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Male Vocalist of the Year: Newcomer faces veterans

By John Berger

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:11 a.m. HST, May 24, 2011


Mark Yamanaka, a finalist for most promising artist and six other categories, is up against four repeat Hoku Award-winners for Male Vocalist of the Year honors. His album, "Lei Pua Kenikeni," has clearly connected with many Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts members.

He is also up for Album of the Year, Hawaiian Album of the Year, Song of the Year (for "Kaleoonalani," a song written for his daughter), Favorite Entertainer and the prestigious Hawaiian Language Performance category. 

With all that love from the general HARA membership and the nod from the Hawaiian language specialists who determine the finalists and the winner of the Hawaiian Language Performance category, this could be a huge year for Yamanaka — and, there are precedents for it.

The Peter Moon Band album "Cane Fire!" won seven Hoku Awards in 1983 (including the awards for engineer John Kahale Chang and composer Leo Anderson Akana). HAPA won six trophies for its self-titled debut album in 1994, and in 1995 Keali'i Reichel got six and the Makaha Sons five — Reichel for his debut album, "Kawaipunahele," and the Sons for their first album as a trio, "Ke Alaula."

Reichel did even better in 2004 when "Ke'alaokamaile" won in seven categories; the total there included Hokus for engineer Jim Linkner and graphic designer Scott Johnson, as well as Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and a producer's credit for Reichel.

There have been several other "sweeps" or near "sweeps" over the years. However, Yamanaka is up against four formidable veteran artists for Male Vocalist of the Year and none can be counted out.

There's Kenneth Makuakane, a finalist on the strength of his year-end release, "Kawaipono." Makuakane won his first four Hokus in 1990 when his group, Pandanus Club, won Album of the Year, Group of the Year and Traditional Hawaiian Album of the Year. The Hoku for Album of the Year goes to the producer(s) of the winning album as well as the artist, and so Makuakane earned a fourth award for producing it.

As of 2010, he had won 12 Hoku Awards as a recording artist, songwriter and record producer. This year he has four separate projects on the final ballot despite having almost no hard-copy distribution for his recordings; a clerk at one major national book and music chain said earlier this month that he isn't even in their database!

So much for "brick and mortar" music stores. Makuakane is also one of the six finalists for Hawaiian Language Performance and a finalist in the adjudicated Engineering category as well. In short, he, too, could conceivably be a winner in seven categories. Hawaiian Album, Single of the Year, Religious Album and Instrumental Album are the other award categories he's in play for.

 John Keawe has been an important figure in Big Island music for more than two decades. His tally of two Hoku Awards — Instrumental Album (1994) and Slack Key Album (2009) — represents only a fraction of his full discography. Keawe's large contributions to preserving and perpetuating the traditions of Hawaiian slack-key were recognized in 2003 when he received HARA's Ki Ho'alu Award.

Keawe made the final ballot this year with "Play For Me Papa," a collection of songs about his family, various locales on the Big Island, and famous people with Big Island ties. The title song describes the challenges of being the caregiver for your grandchildren. Eight instrumental selections display his technique as a guitarist.

Willie K has been one of biggest stars in Hawaiian music ever since he won five Hokus with his debut album, "Kahaiali'i," in 1992 — Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year among them. As of 2010 he has won a total of 10 "plus one" as a recording artist, record producer and songwriter. The "plus one" is because Willie is the only male recording artist who recorded an album as a member of a duo or group and then had the album win in the Female Vocalist category rather than Group of the Year.

It happened in 2000 when a highly controversial rules change resulted in "Nostalgia," the second album by the performing duo of Amy Hanaiali'i & Willie K, being defined as the work of a female vocalist rather than the work of the duo that was credited on the album cover.

Willie's other Hoku wins include one for his first Christmas album, "Willie Kalikimaka." His second Christmas album, "Willie Wonderland," has earned him finalist status this year in three categories — Male Vocalist, Christmas Album and Favorite Entertainer.

An imaginative reworking of "Silver Bells" is one of the highlights, a swinging duet with Alaka'i Paleka is another. "Willie Wonderland" should win the Christmas Album category even if he doesn't prevail here.

The fourth veteran in the Male Vocalist category is slack-key master Ledward Kaapana. Kaapana has won Hokus as a member of Ledward Kaapana & I Kona (1986), as a member of Hui 'Ohana (1988), for his work with Mike Kaawa (2009) and as a solo artist (1984, 1989, 2001 and 2006). He received the HARA Ki Ho'alu Award in 1995 and was honored in 2005 along with his twin brother, Nedward Kaapana, and cousin, the late Dennis Pavao, when the HARA Board of Governors bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on Hui 'Ohana for the "lifetime achievement" of the group in the '70s and during its short-lived reunion in the late '80s.

Kaapana has done so much as a solo artist that he deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award of his own, but for now he's up for another Hoku Award. "The Legend" is a collection of songs he grew up singing with the extended Kaapana/Punahoa ohana in Kalapana in the '50s and early '60s.

He sings in Hawaiian and English, in falsetto and lower register, and showcases his technique on ukulele as well as slack-key guitar. The title song was written by his late brother, George Kaapana Jr., and is included to fulfill a promise Led made to his brother. "The Legend" was a finalist at the 2011 Grammy Awards and would have represented Hawaii well there. It would fit well here, too.

Yamanaka has the momentum to win Male Vocalist but it is far from a sure thing.


WEDNESDAY:  Group of the Year
VIDEO: Interview with Dennis Kamakahi






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