Island Mele: Kamaka Kukona goes reggae with ‘Sailing Away From Me’
Reviews of the latest releases from Hawaii-based recording artists by Star-Advertiser critic John Berger.
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“SAILING AWAY FROM ME”
Kamaka Kukona (Hano Arts and Entertainment)
Most kumu hula are known for their commitment to preserving and perpetuating the traditions of Hawaii and not dabbling with traditions from other cultures. Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning kumu hula Kamaka Kukona has impecciable credentials as a traditionalist, but he is experimenting here with the arrangement of an original hapa haole composition, “Sailing Away From Me.” The song is slated for inclusion on Kukona’s highly anticipated third album, “Window to My Soul,” which is scheduled for release in January
What he’s done is replace the traditional rhythms and familiar instruments of Hawaii with a much heavier haole (non-Hawaiian) sound constructed on a foundation of the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Jamaica. Electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and a two-man horn section create music that would fit nicely on any of Hawaii’s self-styled “island music” radio stations. This isn’t what Hawaii has come to expect from Kukona, but he sets an excellent example for Hawaii’s many “local reggae” artists by singing in Hawaiian as well as English.
Count this as Kukona’s next hit.
“E LEI HO‘I, E LILI‘ULANI E”
Various Artists (Lili‘uokalani Trust)
This double-disc compilation album of 18 songs by or about Queen Lili‘uokalani is a welcome reminder of her musical legacy as the most accomplished Hawaiian songwriter of the 19th century. Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Louis “Moon” Kauakahi is the project’s director and arranger; he also contributes as a vocalist and studio musician. Eric Lee joins Kauakahi and keyboard wizard David Kauahikaua as studio musicians. Del Beazley, Robert Cazimero, Ra‘iatea Helm, Ho‘okena (Horace Dudoit, Glen Smith and Chris Kamaka), steel guitarist Bobby Ingano, Aaron Mahi, Chinky Mahoe and Marlene Sai guest on individual songs.
Seventeen of the songs come from “The Queen’s Songbook,” a collection of songs written by or about the Queen, that was published in 1999; they all date from her lifetime. The outlier is “He Mele No Lili‘uokalani,” Kauakahi’s reworking of an oli (chant) that he composed and first performed in 2015.
No Hawaiian music album is complete without documentation — composer and production credits, lyrics, basic English translations, and the background information that puts everything in its cultural context. It’s OK these days to make all that information available on a website, but Kauakahi adds the final touch of class to this beautifully produced tribute to Hawaii’s beloved queen with an 18-page liner notes booklet.