Kupaoa delivers once again
POSTED: Friday, June 04, 2010
Winning the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Most Promising Artist(s) is an honor that can bring with it as much pressure as prestige. Lihau Hannahs and Kellen Paik—known collectively as Kupaoa—were last year's winners in the coveted category and Paik says the pressure is on as they follow their Hoku Award-winning debut album, "Pili o ke Ao," with their second project together, "English Rose."
"Probably more (pressure) than if we didn't win a Hoku—especially the Most Promising (award)," he said with a chuckle as we talked last Saturday afternoon at the Na Hoku o Hawaii Music Festival. "It's like if you're honored with Most Promising you need to follow that up and show that you were worthy of that award. A lot of people will expect something (at least as good)."
KUPAOA CD RELEASE PARTY
» Where: Chai's Island Bistro, Aloha Tower Marketplace
» When: 7 to 9 p.m. June 9
» Cost: $25 minimum food/drink tab per person; reservations recommended
» Call: 585-0011
The win put Kupaoa in the company of some artists for whom winning Most Promising Artist(s) was the high-profile start of a successful career—Kawaikapuokalani Hewett (1982), Ho'okena (1991), Willie K (1992), Keali'i Reichel (1995) and Raiatea Helm (2003), to name five. And, on the other hand, there also have been some winners for whom it was pretty much one and done.
Hannahs said that "It's easy when you're coming out the first time and nobody expects anything of you—except we have expectations of our own—but to be honored by our peers in such a way ... it's good pressure, a really good pressure."
And so, Paik continued, they spent a lot of time deciding how many originals to do on the new album, how many standards, fast versus slow, and so on.
"Is remaking a whole bunch of old songs the way to go, or is it not? Should we stay true to our original compositions and keep pushing it that way?"
They ended up with six originals, two contemporary compositions by Puakea Nogelmeier, five local standards and a remake of a Fleetwood Mac album cut, "Songbird."
"Our first album, 'Pili o ke Ao,' is a wonderful snapshot in time of where we were in 2008," Hannahs said. "I hope our new album, 'English Rose,' really shows where we are in 2010, and I think we both really hope that it shows growth."
Being a duo in one of the things that shapes their song choices. If a well-known song was written to be sung by four voices it can be a tough sell when sung by two.
"When we rearrange old music we have to rearrange it with the consideration that there really is just two of us," she said.
"And the rearrangements have to fit our style of music," Paik continued. "If we sing it and it sounds like one of the members of a trio didn't come to work that day, we've failed."
Hannahs, the primary lyricist, applauds Paik's "talent for melodies. I'll write these lyrics down and he'll talk story with me about it ... usually in most part the lyrics will come first."
She added that they both embrace the responsibility of documenting their work.
"It would be wonderful if everybody spoke the Hawaiian language, but not everybody does, and so that's why we package our music with as complete a package of liner notes as we can to make it accessible ... with Hawaiian language sometimes the wrong phonetic interpretation still makes sense but it's not what the composer originally wanted (to say)."
"We're not saying anybody would ever want to sing any of our songs," Paik added modestly. "But if somebody did we're going to provide them with the lyrics. We're not going to keep them secret."
Kupaoa builds on the artistic and popular success of their Hoku Award-winning debut album, "Pili o ke Ao," with a second album that is as beautiful as the first. Six newly written originals reaffirm the duo's talent as Hawaiian song writers; a mixed bag of Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards display their skill at rearranging familiar songs for performance by two voices rather than three or more. Several celebrity guests join the duo and co-producer/pianist Kale Chang but never overshadow them as vocalists or as musicians.
Remakes of pop hits are always risky for local artists but the duo succeeds in reworking "Song Bird," a Fleetwood Mac album cut, as a hapa-haole song. They also do a fine job with "Mele Koki," a Puakea Nogelmeier composition commemorating the arrival of the much-maligned Puerto Rican coqui frog.
"Sweet 'Apapane," written by the duo in honor of Kuana Torres Kahele, is another standout number.
A beautifully illustrated booklet contains the lyrics, translations and essential background information. At a time when albums that sound more pop than Hawaiian have been finalists for Best Hawaiian Music Album at the Grammys there's no question "English Rose" would represent Hawaiian music quite well at the Grammys in 2011.