Intriguing new sounds Across the Sea from unique collaboration
Greg Sardinha • Tsun-Hui Hung • Jeff Peterson
For those with a taste for exotic instrumental collaborations, the new CD “Across the Sea” (Keala Records) offers an intriguing combination of Chinese erhu player Tsun-Hui Hung, with two Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning artists, Hawaiian steel guitarist Greg Sardinha and slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson. Three virtuosos on their respective instruments combined talents to present a unique cross-cultural collaboration.
“I’d never played with an erhu player before,” says Peterson. “It’s such an unusual sound, but it combined well with the Hawaiian instrumentation. There’s a bow that goes between two strings, and she moves her fingers up and down the strings to create different pitches. It’s a quite demanding, challenging instrument as far as intonation and melody.”
The project began with a barbecue and a suggestion from Honolulu Star Advertiser music writer John Berger.
“John started introducing (Tsun-Hui) to some musicians she would enjoy collaborating with after she moved here, and I was invited to a barbecue at Greg Sardinha’s house. Before I knew it, we were making a record together,” explains Peterson.
“Greg had the idea to do the recording, and I started doing some arrangements for the album. The very first album I made was with Riley Lee, who plays the Japanese bamboo flute, at the same studio that Greg has in Olomana. I thought it was fun to go back to that studio.”
Internationally recognized as one of the most innovative players of the erhu, Tsun-Hui plays the traditional two-string Chinese version of a violin. Currently teaching music at the Hawaii Tokai International College, she graduated Taiwan’s Chinese Culture University, and went on to receive a Master of Arts in music composition from Ohio University, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Ethnomusicology from Ohio State University. In 2002, she received the highest recognition for an erhu artist — first prize at the Taiwan National Erhu Competition.
“She was great,” says Peterson. “She got very deeply engrossed in studying (Hawaiian music). She spent months with Greg working on interpretations of songs. She put her heart and soul into it.”
Working with two masters of Hawaiian guitar, the haunting sound of the Chinese erhu beautifully melds with new arrangements of such Hawaiian standards as “Waika,” “Ballad of Keawaiki” and “Pua Lililehua,” and a jazzy take on “Royal Hawaiian Hotel.”
“We wanted to give traditional Hawaiian songs a new light with the erhu,” explains the Maui-born Peterson. “If you think of kanikapila, kani means play and kapila is a fiddle, so in a way we’re going back to the old days, although it’s a Chinese fiddle.”
The novel album includes two Chinese songs: the popular folk song “Mo Li Hua” (Chinese for jasmine flower), and “The Moon Represents My Heart.”
“Mo Li Hua” dates back to the 18th century. During the 2011 Chinese pro-democracy protests, the song became associated with the Jasmine Revolution, as organizers instructed protesters to play the song on their cell phones as a form of anti-government protest.
For the album, Peterson created a medley with a new song he composed, “Pikaki.”
“She wanted to keep it mainly Hawaiian, but we did take ‘Mo Li Hua,’ and I wrote ‘Pikaki’ in a traditional slack-key style as an introduction to it.”
On “Across the Sea” Sardinha played steel guitar, bass, acoustic guitar and ukulele. In 2014 he won a Hoku for Instrumental Album of the Year for his solo recording “Stainless,” which featured covers of songs by the Beatles, Elvis Presley and the Allman Brothers Band. A contributor to many recordings, he’s worked with many artists including Kalapana, Sean Na’auao, Mark Yamanaka, Ho’okena, Na Palalai and Maui’s Ekolu.
“Greg kept adding parts and layering to the songs,” says Peterson.
Peterson has won a Hoku Award for Instrumental Album of the Year with “Wahi Pana,” and he’s contributed to two Grammy Award-winning recordings. His solo CD, “Maui on My Mind,” was recognized as the Na Hoku Slack Key Album of the Year and received a Grammy nomination in 2010. Another solo project, “O’ahu,” won the 2016 Slack Key Album of the Year award and instrumental Song of the Year.
