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Island Mele
Friday, April 6, 2001

By John Berger



Nisei songs
catch new ears

Club Nisei Encore
Club Nisei Hana Ola HOC 41000

TWO ANTHOLOGIES of songs recorded here by a Japanese-American orchestra 50 years ago came out of nowhere last year and become among the hottest local titles of recent memory. The first, "Hawaiian Nisei Songs," was originally intended for release only in Japan, but a short review last June ignited such fervent interest here that an expanded and improved album, "Club Nisei," was released two months later. It too quickly became a huge hit.

Hana Ola producer Billy Rose, whose involvement with the earlier title has been limited to the editing the English liner notes, took charge of "Club Nisei" and ensured that it would accurately reflect Hawaii's post-World War II Japanese-American milieu rather than presenting the music as an "exotic" novelty.

Rose changed the order of the songs, dropped some entirely, and added more than he dropped ("Hawaiian Nisei Songs" had 16 songs. Rose released "Club Nisei" with 23). He included vintage photos from the personal archives of Club Nisei member Clarence Hayase. He also provided an extensive account of the political history of the Japanese in Hawaii from the arrival of the first immigrants in 1868 through Statehood.

Rose brings the love for the music and same painstaking attention to detail as producer of "Club Nisei Encore." Several photos from the family of Club Nisei founder Robert Kojima add another important element in making the album valuable as historical documentation as well as for the beauty of the recordings.

Rose again provides a line or two about each song, an analysis of the political and social aspects, and shares some of the personal history as well. From the opening bars of "Tanko Bushi," featuring Harold Sasahara and Aiko Bingo," through the apt closing number, "Sayonara," this is another must-buy album for anyone interested in Hawaii's Japanese cultural legacy. Ballroom dancers, and fans of "big band" or contemporary "lounge" music, can expect to love "Club Nisei Encore" as well.

Bingo and Sasahara are only two of the singers awaiting discovery -- or rediscovery -- here. The roster also includes Sparky Iwamoto, Haruye Minami, Alma Shimabukuro, Tokie Tamaki and Jane "Jane Itai" Yoshino. All are well worth hearing.

So is Errol Nakao as he takes over on "Gomen Nasai" and "Yu-hi Wa Akai Ho (Red Sails in the Sunset)." Both tunes are among those that draw on Club Nisei's English lyric repertoire.

Other selections include the band's arrangements of Japanese pop hits, regional favorites. traditional folk songs, and tunes with ties to cultural celebrations.

"Yie Lai Shan (Fragrance of the Night)" is unique as a Chinese song first a hit during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II. It later became the title song of a Japanese film.

Hana Ola has long set the standard for state-of-the-art restoration and digital remastering of recordings on defunct island labels. Rose, executive producer Michael Cord and the tech crew have done an excellent job on these treasures from George Ching's 49th State Hawaii Records label. It's safe to say that these beautiful recordings have never sounded better.

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet Tonko Bushi
Bullet Gomen Nasai
Bullet Sayonara
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

We Celebrate

Chucky Boy Chock
Dream Tech Productions DTPCD-003

Chucky Boy Chock was once a prominent figure on the contemporary local music scene in the '70s. He's just released his second Christian album, a music that has his total devotion.

The initial impression is of a local Christian album where earnest testament takes precedence over the music. Chock's skillful use of melody and rhythm sets such fears to rest. He and his accompanying musicians present his spiritual message in styles from pleasant tropical grooves to smooth pop. The ubiquitous synth-strings seep into some numbers but steel drums, xylophones, sax, flute and acoustic stringed instruments add organic textures.

Two songs merit play on Christian radio. "Makualani" finds Chock and Robbi Kaholokula sharing a beautiful tune arranged around ukulele and keyboards. An inspired blending of melody, harmony, chant and rhythm makes "Warriors" equally impressive.

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet We Celebrate
Bullet Makualani
Bullet Warriors
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

Spin City

Kutmaster Spaz
Landmark Entertainment LME-0003-2

THE IDEAL OF "unity" gets a lot of lip service among local rappers and hip-hop artists. Kutmaster Spaz actually acted on it by making his debut album a showcase for Hawaii-based rappers and DJs.

The CD's most prominent guest is veteran rapper/record producer Big Teeze who served as project producer and contributes several strong tracks. Teeze and his protégé JB hit hard with "How We Roll." "It's Like That" and "Scratch Dialogue" both give Spaz space to demonstrate his skills on the ones-and-twos. The phenomenal Chilly Chill delivers a fine performance on "R U Getting It" and B.E.T. add their distinctive reggae-rap sound to "She Lie."

Solanna, the Free Flo-ers, Aiga, J-Smoove, and Skillz and Mass also guest on Spaz's CD. A recorded crank phone call by Da Krank isn't as foul as his 1997 album but shouldv'e been left off this otherwise outstanding collection.

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet Hee Ha Ha
Bullet How We Roll
Bullet She Lie
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

For Entertainment Purposes

The Sticklers
weT noOdle Records

THE VITALITY of Honolulu's underground rock scene is proved beyond a doubt on this rough-edged gem. The roughness is intentional. The trio--Dave (guitar/lead vocals), Otto (bass/backing vocals) and Alex (drums/smokin')--has done a perfect job capturing the attitude and raw energy they project on stage.

In true punk fashion, The Sticklers make it a point to mock the conventions of modern punk/alternative/whatever music, whether they're satirizing classic rock (complete with a faux DJ intro) on "Butt Rocker," riffing on being vegetarian, the perils of dating a girl whose father owns a "big old .357 Dirty Harry" gun, or trying to make the best of a limited amount of sexual staying power. You can always expect The Sticklers to put out 100 percent full throttle!

Mpeg Audio Clips:
Bullet Vegetarian
Bullet 5 Minutes of Love
Bullet Butt Rocker
Quicktime | RealPlayer | MPEG-3 info

See Record Reviews for some past reviews.
See Aloha Worldwide for locals living away.

John Berger, who has covered the local
entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings
produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Today
section on Fridays for the latest reviews.

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