Singer brings new sound to Maunalua


POSTED: Friday, July 24, 2009

Being in a band can be like being in a marriage—and maybe more so for many musicians, even though “;the ties that bind”; aren't as legally binding. And, like marriages, some groups that look rock solid to outsiders can suddenly splinter to the complete surprise of the bystanders.

One such seemingly rock-solid “;marriage”; splintered earlier this year when Bruce Spencer resigned from Maunalua after 13 years making music with “;Uncle Bobby”; Moderow Jr. and Kahi Kaonohi.

“;It's the first personnel change in 13 years and three albums. Bruce has now moved on to other things,”; Moderow said as we caught up with him and Kaonohi recently at Duke's Canoe Club (Maunalua plays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fridays).

Spencer's successor, Richard Gideon, was on the way to Waikiki as we spoke.

“;Gideon, like the (Gideon's) Bible,”; Moderow agreed, making the reference with a chuckle. “;He can't walk on water, but he's very talented ... plays guitar and proficient on the ukulele. Wonderful voice. We're very excited to integrate him (into the group).

“;(He's a) youngster, 26 years old, but has a wealth of knowledge way beyond his years musically.”;

Kaonohi said the process of bringing Gideon into the group had “;more plusses than minuses.”;

“;The only drawback we had was trying to get him up to snuff as fast as we could, but Richard worked very hard and we're very close to being where we were. It's just that it's a different sound because it comes with a different-quality voice, so now the whole spectrum of the music has changed—for better.”;

“;The vocals are a lot clearer, and the harmonies are more precise. It's not something that we were used to, but we're getting used to it and it sounds good.”;

Moderow added that Gideon has been contributing ideas as well as he learns the group's repertoire.

“;We're learning from this guy (too), so it's a really neat thing,”; he said. “;The energy has just been through the roof. It's really exciting to have this youth side to the music.

“;The way we're approaching the music, the way we're pushing the harmonies, the way we're playing our instrumentation, it's so different—and it works.”;

Kaonohi describes it as “;refreshing everything.”;

“;He brings a new face in the group, a new aspect to the music, and we're bringing things to the table and everybody's learning,”; he said.





        With special guest Maunalua

» Where: Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Ave.


» When: 7:00 p.m. Thursday (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)


» Cost: $25 general admission; $10 for keiki ages 7 to 12 years old, keiki 6 and under free


» Info: 550-8457 or hsblinks.com/j5




THAT'S GREAT, because Gideon has big shoes to fill.

Maunalua evolved out of an earlier trio in the late '90s that included Moderow and Spencer. They lost their bass player shortly before they were scheduled to play Kaonohi's wedding—on Valentine's Day. He joined the group a week later.

Moderow's strength as a falsetto singer and slack-key guitarist contributed two key ingredients to Maunalua's traditionalist style; their smooth three-part harmonies, another. Kaonohi's choice of an electric bass guitar, rather than an acoustic “;stand-up bass,”; gave their sound a contemporary edge.

Moderow, Spencer and Kaonohi worked hard the next few years, and it paid off. Their self-titled debut album won the 2001 Hoku Award for Best Hawaiian Album, while their second, “;Kuleana,”; won them Group of the Year and Favorite Entertainer of the Year in 2004, and their third, “;Ho'okanaka,”; earned the Hoku for Group of the Year in 2008.

Despite the success, Spencer began to distance himself from the group about a year ago. Moderow and Kaonohi soon realized they needed a new singer/guitarist/ukulele player.

They introduced Gideon to the crowd at Duke's several months ago, then at several Fourth of July concerts, and finally to the audience at an episode of “;Hot Hawaiian Nights.”; Maunalua will headline next week's “;Ke Kani o ke Kai”; concert at the Waikiki Aquarium on Thursday.

Duke's, however, will remain their base of operations—it's a great venue for them—and they'll add a second Waikiki venue every Thursday this fall as headliners of the “;Curators of Hawaiian Music”; series at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. They open there in September.

Moderow described playing the Royal as an opportunity to share “;the genuine article”; with a different audience of visitors and residents.

“;That's where we come along—introducing some of these people, or reintroducing some of these people, to the Lena Machado songs and the Maiki Aiu Lake dancers, and telling the stories of these songs so people get excited once again about the music of Hawaii.”;

“;It's not a Vegas show,”; he continued. “;You want that, Las Vegas is that way. We're here in Hawaii. We have something very special to offer (and) very special to share.”;

Sharing the culture—the stories behind the songs, and the meaning of the Hawaiian lyrics—is important, Moderow explained, because Hawaiian culture is “;constantly being undermined.”;

“;In our own way we want to invigor the culture through the music and educate people through entertainment. I think that's a large reason why Maunalua has had success for so many years.”;

“;Music is fun,”; Kaonohi said, summing up, “;but there is also a business side to it. The business side is showing up, doing your best, and the fun will come along.

“;There are times when it's hard, when it's not fun, but you just keep pushing until it becomes fun again.”;