Paula Fuga (Pakipika Productions)
Paula Fuga sprang to the forefront of the local music scene with the release of her debut album, "Lilikoi," in 2006 and was named Most Promising Artist at the 2007 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards the following spring. She could have churned out albums to capitalize on that success, but instead has taken her time and done it right. There are only five songs on this economically packaged EP, but each stands out. Each has something distinctive to say.
Fuga opens on a lilting wave of Jamaican rhythms with songs that display her command of the genre without indulging in Jawaiian-style affectations. It certainly helps to have Ziggy Marley as her singing partner on "High Tide or Low Tide," but they prove well matched in revisiting that reggae classic. Ditto her duets with Jack Johnson — she and Jack mesh well, too.
Fuga slows the pace and brings her ukulele up forward in the mix with "Parachute." The arrangement emphasizes the rich textures of her voice and her appeal as a pop artist.
The title track is the most promising. Fuga and her production team knit several pop genres together, and the result is a fresh Hawaiian/mainstream pop sound that could be the next new thing in national pop.
Grammy winner’s latest hits home
Kulia i ka Punawai (Daniel Ho Creations)
Daniel Ho’s success as a Grammy Award-winning recording artist and record producer allows him and his namesake record label leeway to also release projects of cultural significance, regardless of their commercial viability. This is the third in a series of compilations made by the kumu hula and member halau of Kulia i ka Punawai (aka the Kumu Hula Association of Southern California). As with the previous albums in the series — honoring Kapiolani and Kalakaua — it is a remarkable project.
Producer Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman and the participating kumu hula present chants written either in honor of Liliuokalani or her husband, John Owen Dominis, governor of Oahu, who died shortly after she ascended to the throne.
Stillman notes the historical significance of one group of mele, written to express support for Liliuokalani in 1894 when it still seemed possible that the United States would restore the freedom of the Hawaiian people as the English had done in 1843. She digs deeper in the archives for other compositions that were not published in the Hawaiian newspapers of the 1890s, but which were known to Liliuokalani and others.
The presentation is traditional throughout — solo vocalists and groups of vocalists supported by pre-contact percussive instruments. Listen carefully and the individual voices emerge, male and female, each with its own style and texture.
Stillman completes the project with a liner notes booklet that contains a short biography of Liliuokalani and the lyrics of each selection in Hawaiian and English. Including the Hawaiian lyrics makes it possible for students of the language to listen along; the English translations make the basic meaning accessible for everybody else.
Hawaiian-language songs performed with traditional Hawaiian percussion instruments — it doesn’t get more Hawaiian than this!
Emerson reissue is diverse
"Slack & Steel"
Ken Emerson (HanaOla)
This new CD is a reissue of an album originally recorded by Ken Emerson in 1997 — a beautifully crafted solo project that helped rekindle interest here in the sound of acoustic steel guitar and other antique instruments.
Reissued by Emerson and producer Michael Cord, the album includes five additional archival tracks.
Emerson is almost a one-man band. He plays slack-key guitar, acoustic and electric steel guitar, rhythm guitar and ukulele in various combinations. A second guitarist joins him on one track; an acoustic bassist plays on three. The diversity of the instruments makes the album especially interesting. The liner notes explain some of the more elaborate arrangements and make it possible to appreciate the distinct sounds of the different instruments and Emerson’s approach to playing them.
Emerson’s career traces back to a memorable debut as the Emerson Brothers — Phil and Ken — and a winning spot on Ron "Whodaguy" Jacobs’ "Homegrown III" album in 1978. The brothers’ original song "Kai Hanupanupa," stood out for its nostalgic Hawaiian/hapa-haole sound.
Phil and Ken Emerson built on their promising debut with their work as Moe Keale’s studio sidemen on his precedent-setting "South Sea Island Magic" album in 1980. While Nohelani Cypriano had reworked the hapa-haole classic as polished Hawaiian disco, Keale and the Emersons played the song as it might have sounded if written a decade or two earlier when guitars and steel guitars were still acoustic instruments.
The Emersons’ affiliation with Keale turned out to be short-lived, but Ken Emerson continued on as a solo artist who often played antique acoustic instruments — some with wooden bodies, others metal, some with the cones or resonators that were used to amplify the sound of guitars and steel guitars before the first electric instruments were invented.
"Slack & Steel" was originally recorded and produced by John Keoni Fujitani for his local indie label, Liko Records. Fujitani didn’t release many albums on the Liko label, but most of those he did were significant. This was one of the label’s best — and the added tracks make it even better.