Three prior winners and a three-time finalist are joined by a first-time recording artist as the five finalists in the Female Vocalist of the Year category in the 2011 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, to be announced Sunday.
The first-timer, single-monickered Kiani, is also the only one of the five whose album falls completely outside mainstream Hawaiian or hapa haole music. Her self-titled album, produced by George “Fiji” Veikoso and Laga Savea, is part Jawaiian, part urban pop, a formula that makes it the long shot to win here.
Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts voters usually choose Hawaiian and traditional hapa haole music over all other genres, although Fiji won Male Vocalist of the Year and Favorite Entertainer of the Year in 1998 with an album that was neither.
Three-time finalist ‘Anelaikalani is back with another album of beautiful traditionalist Hawaiian music. Her voice is as strong and engaging as ever and her musicians are a solid team. What the album lacks is proper packaging, annotation and promotional support from the record label. Good proactive promotion never hurts in getting the music heard and building a fan base.
That leaves a three way race between prior winners Robi Kahakalau, Kainani Kahaunaele and Napua Grieg. Kahakalau won Female Vocalist and Island Contemporary Album for “Sistah Robi” in 1996; she’s a finalist this year thanks to an album of Christmas songs. Kahaunaele won three Hokus — Female Vocalist, Most Promising Artist and Hawaiian Language Performance — in 2004. Makua, then known as Napua Grieg, won Female Vocalist for her debut album, “Pihana,” in 2008.
Grieg/Makua’s win in 2008 was a stunner. A finalist in five categories, she came up an also-ran in one after another but then won Female Vocalist — beating prior winners Teresa Bright (1991), Raiatea Helm (2003 and 2005), Ku‘uipo Kumukahi (1994 and 2001) and Amy Hanaiai‘i Gilliom (1998, 2002, 2007, and in 2000 for an album credited to Amy Hanaiali’i & Willie K as a duo).
The win put Grieg/Makua on the musical map in a big way. Her second album, “Mohalu,” is on the ballot for Hawaiian Album, Favorite Entertainer and the prestigious Hawaiian Language Performance category as well as Female Vocalist. That makes her a front-runner this year.
So is Kahaunaele. She won Female Vocalist, Most Promising Artist and Hawaiian Language performance for her debut album, “Na‘u ‘Oe,” in 2004. Her long-awaited second album, “Ohai Ula,” is a finalist for Female Vocalist, Album of the Year, Hawaiian Album of the Year and Hawaiian Language Performance.
She is also up for Favorite Entertainer, and could also win Song of the Year — one of two categories that honor songwriters rather than performers — for “Eia Ke Aloha.” Kahaunaele is also competing against herself in the Haku Mele category which honors the “best first-released song or change primarily in the Hawaiian language.” Two songs on the album, “‘Ohai ‘Ula” and “Pua‘ala,” are among the five finalists in that prestigious adjudicated category.
Predicting which way the HARA membership is going to vote is usually difficult. Few expected to Grieg/Makua to win Female Vocalist in 2008 — she was on tour in Japan the night of the ceremony and had to be notified by phone.
However, given the membership’s longstanding preference for Hawaiian music over all other genres, and the growing importance of Hawaiian language performance — of pronouncing the words clearly and correctly rather than memorizing a vintage recording and parroting the performance — the albums by Kahaunaele and Makua must be counted as the front-runners in the category.
TUESDAY: Male Vocalist of Year Finalists
VIDEO: Interview with Ledward Kaapana