Island Mele: Keale’s new songs explore concept of ‘hidden islands’
Keale first broke out as a recording artist as a member of Kaukahi. That was more than 10 years ago.
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Keale — mono-monickered nephew of the late Moe Keale, and cousin of the late Skippy and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole — first broke out as a recording artist as a member of Kaukahi. That was more than 10 years ago.
Kaukahi, a quintet made up of Keale, Barrett Awai, Kawika Kahiapo and Dean Wilhelm, won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Group of the Year in 2007. Kahiapo and Keale have since gone on to prominence as solo artists.
Keale’s just-released new album builds on the musical, philosophical and spiritual foundations of his previous solo album, “Aina Kaula: Motherland” from 2014.
The order he presents the songs is an important part of the experience. The first four songs are sung in Hawaiian and are inspired by places associated with Waianae, Kaena and Ni‘ihau. The fourth, “O Ke Kai O Kaula,” with Imua Garza playing piano in the old Hawaiian style, should be an instant hit with na halau hula looking for new music.
On the fifth song Keale switches to English. “Bury Me” is an original that was inspired by the boxes of bones from accidentally excavated Hawaiian burial sites that used to sit for years in government storerooms and warehouses.
Keale’s other original, “So Island Style,” is his response to the increasing numbers of homeless on the streets, and, by extension, the alienation of Hawaiian people from their ancestral lands (“They give a few of us land if we toe the line. … It’s so island style.” he sings).
Keale and his cousin, Keone Nunes, share the writing credit for “Na Moku A Kane.” Keale says it was inspired by the experience of seeing a large floating island and “supernatural beings” pass by Kaena at dawn. Studio guest Imua Garza gives the song a “Hawaiian music meets country rock” attitude with his work on electric guitar.
Tiffa Garza, is Keale’s singing partner on a soothing update of “Nohili E,” and Keale’s long-time friend Don Kaulia is the lead vocalist on “Ka Noeau Wailau.” (The latter song is an appropriate guest shot for Kauila, who wrote it.)
Keale goes back to his own great yesterdays with “O Oe Io,” a song with religious references that recorded as a member of Kaukahi in 2006. Keale’s new arrangement make his remake worthy of attention.
The years Keale spent on the mainland can be heard in the diversity of his instrumental arrangements. A rocking country fiddle brings country and mountain/folk textures to one song. The unusual combination of violin, acoustic guitar and trumpet suggests even broader cultural horizons when heard together on another.
Song lyrics, English translations and an unusual amount of background information — such as the importance Keale sees in having things in groups of nine — is provided on his website. Reading it all is time well spent towards understanding the deeper meaning of songs Keale is sharing here.
“‘Elua: ‘Ukulele & Slack Key Guitar”
Abe Lagrimas Jr., & Lance Takamiya
Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner Abe Lagrimas Jr. (EP of the Year, 2011) and slack key guitarist Lance Takamiya share space on what is in fact a compilation album.
Half the songs on this album are solo performances by guitarist Takamiya, the other five display the solo skills of Lagrimas on ukulele. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the clarity of these solo recordings will be especially appreciated by students of either instrument as they listen and then try to duplicate what they’re hearing.
In broader terms, alternating the two instruments hightens the contrast between their different tones and textures.
The album is significant for another reason. Almost every song is new.
Lagrimas contributes four new songs and pays tribute to the late Peter Moon with “Pandanus,” his final number on the album.
All of Takamiya’s songs are originals.