Editor’s note: Guest blogger Carol Yotsuda recaps the third performance of E Kanikapila Kakou on Kauai. In its 27th year, the Hawaiian music program is held Monday evenings through March. The gatherings are conducted in the style of backyard musical jam sessions for which Hawaii is known, with many bringing their own ukulele to strum along and hula dancers stepping up to share their gifts. This year’s theme is “The Stories behind the Songs.” The February 8th event featured the teachers and students of Ke Kula Niihau o Kekaha.
Whether one speaks to God about it or puts it out to the universe or voices one's intention, there is something to be said about shaping one's life with acts of faith and of believing. The stories and music presented by the kumu, teachers, and students of Ke Kula Niihau o Kekaha at E Kanikapila Kakou on Monday, February 8, is a testament to their faith-based way of life.
Mama Ane Kanahele, the matriarch figure of the Kanahele family with 8 children of her own, 19 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, one great great grandchild plus several hanai, adopted, children, is the minister of the Hawaiian Church in Waimea, kumu hula, and composer of over 100 songs, mostly himeni, hymns.
Traditional Hawaiian introductory protocol is always a chicken skin moment and a special treat for new audience members. Mama Ane’s grandson, Hokuaumalamalama Kaohelaulii, began with an oli, chant, followed by all the students chanting. Mama Ane gave a pule followed by the Doxology in Hawaiian, and as always, everyone sang in parts—this seems to come naturally to them.
Two of the younger composers from Niihau, Love Hoomaikai Kelley and Kyle Nauilikeole Kelley, shared their compositions. Love had composed a chant as part of the Ke Kula study of the Lehua Islands north of Niihau, which speaks of the importance of caring for the precious island, its wildlife and natural resources. Love kept the beat with his gourd and the students chanted with him in a call/recall style.
Hokuau followed with a brisk chant about Kilauea; the students danced a fast-moving hula. The second chant with martial arts style movement was even more brisk. He followed with a medley of hula numbers; the students danced with their feathered uliuli gourds.
Hokuau called on one of Ane's granddaughters, Kahikiui, to dance a solo about "Halemaumau," one of the active volcanoes on Hawaii Island, which he sang in his extraordinary falsetto style. This was followed by a dance about the beauty of their beloved island Niihau. I have known Kahikiui since she was an 8th grader; she is now a senior and this is the first time I have seen her dance solo....what a sensuous dancer. So sensuous was her dancing that it even moved Grandma Ane to stand up and in the tiny space between her seat and her mic, and she danced with the same flirtatious smiles and moves so typical of the Niihau dancers. "Wow! Grandma, you get 'um, eh?" shouted Hokuau, and indeed she does. I later told Ane, "Boy! You got some sexy moves, huh?" "Well....after all, I am a kumu hula." Simple as that.
Aunty Ileialoha Beniamina, a lifelong champion of the Hawaiian people, particularly her ohana from Niihau, has been actively involved in the Hawaiian immersion charter schools, the Hoola Lahui Health initiative, and the education of the Niihau students at Kauai Community College. She introduced Hokulani Cleeland, founder of Ke Kula Niihau who serves as the high school teacher and Kahikilani Kaohelaulii who is the manager of the school. A whole contingent of Niihauans accompanied the students to the event.
Ilei has been active on the music scene as a composer. She shared a story about the time she and others hiked out of Kalalau singing the same song over and over so they would remember it. In the morning, no one remembered the words or the tunes; it was probably left as a gift for the spirits of Kalalau. A gifted composer, she can whip out a song under pressure as she demonstrated years ago when she came unprepared for her EKK night; she composed a song while driving to EKK and thus was born the beautiful "Pua ala Aumoe."
As self-appointed translator of the stories shared by everyone, Ilei illuminated with background information not often known. She shared that the Hawaiians were prayerful people long before the arrival of the missionaries; they chanted all the time about nature, sailing, genealogy, cultural practices, etc. Christianity fit their spiritual bent so it was easy for them to embrace Christianity. As a professor at the Kauai Community College, her instructional hat took over and as she was giving a long-winded explanation about the history of the health of the Hawaiian people, Mama Ane muttered something to her in Hawaiian. I asked Ilei later, "What did Mama Ane say to you?" Ilei rolls her eyes with feigned amazement and laughs infectiously, "She told me I was talking too much," and as is customary in family-based traditions, the elder is the final word, so Ilei gave the mic back to Mama Ane, so the singing could continue.
Describing the way she composes songs gave some amazing visuals. Mama Ane says it is like a ball that rolls around and around in her head..."sometime got words but no tune; sometime got tune but no words." Often it comes in the middle of the night and when she feels that the song is finally coming, akin to the birth of a baby, she has to wake up her granddaughter to come and help her write it down. When she can't wake up anybody to help her write it down, she has to sing it over and over or she will lose it. She appoints different grandchildren to remember each song so as not to lose the tune.
After the break, Hokuau entertained everyone singing every single falsetto song accompanied by Kumu Hula Doric Yaris on the upright bass. Love's older brother, Likeole, after overcoming bouts of stage fright, made his public debut and sang two of his original compositions, one of which was surprisingly contemporary in both style and lyrics. This crushed my perception that life on Niihau is out-of-touch or remote. If his song is any indication, he certainly is in tune with the music scene anywhere.
In 2006, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii named Carol Yotsuda a “Living Treasure” for her efforts in preserving the culture of Hawaii. Carol is the executive director of the Garden Island Arts Council, a volunteer position she’s held since 1998. She is also a retired teacher and artist. You can read Carol’s complete account of this event and see the 2010 E Kanikapila Kakou schedule at www.gardenislandarts.org.