Island Mele: Compilation educates on several levels about beauty of west Maui
Multi-Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner Nicholas Keali‘i Lum is the producer and annotator of this highly significant compilation of songs written about areas that share the mountains of west Maui.
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Various Artists (North Beach-West Maui Benefit Fund)
Multi-Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winner Nicholas Keali‘i Lum is the producer and annotator of this highly significant compilation of songs written about areas that share the mountains of west Maui. Some are classics from decades past, others were newly written for the project. They are part of a larger body of work that currently includes a beautifully illustrated, 236-page songbook distributed by Kamehameha Publishing, and which will eventually be expanded with a second compilation album.
Hawaiian music is well known for the technique of kaona (hidden meanings). There are many kaona in play here.
The collection opens with the title song, “Lei Nahonoapi‘ilani.” The lyrics as translated describe the beauty of a section of the west Maui coast; there are likely some hidden meanings as well. The melody — taken from the 19th century hymn “I Left It All With Jesus,” written by American composer James McGranahan — is best known in Hawaii for its use with lyrics written by Lorenzo Lyons to create the Hawaiian anthem “Hawai‘i Aloha.”
“Lei Nahonoapi‘ilani” is performed by a group named Project Kuleana. The other songs spotlight individuals — Ikaika Blackburn, Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom, Uluwehi Guerrero, Kamaka Kukona and Keali‘i Reichel to name five. Almost all are Hoku Award-winners. All are either Maui residents or have family ties to the Valley Isle.
Hoku Award-winner Mihana Aluli Souza is Oahu born and raised, but connected to Maui through her mother, Irmgard Farden Aluli. That makes it doubly fitting that Souza is heard singing “Mahalo Lahaina,” which was written by her mother and Mary Kawena Pukui.
Lum, his brother Zachary Alaka‘i Lum, Jeff Au Hoy and Anna Callner contribute their talents as the studio musicians for the project.
There is deeper kaona in the intent of the project that goes beneath the multiple layers of meaning within the lyrics of the individual songs. Lum writes in the liner notes that many people find it easier to memorize song lyrics than text in prose. Therefore, he continues, as Hawaiians memorize the lyrics of these songs they will be learning and committing to memory the unique qualities of these West Maui locations.
Underneath that is a deeper message still: Before Hawaiians adopted haole (non-Hawaiian) concepts of land ownership, the ‘aina was not an interchangeable “one size fits all” commodity but “a distant ancestor of the Hawaiian people, an ancestor that we honor, here, by way of mele.“
The album is available via Island Heritage Music at welcometotheislands.com.