No stranger to innovative collaborations, Peterson fused Hawaiian and Japanese influences with shakuhachi master Lee on four instrumental albums, including the Hoku-winning Haleakala.”
Peterson will next play on Maui April 4 at George Kahumoku Jr.’s Slack Key Show –Masters of Hawaiian Music at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.
In July, he plans to return for a concert with his former teacher, Yale University’s guitar virtuoso, Ben Verdery.
“This year at his master guitar class, Ben will have Scott Tennant from the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet as a guest artist,” he says. “I’m so excited because he is one of the greatest classical guitar players. And (Oahu guitarist) Ian O’Sullivan will come over. Ian, Ben and I are talking about doing a trio album later this year. That will be fun.”
* * * * *
Lahaina-based musician Laura Boswell has an impressive new album out, “Fall Away,” that highlights her talent as an exceptional guitarist who fuses classical and folk influences.
Accompanied by accordion, percussion and upright bass on most tracks, “Fall Away” is distinguished by her intricate fingerpicking style that reflects a traditional folk approach with complex classical harmonies.
“The music reflects me getting immersed in classical music,” Boswell explains. “I wanted to bring more complexity to traditional folk harmonies.”
Composing in a style that has been compared to Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) and the late British singer Nick Drake, her songs range from the bewitching “Easily,” where she plays banjo and the stirring, flamenco-inspired “Shots”; to the dreamy, double guitar-tracked “Weather” and the yearning, heartfelt “New Year’s Eve.”
“My music comes from a deep personal place,” she says. “When I write, I genuinely express my emotions and myself.”
She has released two YouTube videos shot on Maui. The latest depicts her song, “Weather.”
“I like to showcase the natural world and tie it into my music,” she says.
Playing guitar since the age of 10, she became a classic rocker as a teenager.
“I really liked Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and got into electric guitar,” she recalls. “That’s how I honed my technical skills.”
Shifting to mellower musicians like Jack Johnson and Iron & Wine, she later began developing her fingerpicking technique on acoustic guitar.
At college in North Carolina, she earned a degree in Classical Guitar Performance, and also studied classical piano.
“I really love playing Bach and the South American composers and Spanish arrangements,” she says.
Her studies continued last summer when she attended Verdery’s annual master guitar workshop on Maui.
“I had been on a hiatus from my classical studies, so it was great to take classes with Ben,” she notes.
Boswell can be heard performing at Lahaina’s Alchemy Maui kombucha bar on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., and at the Martin Lawrence Gallery on Front Street every other Friday from 7 to 9 p.m.
“I was playing classical before, but my classical guitar was damaged so it’s out for repairs,” she says. “So I’ve just been playing and singing my originals and covers.”
Covers she plays range from Norah Jones and Iron & Wine, to Neil Young and the Beatles.
“I play a lot of Beatles — ‘Julia,’ ‘Something,’ ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Norwegian Wood.’ “
Her latest album as well as her debut, “Counting Eyes,” are available on iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp at www.lauraboswell.bandcamp.com.
* * * * *
So sad to say goodbye to another Hawaiian music legend, Uncle Richard Ho’opi’i. A contributor to three Grammy-winning slack key guitar collections, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
“He was a great man that loved Hawaii, his ohana and the people of Maui,” said George Kahumoku Jr., who often played with the great falsetto singer. “It was a pleasure and a joy to share the stage with him.”
Uncle Richard and his brother Soloman long served as ambassadors of traditional Hawaiian music, and were awarded a National Heritage Fellowship.
In an old Maui Beat interview, he talked about his love for Kahakulo “We’re from a very special village that’s so serene and comfortable, and we bring that out from this little village out to the islands and out to foreign countries. It’s such a great feeling. That’s why we always thank God and the kupunas who came before and opened the doors for us.”
* * * * *
With Willie K taking a break from performing to deal with lung cancer, a gofundme site has been set up to help with mounting medical expenses. Entertaining is Willie’s only source of income and he had to put that on hold. Willie is very positive and optimistic about his condition and recovery. Prayers are also appreciated. Visit www.gofundme.com/willie-k-cancer-fund to make a donation.