio. The disc comes in a Christmas card rather a CD jewel box. Find an envelope and it's ready for mailing.

Christmas in Hawaii: Kamehameha Schools Concert Glee Club and Kamehameha Children's Chorus (Polo Ralph Lauren)

TRADITIONALISTS will enjoy this 27-minute collection of Christmas standards sung mostly in Hawaiian and financed by Polo Ralph Lauren and Liberty House.

The beauty of the choral performances is accented by judicious use of various instruments; producers Rockwell D. Fukino, Robert Shinoda and Randie Fong have crafted a beautiful snapshot of the Kamehameha Schools' vocal program.

Something to Give: Chant (Flyin' Hawaiian Productions) CD single

CHANT cleaves to the well-worn sound of Boyz II Men and hordes of Boyz wannabes with this debut single.

The title track is a Christmas themed love song written by group members Vergel Jepas and Darren Porlas. A languid remake of the Shirelles' 1960 hit, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," provides a second song. The Shirelles' version has more emotion and immediacy.

Two nearly indistinguishable mixes of each song makes this a four-song package. Reducing the synthetic backing tracks would better display Chant's skills.

John Berger has covered the local
entertainment scene since 1972

Do It Electric!

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