"Two hundred sixty Hawaiian music artists and 28 years ago, I was a Hawaiian music illiterate," said Carol Yotsuda, founder of E Kanikapila Kakou.
No one thinks of her that way now. Running from January through March each year, EKK has become Kauai’s premier program of Hawaiian music, hula, oral history and storytelling.
It all began with Yotsuda’s desire to learn about Hawaiian music from the people who know it best.
"I remember attending a gathering where everyone could sing Hawaiian songs except me," she said. "I just pretended to mouth the words. I told my friend Sam Kaahanui that what Kauai needed was an event where people like me could go and learn Hawaiian songs. I said if he would write a proposal for it, I would find the money to do it."
Another friend, Hokulani Cleeland, came up with a name for the event — E Kanikapila Kakou, meaning "Let’s strike up the music" — and Kaahanui produced an impressive proposal. Yotsuda took that and her enthusiasm to Alfred Preis, then the executive director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. He loved the idea and responded with a $1,000 check.
Bud Carter, who was community services director at Kauai Community College, agreed to provide a microphone, song sheets and the campus’ cafeteria on Monday nights, so EKK had a home. Seventeen people came to the first program, held the evening after Christmas in 1983.
Attendance grew exponentially as the weeks passed, and "the circle of voices grew," Yotsuda said. "At first the audience was very hesitant as there were many people, like myself, who did not know Hawaiian music, but as the number of participants increased, the sessions took on new life."
E KANIKAPILA KAKOU
Place: Jasmine Ballroom, Kauai Beach Resort
Time: Doors open at 5 p.m. Ukulele and/or hula lessons with the featured artist begin at 6 p.m. with the main program from 7 to 9 p.m. See schedule below for event dates.
Admission: Free (donations welcome)
Information: Call 245-2733, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
EKK room rates: Start at $139 per night; minimum two-night stay. Rates are good Sunday through Thursday until March 31. When booking, mention code EKK. Call 246-5517 or 246-5518, or e-mail email@example.com.
Featuring: Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and Nathan Aweau
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Kauai Community College’s Performing Arts Center, Lihue
Tickets: $30 in advance; $35 at door. Tickets sold at Borders Books and Music in Lihue, Island Soap & Candleworks in Koloa, Kauai Music & Sound in Kapaa, Hawaiian Music Kiosk in Princeville and Coconut Plantation, Scotty’s Music in Kalaheo, Banana Patch Gallery in Hanapepe and Hanalei Music’s Strings & Things.
Today, EKK welcomes an average of 450 people per night who enjoy the "talk story/sing-along" format and performances by some of the brightest stars in the local music industry. Among the standouts who have participated are Jerry Santos, Willy K, Kekuhi Kanahele, George Kahumoku Jr., Sonny Ching, Nona Beamer, Robert Cazimero, Raymond Kane, Tony Conjugacion, Eddie Kamae, Brother Noland, Dennis Kamakahi, Palani Vaughan, Raiatea Helm and Makana. EKK also has served as a launching pad for promising new talent.
"It started as a way for people to learn Hawaiian songs, and that has never changed," Yotsuda said. "The artists know they are there to ‘teach,’ but interaction and spontaneity are a big part of the experience. They encourage the audience to ask questions, suggest songs and share personal stories. They even invite people to perform a hula or play the ukulele."
One year, ukulele masters Gordon Mark, David Kamakahi and Aldrine Guerrero appeared on the same night. After they performed individually, Yotsuda requested that they take the stage together and "have their ukuleles speak to each other."
At first they all looked puzzled. "Then," said Yotsuda, "Gordon remembered a comment Aldrine had made earlier: ‘I don’t know why I’m here playing with these amazing ukulele players. I might as well play "Mary Had a Little Lamb,"’ and he started picking the song in the style of Bach. David caught on and began playing his contemporary rendition of it, and then Aldrine jumped in with his own playful variation. It was a display of true virtuosity, and the crowd loved it!"
The theme of this year’s EKK is "Hula and Harmony." As usual, the programs will be akin to informal backyard jam sessions. "EKK audiences like to find out what inspired composers to write their songs, if there is any history or kaona (hidden meaning) behind them, and any other relevant information," Yotsuda said. "They’re eager to learn the Hawaiian lyrics, translations and correct pronunciations."
Over the years, as EKK moved to larger venues, Yotsuda was concerned it would lose the intimacy that makes it special. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened.
"Up to 650 people were in the Kauai Beach Resort’s Jasmine Ballroom last year, but the connection between the artists and the audience was just as strong as it was when EKK was held in Kauai Community College’s cafeteria 28 years ago," Yotsuda said. "That shows true aloha expands to fill any space, touch every heart."
KAUAI BEACH RESORT CONCERTS
» Jan.17: Natalie Ai Kamauu, Howard Ai, Iolani Kamauu and Chad Ai
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.