Lifting voices beckon
Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning female chanteuses spend an evening at the MACC
Three renowned Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning female artists — Darlene Ahuna, Ku’uipo Kumukahi and Mihana Souza — will team for a unique “Songbirds of Hawaii” show at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
“It’s been a while since Ipo and I have been on Maui so we’re really excited and we have Mihana along with us,” says Ahuna. “It’s really neat to have the three of us collaborate. It’s going to be a surprise for everybody as well as ourselves.”
One of Hawaii’s most talented female vocalists, Ahuna is a multiple Na Hoku winner, including Female Vocalist of the Year for her album “Ku’u Lei Poina ‘Ole.”
Influenced by legends like Lena Machado, Genoa Keawe and Leina’ala Haili, and having performed at Merrie Monarch festivals for many years, she says she most loves, “bringing traditional music to those who haven’t had it for a while.”
From an early age, Ahuna felt passionate about performing Hawaiian music.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was three years old,” she says. “I have an uncle on Kauai who played music in the early ’60s at the Hanalei Plantation. In those days they did strolling music unplugged with no mics, walking from table to table, and I was just mesmerized. I remember saying to myself, ‘I want to do that.’ I’ve been very blessed to go on this musical journey.”
After moving from Oahu to Hawaii Island, she began playing guitar.
“Everyone was playing ukulele,” she recalls. “It was like, ‘No, I want to learn to play guitar.’ “
While in high school in Hilo, she began a long friendship with fellow songbird Ku’uipo Kumukahi.
“We did a May Day program and Ku’uipo and her group were guest artists. She saw me perform and told me, ‘You don’t see women playing Hawaiian music very often.’ “ I started playing with her at 16. Ku’uipo was like a big sister. She took me under her wing and we did a lot of music together.”
Her talent then led celebrated kumu hula George Na’ope to invite her to perform with him.
“I’ve been playing Merrie Monarch on and off for 30 years,” she says.
In time, she would join Aunty Genoa Keawe at Carnegie Hall and perform and tour with the Makaha Sons for eight years.
“I got to play with Aunty Genoa and her son Gary Aiko — it was magical,” she recalls.
Best known for her beautiful interpretation of “Akaka Falls,” she’s currently working towards a new album project.
“We’re going to record here on Hawaii Island as opposed to Oahu,” she says.
Known as “the sweetheart of Hawaiian music,” Kumukahi was born and raised in Hilo. A self-taught musician influenced by family songs and Hawaiian legends, she learned to play the ukulele at a young age and expanded to slack key guitar and bass.
Kumukahi’s 1993 album “Na Hiwa Kupuna O Ku’u One Hanau” earned her four Hoku Awards including Female Vocalist of the Year, Hawaiian Album and Haku Mele. In 2008, she won Album of the Year for “Na Lani ‘Eha,” which featured music composed by Hawaii’s royalty — King Kalakaua, Queen Lili’uokalani, Prince Leleiohoku and Princess Likelike. It included the familiar standards “Hawai’i Pono’i,” “Kilauea,” ” ‘Ainahau,” and “Moani Ke ‘Ala.”
Souza also grew up in the old tradition of Hawaiian music making. A daughter of Hawaiian music legend Aunty Irmgard Farden Aluli, she always loves returning to our island, the site of her ancestral Puamana home in Lahaina, where she spent many hours as a child.
“Every time I’m in Maui I think about my mother and her whole family,” says Souza. “It’s like my hometown because we got to play there when I was young. My mother was raised in Lahaina and we’d go every year until my late teens.”
Souza’s mother’s sister, Aunty Emma Farden Sharpe, was a legendary kumu hula who held an uniki ceremony every year in Lahaina.
“We would go and hike in the mountains and decorate and be with the aunties,” she recalls. “It was awesome. My first hula lesson was with Aunty Emma. I have lovely memories. Maui was really special for us, for the Farden and Aluli family.”
What was it like for her growing up with a mother acclaimed as a Hawaiian treasure who composed hundreds of songs?
“She never put herself in front of us, as a legend. She was very humble. She was always just a great mother and a wonderful singer and she was always writing music. I remember being four years old and me and my sister were in the kitchen singing harmonies while we were cooking. She would teach me alto. We always had a lot of family around and everybody loved music.
