The Ho’opi’i Ohana group, led by 81-year-old Robert Ho’opi’i’s soaring falsetto, sang and played their way to first place in the Ka Himeni Ana Music Contest Friday night at the Hawaii Theatre.
The five-member family band was the last of 10 groups to take the stage, but when the frail-looking Ho’opi’i began to sing, anyone who might have been tired immediately perked up. The group’s renditions of the two traditional tunes Akaka Falls and Hula o Makee were sweet enough to convince the four-judge panel to award them the $1,200 first prize.
Taylor Ho’opi’i, the group’s ukulele player, said the family has been singing together since “forever,” but had never entered the music contest before. They decided to take part this year as a tribute to the matriarch of the family, Elizabeth, who died this year, he said. The band also included Leila Moa and Kauhi Ho‘opi‘i on the guitar and Lopaka Ho‘opi‘i on the upright bass, Groups were rated according to vocal harmony, use of the Hawaiian language, and overall musicianship. The 27-year-old contest stresses traditional, unamplified performance of songs in nahenahe style, allowing amplification only for Hawaiian steel guitar. A crowd of about 900 enjoyed the event.