Besides touring and recording, legendary Hawaiian musician Richard Ho'opi'i has helped perpetuate the treasured art form of leo ki'eki'e, falsetto singing, by promoting an annual competition. On Friday he will host the seventh annual Richard Ho'opi'i Leo Ki'eki'e Contest in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, attracting contestants from Molokai, Lanai and Maui.
"This is one of our biggest contests," says Uncle Richard. "All the contestants have been singing from an earlier age and love what they're doing. They're going to be singing whether they enter a contest or not, in back yards and at family parties. There are so many hotels that want entertainment, and the contest gives them experience."
Long serving as an ambassador of traditional Hawaiian music, Uncle Richard received many honors with his brother, Solomon Ho'opi'i. In 1996, they were awarded a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship, the nation's highest honor in folk and traditional arts, as "keepers of traditional art forms." A year later, the brothers' first recording on CD, "Ho'omau," won them a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Group of the Year. Back in 1989, they performed before mass crowds at the Smithsonian Institute Festival of American Folklife, and returned to the Smithsonian joining artists like Aretha Franklin and the Lakota Sioux Dance Theater for Institute's 150th birthday party. Uncle Sol died in 2006.
Uncle Richard Ho‘opi‘i performing
The Maui News file photo
A contributor to the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series, singing and playing ukulele, Uncle Richard has been featured on two Grammy-winning collections, "Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar - Live From Maui" and "Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar."
"I was overwhelmed," he says of the accomplishment. "I'm very fortunate to be part of that show once or twice a year. It's fulfilling all my goals with music."
Next March he will add to his accomplishments, achieving another goal - to perform at Carnegie Hall - alongside George Kahumoku Jr. and Dennis Kamakahi.
* The seventh annual Richard Ho'opi'i Leo Ki'eki'e Contest will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in the McCoy Studio Theater. Alaka'i Paleka will emcee. Tickets are $20 and $15 with Festivals of Aloha Button, and $15 snd $10 for kupuna 65 and older and children 12 and younger and with an Aloha ribbon, available from the MACC box office, (242-7469, www.mauiarts.org).
* Uncle Richard will perform at the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort on Oct. 1.
* The Reggae in the Valley Festival featuring Fiji, Laga Savea, J Boog, The Rushouze Allstars and Pi'ilani Arias begins at 6 p.m. Saturday at the A&B Amphitheater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $30 advance, $35 day of show plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office (242-7469, www.maui arts.org), Premiere Video, Old Lahaina Book Emporium, Request Music, and Ainokea in the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
"An old man like me, I'm still going and I'm thankful the Lord is providing my health and strength and voice to go there," he enthuses.
In late June, Uncle Richard traveled to Norway invited to perform at the Frdefestival, which attracts folk music artists from around the world. Among those attending, Senegal's Lions of Africa drum and dance troupe, Jew's harp players from China, Japan and South Africa, and yodelers from Switzerland, Cameroon, Georgia and Maui.
Richard and brother Sol were acclaimed for their yodeling skills. One of their signature songs, "Hawaiian Cowboy" featured on their "Ho'omau" CD, demonstrated their marvelous talent of Hawaiian-style yodeling.
"They had about 330 participants," Richard reports. "Every year they have different themes and this year it was yodeling. They contacted the Mountain Apple Company and I went with my youngest son, Kalai, who sings almost like Uncle Sol, and my wife went on as a hula dancer. We enjoyed every minute, we were ecstatic to be there."
One of Hawaii's most popular contemporary entertainers, Fiji will headline the fourth annual Reggae in the Valley Festival on Saturday. A benefit concert for the college fund of Ray Wilhelm's children, the fest also features Laga Savea, J Boog, The Rushouze Allstars and Pi'ilani Arias. A Baldwin High School graduate and star athlete, Wilhelm died in a traffic accident last year.
Looking forward to returning to play on Maui, Fiji just released his latest CD, "Indigenous Life," another venture in a fertile creative process that began with his debut album, "Evolution," released in 1994. The release marks the next step in a continuum of meaningful album titles.
"I started with 'Evolution.' Every artist has to evolve," he explains. "You have to recognize where you were 'Born and Raised,' and you have to be grateful. There's two ts in 'Gratittude' because you need an attitude to keep an edge, and you need to be ready for 'Transition.' Only then will you see where you're going, and X ("Xperience") marks the spot. I came into 'Independence' (Day) because as an artist and businessman, I had to get away from a lot of things including my old label. I had to find independence. Now I'm moving on and recognizing the 'Indigenous.' "
It's not hard to figure out why Fiji rules in Hawaii. A master at crafting memorable, island-style, reggae-flavored songs with dashes of hip-hop, he frequently dominates local radio. Often tapping his Fijian roots, he can ramp up the party material, charm romantic souls and provide cultural insight.
On "Indigenous Life," he opens with a traditional Fijian chant, "Tou Mai Laveta," features a plea for Polynesian unity with "Warrior Call," extols indigenous pride on the title cut, includes the reggae-fied love song "Baby It's You" and injects a celebratory roots spirit with the Toots Hibbert-sounding "Move On."
Born on Fiji, George "Fiji" Veikoso exhibited a talent for singing in church at an early age, but his mother disapproved of him pursuing "worldly" music.
"My mother was a very strict religious woman," he recalls. "She ruled the household with a hard rod. It took a while before she realized she wasn't going to beat it out of me. Growing up I spent a lot of time on the streets, so I got to open my mind musically. Besides gospel I was raised on a lot of old jazz and rhythm and blues. Jazz taught me a lot about what's not necessary, and how you can take something simple and make it more memorable."
By the time of his early teens, the young singer was working with a Fijian band, Rootstrata. Moving to Hawaii at 14, he initially began performing with the group Par Three and jammed with Mana'o Company and Kapena, eventually winding up in the Hawaiian Style Band, whose members included Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the Pahinui brothers, Robi Kahakalau, the Ka'au Crater Boys, Teresa Bright and Del Bezley.
After releasing his debut album, "Born & Raised" followed, earning Fiji a Hoku Award for Male Vocalist of the Year plus Favorite Entertainer of the Year.
Over the years his recordings have been distinguished by imaginative compositions. "Grattitude" featured a remarkable tribute to Queen Lili'uokalani, and on "Xperience" he refashioned the Lord's Prayer as the "Warrior's Prayer."
"I'm trying to be consistent and push through and represent the aloha spirit more than anything," he concludes. "I make sure I represent myself and my culture and acknowledge this wonderful place that has given me the opportunity to excel."
The new Mick Fleetwood Blues Band will make its Maui debut on Sept. 26 in the Castle Theater at the MACC. The four-piece group, which recently performed in Norway, will play here as a prelude to its October tour of Europe.
Featuring Mick Fleetwood, Rick Vito, Lenny Castellanos and Mark Johnstone, the new band pays tribute to the early blues rock roots of Fleetwood Mac, featuring classics like "Rattlesnake Shake," "Oh Well" and "Albatross."
The new band is co-managed by Jonathan Todd, Sabre Entertainment and Carl Stubner, Sanctuary Management Group.
The show, which includes a dance floor, is a benefit for the MACC. Tickets are $25 (plus applicable fees), reserved seating, orchestra level. They will go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday from the MACC box office, 242-7469, www.mauiarts.org.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.