Danny Kennedy has reason enough to celebrate the Mana‘o Company’s 30th anniversary this weekend: Few groups make it through three decades.
Kennedy is making his group’s big event a celebration of family and friendship as well. Almost every former member of the Hoku Award-winning group will be there — and other performers on the bill are either long-time friends, proteges, or Kennedy’s relatives.
“Thirty years went by so fast, I can’t even believe it,” Kennedy said. “Either they were in the same industry with us and came out of the high school scene like we did with Kapena, or we’re related in some way. We’ve known Fiji for 30 years – he’s one of my dearest friends.”
Kennedy’s nephews — also known as founding members of The Green — are returning for a one-night reunion of Next Generation.
Malia Rosa Kahahawai, Kennedy’s cousin, will be joined by Loki Obrero Sasil, her musical partner in the late-’80s duo Leahi.
The connection to Pacific Blu goes back to the days when Kennedy, John Baricuatro Jr., Kawehi Kekauoha and Weldon Kekauoha were members of a durable high school group named Na Kane Pono, winning the original KIKI/”Hot I-94” Brown Bags to Stardom talent contest in 1985. Kawehi Kekauoha became the lead vocalist of Pacific Blu; Kennedy and Baricuatro founded the Mana‘o Company with Sean Na‘auao, Salaam Tillman and Kuhio Yim.
THE MANA‘O Company’s remakes of “Drop Baby Drop” and “Degrees in the Shade” made them one of the leaders of the Jawaiian music boom that swept Hawaii in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The great irony, then and now, Kennedy notes, is that they didn’t plan to be a reggae group when they got together and recorded the songs that became their first album, “Just Beyond The Ridge.”
“We were coming out to be the next Surfers-slash-Makaha Sons, doing the four-part harmonies,” he said. “Sean Na‘auao’s dad was the one who arranged most of our four-part harmonies on that first album. Our goal was to be in that Hawaiian (music) industry, but because we had the talent to do the reggae side – that’s when Bruddah Waltah was hitting huge – we were doing ‘Drop Baby Drop’ and ‘96 Degrees,’ and we decided to throw ’em on at the end.”
Fate stepped in, KCCN FM100 introduced its 24/7 “island music” format on May 4, 1990, and Mana‘o Company’s reggae remakes became overnight hits.
Kennedy says it was all about timing.
“We kind of came out of the gates with Waltah and Ho‘aikane and Kapena doing the Jawaiian reggae vibe, and we hit that at the right time,” he said. “That became more our style that we were going for. At the time it was a booming market, and we followed that trend.”
If there had been a reggae category at the Hoku Awards in 1991 the Mana‘o Company would have been one of the leading contenders. But the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts did not add the category until 1999.
Yim resigned before the group recorded its next album. He was replaced by keyboardist Jan Luna. And then, for the latter part of the 1990s, Mana‘o Company went into hiatus.
IN 2001, Mana‘o Company restructured and began playing and recording music again. Kaulana Pakele joined the group as lead vocalist, joining founding members Kennedy, Baricuatro and Tillman. Weldon Kekauoha, the Na Kane Pono alumnus from high school days, rounded out the group.
In 2002, they won multiple Hoku Awards for come-back album “Spread A Little Aloha.” The tally included three for the group (Album of the Year, Contemporary Album of the Year, and Single of the Year), and two for Danny Kennedy as composer of the Song of the Year (“Aloha”) and as co-producer.
In 2003, a second recording of “Aloha,” this one credited to Mana‘o Company & Friends, won single of the year. Kennedy describes the wins as “a blessing.”
Ten years later, a Mana‘o Company anthology, “A 20 Year Collection of The Mana‘o Company,” brought in another Hoku for the band.
Bariquatro, Na‘auao, Tillman and Luna will be there to celebrate the group’s history on Saturday. Kekauoha is on tour in Japan.
Today, singer/ukulele player Pakele, bassist Kennedy, keyboardist Frank Sua and drummer Kaiea Chung make up the core of the Mana‘o Company, and Kennedy says more music is on the way.
A new Mana‘o Company album – “half contemporary reggae, half going back to the traditional Hawaiian, kinda like how we started our first album 30 years ago” – may be out by year’s end, Kennedy said.
“We work full-time, we do music heavy on the weekends and we pride ourselves on helping out a lot of people,” Kennedy said. “We love what we do.”
THE MANA’O COMPANY 30TH ANNIVERSARY
With Bruddah Waltah, Fiji, Ilona Irvine, Kapena, Kolohe Kai, Leahi, Next Generation and Pacific Blu
>> Where: The Edge at Ward Villages, 210 Ward Ave.
>> When: 4 p.m. Saturday
>> Cost: $30 (general admission) and $80 (VIP)
>> Info: HIFinest.com
MANA‘O COMPANY FAMILY AND FRIENDS
>> Next Generation: Micah “Micah G” Keolanui, Caleb Keolanui and JP Kennedy, all three founding members of The Green, made their debut as Next Generation. “They’re not coming back as (The Green),” Kennedy says. “They’re coming back as the original (trio) to celebrate with us where they first started, which was back with us in 2002.”
>> Leahi: Loki Obrero Sasil and Malia Rosa Kahahawai were discovered and recorded by record producer Matt Young on his Hana Hou record label in 1989. Kahahawai is Kennedy’s cousin.
>> Pacific Blu: Lead vocalist Kawehi Kekauoha and Kennedy were members of Na Kane Pono. “Two years before we won, Na Kane Pono and Kapena were both in Brown Bags, and we both didn’t place too well that year,” Kennedy says. “Then, in 1984 Na Leo Pilimehana won, and, when we won first place in 1985 the first runner up was Ilona Irvine – and she’s also coming as a special guest on Saturday.”
>> Kolohe Kai: Singer/songwriter and founding member of what was originally a group named Kolohe Kai, Kennedy describes Roman De Peralta as “one of Hawaii’s hottest young artists to be out in the last decade or so. He’s not my blood nephew, but I’ve been managing and booking him for the last five years or so. He’s part of our family.”
>> Bruddah Waltah: One of the pioneers of Jawaiian music, and one of only two Jawaiian/reggae-style artists to win a Hoku award until a separate category was created in 1999.
>> Kapena: Founded as the trio of Kelly “Kelly Boy” De Lima, Tivaini “Tiva” Tatofi and Teimomi “Timo” Tatofi in 1984, now a quartet of De Lima, his son, Kapena De Lima, and his daughters, Kalena and Lilo. De Lima first met Kennedy when Kapena and Na Kane Pono were competing in Brown Bags to Stardom. Kapena’s remake of UB40’s remake of “Red Red Wine” became one of the first Jawaiian hits.
>> Fiji: Two-time Hoku-winner and one of the biggest names in contemporary Hawaii music. Friend of Kennedy since the early-1990s.