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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, November 29, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Festive new Hawaii discs include, clockwise from left,
Pure Heart's "2.5"; "My Christmas Wish" by various
artists; "Merry Christmas" by Viola; "Mele Kalikimaka:
A Hawaiian Christmas Party" by various artists and
Kapena's "Merry Christmas from Kapena."

Merry music

Sounds of Christmas are a big part
of merry-making, and this season
new offerings abound from the
classics to contemporary

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


WITH Thanksgiving now a cherished memory, it is appropriate to turn our attention to Christmas and what's new in local holiday albums.

Anthologies are the thing this year. Several new anthologies are on the market and several other albums contain both new and previously released material. Imaginative new creations by Willie K and Pure Heart, and the debut album by the Local Divas, offer new musical perspectives as well.


Brothers Cazimero

Bullet "Cazimero Christmas Favorites" (Mountain Apple Co. MACD 2060)

Take selections from the Brothers' Christmas albums of 1984 and 1991, add their version of "Jingle Bell Rock," and the result is another landmark local Christmas album.

Few local recording artists have interpreted Christmas standards with greater insight or imagination. Few achieve a more perfect balance in celebrating the spiritual, secular and materialistic aspects of Christmas. It's all here, and very beautifully done.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet Jingle Bell Rock
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Mountain Apple Co.:


Randy, Gay & Andrew Hongo

Bullet "Christmas in the Islands" (Christian Vision CV-115)

This anthology draws on several albums by the Hoku Award-winning family. Some of the songs feature Randy or Gay solo, others are duets, and one or two feature their son as well.

Christians will applaud the perspective: Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether singing standards or Randy's originals, there's no question about the Hongos' faith.

Randy's lyrics are often earnest and expository testament but the images in songs like "Christmas at Our House" and "Christmas in the Islands Again" ring true and his skill as a pianist and arranger adds to their musical impact. "Rejoice" is a stirring anthem and Gay's rendition of "What Child is This?" is beautiful.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet We May Not Have Snow
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Christian Vision


Various artists

Bullet "Hawaii's Favorite Christmas Songs" (Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center RHSCD-1998)

The title and cover art are familiar, but this is not the album released by the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in 1993. Ed Kenney's classic "Numbah One Day of Christmas" and Haunani Kahalewai's rendition of "White Christmas" remain but the other songs here are winning entries in the annual RHSC Christmas Song Contest.

Manny Cabral's "I'm Coming Home for Christmas" (1992) is nicely interpreted by Jeff Rasmussen and Robi Kahakalau, Teresa Bright makes William Daquioag's "Christmas in the Isles" (1991) memorable, and Danny Couch adds the proper poignancy to Cabral's 1990 contest winner, "Christmas Day Promise."

Budget was clearly a factor in some sessions (part of the proceeds go to the Waikiki Community Center). Put a full big band behind Jimmy Borges on Charlene G. Dyer's "Santa's Last Stop" (1989) and that song would rock!

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet Santa's Last Stop
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center

Bullet "My Christmas Wish" (Landmark Records LMR 3445)

Here's another album that combines new recordings with previously released material. Producer/composer Calvin Chang released a six-song sampler last year that was titled "Hawaiian Christmas Gift" and featured young vocal groups Na Hoaloha and Na Pua Kanile'a. This one adds eight more songs and a third vocal group, Na 'Opio 'O Kanile'a, to the package.

Na 'Opio 'O Kanile'a opens the collection with a promising light pop tune about Christmas season heartbreak, "My Christmas Wish." Song-by-song performance credits aren't provided elsewhere, but Na Hoaloha and Na Pua 'O Kanile'a dominate thereafter on songs ranging in subject matter from conventional seasonal activities to Christmas-in-Hawaii vignettes. Two songs commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chang is clearly exploring a broader spectrum of ideas as composer/producer and relying on the groups to convey his ideas. Originality is always commendable.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet My Christmas Wish
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Landmark Records

Bullet "Mele Kalikimaka: A Hawaiian Christmas Party" (Hula CDHS-522)

Don McDiarmid Jr. invited some major talent when he recorded this Hawaiian Christmas party album in 1967. The Kamehameha Alumni Glee Club share the stage with Nina Keali'iwahamana, the Maile Serenaders, Boyce Rodrigues and Hilo Hattie. Kent Bowman adds two pidgin Christmas stories for the keiki.

