Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, July 12, 2001

'Ale'a, from left, are Chad Takatsugi, Kale Hannahs,
Gonzo Gonzalez and Kalai Stern, who will be
leaving the band at the end of the month.

‘Ale‘a revives
traditional acoustic
Hawaiian music

The group will be minus one
soon, but will continue to play

By John Berger

'Ale'a hit big in the past year with its debut album, "Take Me Home," and helped revitalize interest in traditional Hawaiian music as they did so.

"Take Me Home" won four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in May, for Most Promising Artist(s), Island Contemporary Album of the Year, and Group of the Year, and Song of the Year for "Mapu Mau Ke 'Ala" by composer Julian Keikilani Ako.

"It's really nice to know that what we do is liked," guitarist Chad Takatsugi says. "It's more important to us to be proud of what we put out, but the fact that it's recognized by the public, and the accolades from the industry is nice too."

Takatsugi says their love of traditional acoustic Hawaiian music comes in part from family and in part from their experiences at Kamehameha.

"We're all Kamehameha graduates and that alone instills it, even if you don't like Hawaiian music."

Ryan "Gonzo" Gonzalez says that he and the others were surprised by the response when "Take Me Home" hit the stores last summer. "We didn't think it would do as well as it did but we were very fortunate that the radio stations picked up a couple of tunes and the public accepted it," he said. Gonzalez is known as the group's jack-of-all-trades because he can switch from lead ukulele to guitar or banjo.

Kale Hannahs provides the musical foundation on acoustic bass. Kala'i Stern, 1996 winner of the Frank B. Shaner Falsetto Contest and a solo recording artist before joining 'Ale'a, adds 8-string ukulele as well as his falsetto prowess.

It was a popular combination even before "Take Me Home" was released. 'Ale'a won the prestigious Ka Himeni Ani acoustic Hawaiian music competition at the Hawai'i Theatre in 1998. They won exposure at the Makaha Sons' Makaha Bash with a victory in the "Battle for the Bash" competition in 1999.

Hannahs says that it's all part of a larger resurgence of interest in traditional Hawaiian music. "A few years ago it would have been a lot harder to break out into the mainstream but nowadays there's an environment that fosters an interest in traditional Hawaiian music. There's the emergence of other younger generations playing traditional Hawaiian music like Pai'ea and Maunalua, and there's a lot of groups that are just out there that play small bars and restaurants. They play very good Hawaiian music and we all have a respect for each other. We have a camaraderie and that helps us to bring more interests in traditional Hawaiian music."

The renewed popularity of traditional Hawaiian music saw Maunalua and Pai'ea also make the final ballot at the Hokus this year. Maunalua ended up beating Pai'ea, and former winners Kawai Cockett and Ku'uipo Kumukahi, for Hawaiian Album of the Year.

A new 'Ale'a album is tentatively scheduled for release next spring. It will feature a new look and a new sound since the group will become a trio at the end of the month. Friends of 'Ale'a have known for some time that Stern would be leaving the band to complete his music studies at the University of Hawai'i. "I'm the king of starting things and having a lot of things going on at the same time. I was going to school part-time after taking a break for five years, and now it's time for me to wrap that up and get my degree."

Not that Stern is doing all that much to simplify his life. He's accepted an offer to become choral director of the Honolulu Boy Choir. He also will have a role in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" in September.

"It's been, like, seven years since I've done musical theater, and I've been looking to do another show, and we're going to move forward with that."

The group's last performance with Stern on falsetto and 8-string will be at Gordon Biersch on July 29.

As for the others, Gonzalez says he's going back to school and staying with the group (he also designs Web sites and works nights as part of the tech crew at the Outrigger Main Showroom). Takatsugi is "focusing on music and school (University of Hawai'i)." Hannahs works full time at Design Systems Limited and participates in a non-profit organization called Winners' Camp.

"Between those two and the band I'm pretty busy," Hannahs admits.

So 'Ale'a is going forward and, who knows, Stern could possibly return, as a member or as a special guest, at some future date.

"He'll always be part of the 'Ale'a family," Takatsugi says. "Our goal is still the same -- making good music. We're not looking at this as losing him. It's just all of us taking a few extra steps."

Backyard Bash 2001

Starring: 'Ale'a and Maunalua
When: 5 to 9 p.m. today
Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
Admission: $15; minimum age 21.
Call: 566-8620

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