Maui Connections

Lots of guitar cases made the trip from OGG to HNL last weekend as Maui musical artists were, as usual, all over the 41st Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

On one of those flights was Art Vento, president and CEO of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, who would be presenting the Slack Key Lifetime Achievement Award early in the ceremony that was broadcast live across the state.

“It’s a legacy award,” says Art. It’s not a category where there are nominees. “It’s a surprise every year,” right up until he opened the envelope and the . . . winner . . . was . . . Brother Noland!

When he made the announcement, what followed could have passed for a bad dream in front of 1,500 people in the Hawaii Convention Center Ballroom, or maybe the scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where the history teacher calls for a response from “anyone . . . anyone . . .?”

“I read the name, and nothing,” says Art. “Dead air. I’m in a ballroom full of people. Nobody’s coming up to the podium.”

In fact, Brother Noland was in the building.

“Apparently he was out in the line for the bathroom, and somebody said, ‘Hey, bruddah, you just got an award.’ “

Luckily, Brother Noland is as laid-back as he is talented, so everyone got a big laugh from what Art now calls his “Christine Lahti moment,” when that actress’s name was called for a Golden Globe and she was in the bathroom, too.

There were more memorable moments for Art, watching Cris Simmons “beaming, she was such a proud mama” of Pat Simmons Jr., nominated for two Hokus.

Or watching Maui’s multi-Hoku nominee Napua Greig, fresh from her hula halau’s recent victory at the Merrie Monarch, “break out of a wonderful vocal performance with Josh Tatofi and seamlessly meld into the dancers of her halau. Without missing a beat, she sashays to the left . . . while doing the hula flawlessly, and singing flawlessly, for the next two minutes or so. The entertainer, the kumu and the singer, all at once. It was impressive.”

The marathon telecast let audiences across the state share the excitement when Ekolu’s Lukela Keala yelled “Maui!” as the group took the stage to accept the Single of the Year award for “We Are Hawai’i’s Finest.” It was another plaque to add to the collection for this trio of Baldwin grads.

My personal favorite moment came when Halemanu Villiarimo brought his wife, Lisa Villiarimo, to the podium with him to accept the Island Music Album of the Year award for “So the Story Goes.”

With his spontaneous show of affection, Halemanu set the bar awfully high for husbands everywhere. He acknowledged his gratitude for his wife’s many talents, beginning with making the clothes they were wearing to the gala event. A bunch of us experienced more of Lisa’s talents, when she fed cast and crew during the “Kuleana” film shoot, and catered writer-director Brian Kohne and producer Stefan Schaefer’s first film, “Get a Job,” before that.

Having lived on Maui since 1991 doesn’t qualify me as a native or local — but it’s almost long enough to be an old-timer, keeping track of changes. As she presented the award for Most Promising Artist of the Year to Leipono, Maui girl Anuhea recalled receiving the plaque herself a few years earlier, joining the illustrious ranks of Keali’i Reichel, Amy Hanaiali’i, Willie K, Raitea Helm and others.

Now they had become the venerable presenters of awards for the next wave of island artists. The University of Hawaii Maui College’s Institute of Hawaiian Music program, led by Keola Donaghy and Joel Katz, is doing its part to provide new nominees each year.

There’s a sands-of-time feeling to events like the Hokus anymore. For the longest time I mistakenly thought that expression referred to the ebb and flow of waves on a beach. Turns out the phrase was inspired by the sand in an hourglass. But the meaning is the same. Now, Oahu musician Kelly Boy De Lima’s three grown kids, Kapena, Kalena and Lio, have joined him in the band Kapena, that won Hokus for Album and Group of the Year. Kimie Miner brought her infant daughter to the podium to accept the Female Vocalist of the Year honor.

It’s Na Hokus, the Next Generation.

There’s also the sense that the world of Hawaiian music is more like a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It may be the simple act of making music together, more than any name on a map, that unifies these rocks in the middle of the sea into one song, played by many hands, sung by many voices.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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