Newly available on CD, this collection of old-time Christmas favorites is welcome for the memories it revives or as introduction to another era in Hawaiian music.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet Santa's Hula
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info



Local divas

Bullet "Local Divas' Christmas" (Local Divas Productions LDPCD-1998)

The Local Divas -- Nohelani Cypriano, Loyal Garner, Carole Kai and Melveen Leed -- progress from live act to recording act with this potpourri of seasonal music. This is Kai's first recording in years, making the album significant.

Individual singing credits aren't listed but Kai does a fine job with "The Secret of Christmas"; Leed stars on a disco-beat arrangement of "Angels We Have Heart on High"; and Garner has a moody memorable gem in "Some Children See Him." Cypriano shares the vocal spotlight elsewhere.

Dennis Graue, Marvic Esquibil and David Kauahikaua, share credit as the Divas' synthetic orchestra. The sound is a familiar one because Cypriano and Graue have worked together for more than 20 years, and Garner and Kauahikaua have a similar musical relationship.

The guys succeed for the most part in crafting diverse contemporary arrangements, but they should have gone with a live jazz combo on Kai's sweetly seductive revival of "Santa Baby," an Eartha Kitt hit from the '50s.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet Sing Noel
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Local Divas Productions



Bullet "Merry Christmas" (Heart Music)

This album was released late last year, almost missing the season. Viola and her arrangers generally favor a soft and light pop approach to Christian standards such as "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night," but the musicians all crank it up a bit for a credible take on "Go Tell it on the Mountain."

Viola has an appealing voice and the arrangements show it off nicely. A secular medley, "White Christmas"/"I'll Be Home for Christmas," and a song sung in Swedish ("The Swedish Song"), are arranged to fit the light pop format while also offering something for those who prefer non-religious Christmas songs.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet The First Noel
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Heart Music



Bullet "Merry Christmas from Kapena" (KDE 6200)

Kapena's second Christmas album builds on their first, "A Night Before Christmas," which was a spin-off from a television special with Willie K.

One of the hits off the first album was Willie's recording of "O Holy Night." Kapena stakes its claim to the song and does a fine job.

A new recording of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" is another notable entry and shows another facet of Kelly De Lima's vocal repertoire.

"Christmas Without You," written by De Lima as a requiem for his father, is a deeply personal song that will comfort anyone who mourns a loved one during the Christmas season.

A group identified as "The Kapena Kids" joins the original trio -- De Lima and Tivaini and Teimomi Tatofi -- on "Happy Birthday Jesus. " De Lima's wife, Leolani, gets the spotlight on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," one of the songs recycled from the the television special and the first Christmas album.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info



Pure Heart

Bullet "2.5" (Four Strings Productions FSCD-7488)

Pure Heart's third album is both imaginative and distinctive. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is a beautiful example of the impact that acoustic music can have. Jon Yamasato's voice, Jake Shimabukuro's uke, and a little percussion from Lopaka Colon, are all that are needed to make their version a contender for seasonal radio play.

Shimabukuro and Yamasato share credits as composer and vocalist respectively for a plaintive lost-love song, "At Christmas Time."

Several original instrumentals featuring Colon's bird calls and jungle noises suggest the experience of Christmas in the tropics. Shimabukuro's odd but memorable vocal bit as "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and Yamasato's straight rendition of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer!" add lighter notes to the collection.

Mpeg Audio Clip:
Bullet My Christmas Wish
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Four Strings Productions:


Willie K

Bullet "Willie Kalikimaka" (Mountain Apple Co. MACD 2062)

"O Holy Night" and a duet with Willie Nelson are two obvious highlights on Willie K's impressive album, reviewed here earlier.

The other songs likewise display his range as a song stylist and contemporary musician whether he is interpreting Christmas standards or introducing original Christmas songs such was "Christmas Bells," and "Merry Christmas."

All in all, this is one of the most impressive local Christmas albums since Henry Kapono released "Merry Christmas to You" 10 years ago.

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet Christmas Bells
Bullet Reggae Christmas
Bullet Away In A Manger
(with Willie Nelson)
Bullet Merry Christmas
Quicktime | MPEG-3 info

Mountain Apple Records:

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