Island Mele: Amy Hanaiali‘i’s new album celebrates love, heritage
Amy Hanaiali’i’s versatility is evident in her latest release, “Kalawai‘anui,” while a Hawaiian ambiance predominates.
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Amy Hanaiali‘i (Ua Records)
It was back in 1997 that Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom’s second album, “Hawaiian Tradition,” established her as a rising star in Hawaiian music. She’s gone from triumph to triumph ever since, and the artist now known as Amy Hanaiali‘i is not only one of the biggest female recording artists in the Hawaii music industry but one of Hawaii’s most versatile local artists.
Her versatility is evident in her latest release, “Kalawai‘anui,” while a Hawaiian ambiance predominates.
Start with “Ku‘u Nui Aloha,” which she sings as a passionate duet with Josh Tatofi. The song is Lionel Richie’s 1981 mega-hit, “Endless Love,” with Hawaiian lyrics by Kihei Nahale-a. Thank you for the melody, Lionel!
And there’s “Will You Love Me,” generally known to Hawaii residents as a 1960s-vintage hit for Myrtle K. Hilo but written in the 1940s by Jewish-American comedy writer Benjamin Bell (born Benjamin Zamberg) as “Carburetor – The Automobile Song.” Hanaiali‘i splits the difference, using the hapa haole lyrics of Hilo’s local hit but singing them to a swinging pop arrangement that’s closer to what Bell might have envisioned on the mainland. Brava, Hanaiali‘i!
Afro-Caribbean rhythms drive another English-language song, “Hawai‘i You’re My Home.” This is is 100% Hanaiali‘i — she wrote the music and the lyrics — and it speaks eloquently of her love for Hawaii and the pride she takes in her Hawaiian heritage. The other song with English lyrics, “Queen’s Anthem,” comes from the Denny Miyasato musical, “A Timeless Princess,” which opens for a limited run in July at Mamiya Theatre.
Lyricist Micah Kamohoali‘i is Hanaiai‘i’s writing partner elsewhere on the album. Their collaborations include songs celebrating Maunakea and the goddess Poli‘ahu, the water nymph Manaua, Waimea and Haleakala.
Hanaiali‘i interprets the work of older writers with exquisite versions of the Monarchy era standard “Makalapua,” and Leina‘ala Haili’s beautiful “Aloha Ku‘u ‘Aina Hawai‘i.” In the latter song, Haili juxtaposes her love of Hawaii with her love for a “companion of the midnight hour.” Several other songs describe sexual activities with varying degrees of explicitness. The minority who are fluent in ‘olelo Hawai‘i will catch the sexual references on first listen. Others will appreciate the Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and background information in a beautifully illustrated liner notes booklet.
The album’s title song ties everything together. Lyricist Kamohoali‘i speaks in oblique terms of the importance of genealogy and ancestral knowledge — things that are important for Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike.