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Shades of Brown

Music is all in the family for four generations of the Brown Ohana

May 22, 2008
By JON WOODHOUSE, Contributing Writer
Four generations of one of Maui’s leading musical families will gather on Saturday in the McCoy Studio Theater when the Brown Ohana presents a unique concert.

Anchored by brothers Sheldon and Kevin Brown, the “Generations” show will feature a special reunion of the original Waiehu Sons, the first ever Maui appearance by their falsetto singing uncle, Clinton Yoshikawa, young slack key guitar star Ikaika Brown, a rare performance by the traditional Hawaiian group Ola Hou, and hula by their award-winning grandchildren.

“For us it’s special because we’ve never played with our grandchildren, it was always just Sheldon and I and with Ikaika,” says Kevin Brown. “We have some footage of my dad and that will be in the program. And my dad’s only surviving brother, Clinton Yoshikawa, is coming from Honolulu, and as far as I know there’s nobody else that sings his style of falsetto anymore. The closest is John Pi‘ilani Watkins back in the ’50s. My dad and my uncle had this style which is a little different from today. My uncle never sang on Maui, so it will be a treat.”

Formed in the early-1970s, the Waiehu Sons were Maui’s premier traditional Hawaiian group. The featured group at the Stouffer’s Resort in Wailea, they entertained visitors and locals there for 17 years.

With Saturday’s upcoming show in mind, the Brown brothers felt it was an appropriate time to resurrect the trio’s original lineup that included cousin Harry Kama, later replaced by Arthur Betts.

“We will open up as the original Waiheu Sons, so we will get back together after almost 28 years,” says Kevin.

Inspired by their father, Harry Brown Sr., the brothers grew up absorbing Hawaiian music. “My dad used to entertain at the Hukilau on Fridays and the Maui Palms on Saturdays, back in the ’60s,” he explains. “So every Friday and Saturday, the kids knew where they were going to be and it wasn’t the movies. We had seven chairs and we’d all sit and watch them entertain.”

Kevin was surprised one day to discover his grandmother was also a gifted slack key player. “I never knew until one day I came home from high school and was playing in the kitchen and she was cooking,” he recalls. “She looked and walked over and took the guitar from me and sat and started playing. I was shocked and said, Mama, I never knew you played slack key. Right there she gives me the guitar back and she never played again. I should have keep my mouth shut. The old Hawaiian thing is you watch, you no ask questions and you listen.”

As a freshman attending Baldwin High School, Kevin was inspired to start learning slack key hearing a teacher play under a large banyan tree. Years later, he ended up teaching slack key guitar at the school from 1989 to 2003.

“When they asked me to teach, I thought I wouldn’t get anybody, because everybody’s into reggae,” he reports. “They didn’t have a classroom and I only had one student. They said, ‘you can have right under the banyan tree,’ and that is the banyan that I was listening to a teacher play when I was in high school. The second year I had three students under the tree. Then it started to expand and they gave me the band room and then the cafeteria.”

Leaving teaching to concentrate more on performing and touring, he currently can be heard playing at the Royal Lahaina Resort, where son Ikaika is music director of the hotel’s luau show.

“I ended up playing there because they needed a guitar player,” he explains. “Ikaika asked me to sit in maybe for a month, but October made one year. They just found a guitar player, but he only likes work two nights. So now I play three nights.”

Both father and son were heard on the Grammy-nominated compilation CD “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings,” which also featured artists like Ledward Ka‘apana, Paul Togioka, Makana and Jack Johnson. They are also both featured on “Hawaii Slack Key Guitar Festivals — Volume II,” which was just nominated for a 2008 Na Hoku.

Brother Sheldon treats arriving and departing passengers to beautiful Hawaiian music at the airport on weekend evenings and also entertains at the harbor when ships dock.

Both brothers and Ikaika perform with the group Ola Hou, which includes Hana’s Pekelo Cosma, Kahala Greig and Geri Valdriz.

“After intermission we’ll have footage of my dad and the group Ola Hou will close the show, playing traditional Hawaiian music like Gabby and the Sons of Hawaii,” Kevin continues. “We used to get together once a year at the slack key festival but the guys wanted to get together more often.”

Since November, they have been heard playing authentic traditional music in Wailuku on the first Monday of every month at the Unisan sushi restaurant, with no admission charge. The musicians have been recording their performances and will hopefully release a live album.

“It’s a place for us to rehearse and get tighter,” he notes. “We’re planning on a live thing, we’re not in a rush, but every time we play, people ask for a CD.”

Summing up the special upcoming MACC show, Kevin concludes: “It’s going to be an experience that hopefully we can do again, but if not, then this is going to be a once in a lifetime thing. We’re really looking forward to it because we’ve never done it before as whole family.”

Two talented Celtic musicians, Shona Le Mottée and Tim Readman, make the rounds this weekend beginning tonight at the Lahaina United Methodist Church.

Emerging from the Northeastern English folk scene, Readman earned a reputation as an accomplished songwriter, guitarist, singer and interpreter of traditional and contemporary folk songs.

Le Mottée is a gifted fiddler who electrified audiences in New York, Florida and Las Vegas playing in Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” show. She was also a member of the popular Canadian Celtic-pop band The Paperboys and played on their award-winning album, “Molinos.”

The two musicians have played together for about 10 years in various combinations. Le Mottée briefly played classical music on violin as a child and quickly transitioned to traditional folk.

“My mom being Scottish wanted to hear the fiddle stuff and said, ‘Quit playing that classical crap,’ and threw a book of tunes at me,” she recalls. On her latest CD, she balances traditional pieces with a contemporary approach. “That’s just the generation I grew up being in, right when Celtic music crossed over into pop,” she explains. “I toured with the Paperboys for three years, and right after that went into the “Lord of the Dance,” where everything was traditional but very contemporary with the New Age influence. That all comes out in my music now.”

Readman, who has lived in Canada since 1987, says they specialize in playing Cape Breton music. “Canada has the only Gaelic-speaking community in North America, which is Cape Breton on the east coast,” he notes. “We do some Irish and Scottish stuff but our favorite thing is Cape Breton music. It’s what came over with the immigrants from Scotland in the 1700s. They’ve really preserved the raw version of that music, and it has an incredibly driving beat. I’ve played in rock bands and punk rock bands and I love music that has a strong beat.”

* Shona Le Mottée and Tim Readman play at 7 tonight at the Lahaina United Methodist Church on Baker Street. Tickets are $15 and $10 for kids. The duo plays Friday at Mulligan's on the Blue in Wailea. Dinner & Show (seating at 6 p.m.) for $39; show only at 7 for $20. Reservations required, call 874-1131. On Saturday they play at 7:30 p.m. at The Studio Maui in Haiku. Tickets are $20. And on Sunday they play the Haleakala Waldorf School in Kula at 4 p.m. Tickets $20 and $10 for kids.

• Contact Jon Woodhouse at

Article Photos

Kevin and Ikaika Brown performing at Ki Ho‘alu 2007 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Maui Arts & Cultural Center photo

Fact Box

At A Glance

The Brown Ohana present “Generations”

McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

$30, half-price for kids 12 and younger, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.



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