Two new "super groups" are frontrunners in an impressive field of Na Hoku Hanohano finalists in the Group of the Year category.
Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom teamed up with five multitalented men to create Amy Hanaiali’i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai’i, an alliance she later described as a "definite strategic play" in her long-running campaign to win a Grammy Award. It was the first time she had officially recorded as a member of a duo or group since her 2003 reunion album with Willie K, and although the "play" didn’t pay off for her at the 2011 Grammys, the sextet’s self-titled album is a remarkable piece of work.
Amy’s partners — Dennis Kamakahi, Elmer "Sonny" Lim Jr., Chino Montero, Cyril Pahinui and Jeff Peterson — share full credit as equal contributors rather than serving secondary roles as "guests" or sidemen. Yes, Amy’s picture dominates the cover but the album itself is a genuine group project that presents various combinations of voices and instruments.
Measured by the number of Hoku Awards that the six members of the group have won individually over the years, it can be safely said that Hawaii has never seen a group like this one. Including her albums with Willie K, Amy has won 16 Hokus as a recording artist, songwriter and record producer. Pahinui has earned five Hoku Awards for his work as a solo artist, five more as a member of the Peter Moon Band in the ’80s, and another as a member of the superstar quartet that recorded "Broken Promise" in 1992. He received the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts Ki Ho’alu Award in 1997 and certainly deserves the HARA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kamakahi received a Hoku Award (Best New Song) in 1980, the HARA Ki Ho’alu Award in 2005 and a HARA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 solely for his work as a member of the Sons of Hawai’i. However, he has done so much more as a solo artist and as a member of groups other than the Sons of Hawai’i that he too deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award in his own right.
Peterson has earned three Hoku Awards (2008, 2009 and 2010), and Lim three for his work as a member of the Lim Family. Montero has yet to record as a solo artist but has played on the Hoku Award-winning albums of other artists. It is certainly a star-studded group.
But so is the other "super group" in the category.
Keola Beamer and Raiatea Helm recorded "Keola Beamer & Raiatea" after they clicked as a duo doing her 25th Birthday Concert at the Hawaii Theatre in 2009 — the concert video/DVD of the show was the 2010 Hoku winner in the Music Video/DVD category.
Beamer needs no introduction. A major figure in slack-key since the early 1970s, he broke big as a recording artist when "Honolulu City Lights," an album he recorded with his brother as Keola & Kapono Beamer, won Hoku Awards in six categories in 1979 (including awards for the engineer, Herb Ono, and producers Teddy Randazzo, Tom Moffatt and Frank Day). The tally included a solo composer’s award to Keola for the megahit title song.
Since then he has won one additional Hoku as a recording artist and another as a record producer. He received the HARA Ki Ho’alu Award in 1998 and was honored with his brother Kapono for the lifetime achievements of the Keola & Kapono Beamer duo in 2009. All this barely scratches the surface of his solo discography, or in documenting his importance in the preservation and perpetuation of slack-key music.
Helm won Most Promising Artist and Female Vocalist of the Year for her debut album, "Faraway Heaven," and Female Vocalist and Favorite Entertainer for her second album, "Sweet & Lovely" in 2005. She is the most visible female Hawaiian falsetto vocalist of her generation and has slipped with equal ease into her musical partnership with Beamer. Their album opens with a cross-cultural reworking of "Imagine" and continues with a mixed bag of Hawaiian and hapa haole songs — some newly written, others Beamer family classics.
"Keola Beamer & Raiatea" is also a finalist for Album of the Year, Song of the Year (for Beamer’s composition "You Somebody"), Island Music Album and Graphics.
Big as they are, a win by one of these two "super groups" is by no means assured.
Kupaoa — the husband and wife duo of Kellen Paik and Kalikolihau Hannahs Paik — won Most Promising Arists in 2009 with their debut album, "Pili o ke Ao." Their second, "English Rose," as beautiful and impeccably traditionalist as the first, is also a finalist for Album of the Year, Island Music Album, Favorite Entertainer and Song of the Year (for the title song, which Kellen wrote). The couple is also up for Liner Notes and is one of the six finalists in the prestigious Hawaiian Language Performance category.
In short, Kupaoa should not be considered a long shot to win here.
And then there’s KuMZ, the duo of kumu hula Karl Veto Baker and kumu hula Micheal Casupang, who are perpetuating the living legacy of their kumu, Robert Cazimero, with their work as kumu hula, songwriters and recording artists. Their album, "On the Summit," is also a finalist for Hawaiian Album, but the cultural importance of the duo’s work is seen in the fact they are also finalists in the adjudicated Hawaiian Language Performance category and have a nomination in the adjudicated Haku Mele category for Casupang and Ka’enaaloha Hopkins’ first-time recorded composition, "Aia I Ka Malu."
The status of long shots in the category goes to Manoa DNA — Lloyd Kawakami ("Dad") and sons Nick and Alex. The trio’s aptly titled album, "Evolution," documents their success in doing exactly that as songwriters and arrangers.
It also contains some praiseworthy contemporary pop takes on Hawaiian standards. However, given the HARA membership’s traditional preference for Hawaiian music above all other genres, Manoa DNA is more likely to win the Contemporary Album category, where they are the most Hawaiian of the five finalists, than here.
THURSDAY: Album of the Year
VIDEO: Interview with Raiatea Helm