with Halau Ke‘alaokamaile, Keali‘i Reichel and special musical guests Kalo Deleon & Josh Tatofi
“We’re at a really interesting crossroads as cultural practitioners, not only in the hula world but in the language world and just about every art form,” says kumu hula Keali’i Reichel. “Looking back over the 30-odd years I’ve been teaching hula, it’s amazing to see. If you had asked me 30 years ago where we would be today in our cultural practices, I would never have thought we would be this far. We still have much to go, but I marvel at where we have come.”
Reflecting on his career as an award-winning kumu and recording artist Reichel and Halau Ke’alaokamaile are about to launch their latest production, “Kukahi 2018,” at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s been two years since Reichel mounted his halau’s last sold-out MACC show.
“I don’t do these very often anymore,” he explains. “For me, the production has long passed the days of jumping from the ceiling and shooting up from a trap door. We’re just doing a simple concert.”
Special musical guests at the concert will include local favorite Kalo Deleon and Grammy-nominated musician Josh Tatofi and his band.
In preparing for a new production, Reichel balances popular songs with newer pieces.
“I know I’ve got to sing and teach dances, so we start off looking at what we’ve done before and expand upon some of the old music that have become favorites,” he says. “Having longevity as a kumu hula and recording artist, people who follow you over the years expect certain songs to be sung –their favorites — and we add a few newer songs, something different to keep us on our toes.
“It’s a fundraiser, and we’ve learned the big, giant productions eat away at the funding process. So we’re focusing on the music and focusing on the hula, and we’ll have a few messages here and there.
“The big thing for us is being able to get up on the stage and complete our hula training,” Rei-chel continues. “Especially for the student, because that’s part of their training — to take what they’ve learned inside the class and expand what they’ve learned into the community. That’s part of the transmission process.
“Hula is an art form of transmission. We transmit within the halau old dances and new dances based on the choreography of the old dances, so there’s some kind of continuum in style and thought process. On top of that, there’s an important factor that these dances have to be transmitted outside as well. It gives our dancers an opportunity to express themselves as hula people in the real world.
“For us, every chant and every dance is a pearl,” Reichel explains. “Not only are the gestures and choreography transmitted, but also the kupuna who saw fit to keep these dances alive within them. Each successive generation, they pass it on, and it finally comes to us. Not only do we have all of the gesture, we also have all of the thought process that went from person to person. And so it moves beyond just movement and choreography and costuming, but also enveloping all of the articulation and the emotion, even the learning and teaching processes are encoded into the dance.”
The MACC show will help raise funds for the construction of a new permanent home for Halau Ke’alaokamaile on four acres of donated land in Olinda.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has provided a grant of $240,000 for the endeavor. Partners in the project include the Hewahewa family (Koa, Kepa, Ka’awa and Kahaku Hewahewa) and Hoku Nui Maui LLC. The Hewahewa ohana are native reforestation experts, and Hoku Nui comprises landowners Karin and Erik Frost.
“Plans take time,” Reichel notes. “We’ve come quite a long way in the planning and organizational and legal processes. The site of our future halau is in ag (agricultural) zone property, and there’s nothing in the books that talks about having a halau in an ag zone. So we had to find our way over the last few years in how to make the physical halau and our practices fit into this modern-day version of land use. We had to approach the planning department and (Maui) County Council. Everybody has been very supportive, but they don’t know how to make it fit. There’s zip lines in ag zones and all kinds of other stuff, but halau no more. So we had to expand what halau means to the cultural practitioner community.”
To meet agricultural zone requirements, the halau has expanded its vision to embrace native planting related to hula.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Reichel continues. “Hula’s origins come from the forest and the elements and the plants we utilize for lei making or dyeing. Just about everything you think of that’s land-based and forest-based and element-based is linked to the practice of hula. Hula has to link into all things, whether a spiritual connection or an actual physical connection.
“Once we were able to navigate through that, we were able to get an OHA grant to reforest a six-acre parcel — including the four acres that was given to halau — to reforest and create Native practitioner crops. And there’s a matching grant from the Frosts, the land owners. So every month, we plant a half acre and bring in different school groups to learn about planting protocols and the importance of specific plants.”
With Halau Ke’alaokamaile’s building plans now approved, Reichel hopes other halau around the state will be able to embark on similar projects.
“The building itself has passed through planning, so now we can (embark),” he says. “We hope that it serves as a template for other halau on Maui, in Maui County or even throughout the state to set down a root in perhaps an agricultural-zoned area and enfold land-based practices into their practice.”
The Maui-born kumu has nurtured his vision since 1996, when he decided to buy a floor for the future halau.
“I bought ohia flooring and put it in storage with the hope that some day we could build a halau around the floor,” he says. “So here we are.”
With fundraising continuing, one wonders if he’s maybe thought about recording a new album?
“No,” Reichel answers. “There’s nothing on the horizon. I don’t know if I will be back in the studio.”
In 1994, when he released his remarkable groundbreaking debut album “Kawaipunahele,” Reichel topped the 1995 Hoku Awards earning Album of the Year, Popular Hawaiian Album, Male Vocalist and Most Promising New Artist.
It was a feat attained without help from any of Hawaii’s major record labels, who had all turned him down.
“Nobody would take us,” he recalls. “It was a blessing in disguise as we turned inward, and it was suggested we create our own label. In those days it was much more expensive to make an album, and we raised our own funds for the first album. It was great because we owned everything and we were only beholden to ourselves and those who helped raise money for us. The first CD came out at the right time, at the right place, with the right look and the right sound for the time.”
With each successive album, Reichel continued to reap awards until his last Grammy-nominated recording, “Kawaiokalena,” which swept the 2015 Hoku Awards, winning in eight categories including Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and Hawaiian Album.
Easing back these days on his live appearances, Reichel was happy to oblige when Oprah Winfrey called requesting he perform for a birthday party she was hosting for Michelle Obama.
“It was scary, because it was Oprah,” he says, laughing. “She’s an icon. As a cultural practitioner, I’m an orator, chant is oratory; Oprah is one of the best orators in the world — the power of her word and her conviction. Michelle was great, but it was Oprah that did it for me. It was a highlight.”
Now Reichel’s creative plans include looking toward creating a musical with some New York folks.
“We’ve been going back and forth to New York taking a look at how musicals are created,” he explains. “The challenge is the proper blending for a broader audience. The blending of our own cultural sensibilities with musical theater sensibilities is quite challenging. For me, the cultural side will always win when there’s a crossroads and there’s been lots. We’re excited. It will be great.”
Having enchanted Maui audiences in the past, Simrit Kaur returns for a performance at 7 p.m. Sunday at Makawao Union Church. She will be joined by kora maestro Salif Bamakora, cello virtuoso Shannon Lee Hayden and award-winning tabla player Daniel Paul.
Best known for her exquisite performance of mantras, her latest album, “Live Spring 2017,” captures her dynamic concerts that blend rock and world music influences.
* Advance tickets are $25 (cash only), available at MacNet in Kahului and Maui Kombucha in Haiku. You can also purchase tickets online at www.simritkaurmusic.com. Tickets at the door are $35.
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Matthew Human teams with Pat Simmons Jr. for four performances.
* The duo will join guitarists Al Torre and Sam Frey and Kanekoa’s percussionist Travis Rice at 9 p.m. Saturday at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia, tickets are $10; 6 p.m. Friday during Makawao Third Friday Town Party, admission is free; 3 p.m. Sunday at Pono Grown Farm Center in Makawao, cost is $10; and 4 p.m. Monday at Kalena Triangle in Kipahulu, cost is $10.
For information and tickets, visit www.matthewhuman.com.