“Friends would come over for potluck dinners, beautifully dressed, beautiful island girls with hibiscus in the hair, and handsome young island men, and I couldn’t wait to grow older. They would all sing and play music up to 3 in the morning. I remember always wanting to grow older so I could party like they did.”
In time, she began playing the double bass at her mother’s suggestion.
“I would do flower decorations for weddings and make flower head leis, but it got to be hard,” she says. “I would strap on my child and go to the mountains and pick the lauae ferns, but I wasn’t charging enough.
“So one day I had a particularly hard wedding to do and I called my mother and said, ‘I never want to do this again, what do I have to do to sing?’ My mother said, ‘Honey, get a bass and then you can sing.’ I called up my cousin. He gave me his bass. I took it back to my mother. She taught me that night and that weekend we sang for the family — and I haven’t had a free weekend since. I love the bass; it’s the belly of the music.”
Souza began performing with her mother in the group Puamana, which was named after the Lahaina home built by her grandfather who managed Pioneer Mill.
“Puamana was the first music group with my mother and her sisters,” she explains. “It changed and evolved and then in the early ’80s my mother had me and my cousin Luana and sister A’ima join her. She was 65 and that’s when we started singing with her. Now Puamana includes my daughter and my sister and my cousin. It’s really great that it goes on. We do a lot of island parties — all sorts of celebrations.”
When it came time to record her first solo album, Souza featured her original English language compositions plus one of her mother’s favorite songs, “Rust on the Moon.” The album won a Hoku Award for Best Jazz Album of the Year in 2003. She followed up with the equally impressive “One Little Dream” that highlighted her sultry vocals.
“People will ask, ‘How come you don’t write Hawaiian music?’ I say ‘It’s because I don’t dream in Hawaiian, I only dream in English,’ “ she says. “I asked my mother early on, ‘What do you do to write music?” She said, ‘Hana, you look around and you start to really feel what you see and write what you feel,’ and that’s what I did.”
In later years she sang with ukulele virtuoso/jazz guitarist Bill Tapia, who died in 2011 at the age of 103. Known as the “Duke of the Uke,” he celebrated his 100th birthday at Souza’s Kailua home.
With a voice that naturally fits jazz, she’s beginning to explore this medium.
“I’ve been told I have a jazzy sort of voice,” she says. “The only reason I don’t do jazz is because in my solo practice I probably know 90 percent Hawaiian songs. Because I sung with my mother, we know all the old songs. I have a large repertoire of Hawaiian music that I love, but I would love to do jazz. Now I want to learn how to play jazz guitar. I want to become a good guitar player because I want to play jazz. I’m beginning to write songs that I like and they’re more jazzy. I feel can move away from Hawaiian music because I know a lot of Hawaiian music. I’m just now putting my toes in the water.”
Heading to Maui to perform at the Songbirds of Hawaii concert she enthuses, “I’ve sung with my cousin Ku’uipo Kumukahi and Darlene Ahuna before and they have great voices. And I’m playing my bass (guitar) which I haven’t played in about 15 years. I’m just so happy to be singing in Maui.”
Mick Fleetwood recently discovered that he got his job drumming with Fleetwood Mac only because founding guitarist/vocalist Peter Green felt sorry for him after he had broken up with his girlfriend at the time.
Fleetwood interviewed Green for his new book, “Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, 1967-1974.” The drummer told Classic Rock: “He said, ‘you’d just broken up with Jenny (Boyd) and you were devastated, and I just thought you needed to do something. That’s why I asked you to join the band, because I just wanted you to get back on your feet.’ It really had nothing to do with whether I was a halfway decent drummer or not.”
Fleetwood also reported Green told him he named the band as a gesture of friendship. “Someone asked him why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac?” Fleetwood recalled. “He said, ‘I thought at some time I’d probably move on, and I wanted John (McVie) and Mick to have something after I left.’ “
The legendary drummer will perform with Willie K, Gretchen Rhodes and the House Shakers on Monday and Nov. 20 at his restaurant, Fleetwood’s on Front St., in Lahaina. For more info, call 669-6425 or visit www.fleetwoodsonfrontst.com.