'Free' tunes best choices


POSTED: Friday, August 07, 2009

'Hula Island Style—Volume 1'

Various Artists

; Greg Sardinha is the main man on this collection of hapa-haole standards. Sardinha is not only executive producer, co-producer (with John Iervolino) and arranger, he also sings backing vocals and plays most of the instruments!

Hapa-haole music icon Gary Aiko is the featured voice on “;Sweet Leilani,”; “;I'll Remember You,”; “;Waikiki”; and “;Blue Hawaii.”; Ha'a Hayer represents the falsetto side of the vocal register with comparable skill on “;Love Song of Kalua”; and “;My Isle of Golden Dreams.”; Kuhio Yim, Gordon Freitas and Roddy Lopez get the vocal spotlight on other numbers.

The producers' best choices are songs no longer associated with specific artists. For instance, it is unlikely that anyone will ever eclipse Don Ho's rendition of “;Tiny Bubbles”; or improve on Keola & Kapono Beamer's definitive arrangement of “;Honolulu City Lights”;—and the earnest efforts heard here prove the point. On the other hand, Heyer and Aiko do beautifully with songs free of such associations.


;» ”;Hukilau”;
;» ”;Sweet Leilani”;
;» ”;Love Song Of Kalua”;

'He Nani'

Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho
(Daniel Ho Creations)

; Grammy Award-winning recording artists Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho don't mess with a successful concept as they return with this beautifully crafted project. Ho provides the instrumentation—slack-key guitar (in G Kilauea tuning), ukulele, piano, bass and ipu heke. Carrere is the primary voice, with Ho joining in on several tracks. Knee-jerk critics of the duo—or of Ho as a three-time Grammy Award-winning record producer—may again choose to overlook the fact that Carrere is singing Hawaiian, not English, and that ethnomusicologist Amy Ku'uleialoha Stillman is again Ho's song-writing partner and lyricist on this collection of newly written Hawaiian songs.

Carrere and Ho set the mood as they open with the title song. The arrangement is exquisite in its simplicity—he plays piano, she sings. That's all they need.

It isn't necessary to understand Hawaiian to be captivated by Carrere's voice. Stillman's lyrics—and the English translation—are available in the liner notes.

The duo breaks format including a song with English lyrics that came out of a Big Island song-writing workshop; slipping the Hawaiian lyrics into the backing tracks is a nice touch. Ho goes solo on three instrumental numbers; each is a soothing interlude.

“;Walea,”; performed chant style, is a calculated risk but an imaginative one—naysayers can take their objections to Stillman!

“;He Nani”; might not be a Grammy winner in 2010, but it will do Hawaii proud if it is.


;» ”;He Nani”;
;» ”;Ho‘opomaika‘i”;
;» ”;The Desert Song”;

'The Seed'

Kahlee Keenee
(Tre Dime Music)

; Hawaii has known for years that Pacific islanders can be credible hip-hop artists. Club Rox Rock pioneered the genre here in 1992, and the Hi-Town DJs charted nationally with “;Ding-A-Ling”; in 1998. Considering that the Boo-Yah T.R.I.B.E. blew up in Compton almost 20 years ago, you'd think the mainland would know it too. Oh well!

Producer Kahlee Keenee assembled this compilation to increase awareness of Polynesian emcees and deejays who stay true to the basics of “;dope beats and ill rhymes”; while also representing island culture. He succeeds on all counts.

Former Hawaii resident Parlous and DJ Kutfather stand out on “;Roots and Culture,”; the one track in the collection where the rapper performs in Samoan as well as English. Parlous also throws in Hawaiian and Spanish vocabulary while Kutfather backs him with mariachi horns and reggae rhythms. It's an impressive example of what can come out of what Parlous calls “;the melting pot of Los Angeles.”;

“;Keep Rockin' On”; looks back at the days when some SoCal hip-hoppers questioned Polynesians' right to “;spit”;—“;Don't need no damn permission to rhyme so stop asking!”; is the response.

“;The Streets”; addresses the erosion of Polynesian culture in California, and the importance of being in touch with it. “;Trying”; reiterates the message that life isn't easy in California and it takes strength to survive.


;» ”;Ridin’”;
;» ”;Trying”;
;» ”;Roots And Culture”;