"Cloud Warriors" Keli'i Tau'a & David Kauahikaua, Tiki Records
T he combined talents of a respected kumu hula and composer whose early recording projects included chanting with the Gabby Pahinui Band and collaborating with Roland Cazimero, and a veteran producer/ arranger who has worked with the likes of Don Ho, Loyal Garner and Frank De Lima, have produced a fascinating, unique CD honoring our island.
Sung entirely in Hawaiian (with English translation included), "Cloud Warriors" explores Maui's many treasures with a collection of original songs cast in a contemporary musical setting that embraces jazz and pop influences.
“Cloud Warriors” Keli‘i Tau’a & David Kauahikaua, Tiki Records
“Haleakala” Jeff Peterson & Riley Lee, Peterson Productions
'Beyond The Shores' Micah Wolf, Blockplane Records
It's an adventurous project that could only arise from the creative vision of artists who have spent years steeped in the culture. A former student of revered hula teacher Maiki Aiu, Tau'a graduated in a class with Robert Cazimero and Kalena Silva. With Roland Cazimero in 1977, he created the Hoku-winning tribute album "Hokule'a - The Musical Saga," and 20 years later released "Pule Mua," which combined chants written for Polynesian voyaging canoes with crew conversations. Over the years his songs have been recorded by a number of artists including the Brothers Cazimero and Amy Hanaiali'i (including her latest Grammy-nominated CD, "Aumakua").
The musical director for Frank De Lima for close to 15 years, Kauahikaua played with Don Ho and produced and arranged albums for Loyal Garner. With Melinda Caroll in the group Ka La, he's crafted serene soundscapes designed to induce harmony and relaxation.
Introduced by a mutual friend, the two artists met Upcountry one day and felt drawn to create something new.
"David told me his real joy is jazz, and I said, you've tapped on my favorite type of music," says Keli'i. " So that's why we're now enjoying the ride of writing songs. I want to hook people into appreciating the Hawaiian language, and be able to write in the Hawaiian language, but make it understandable for non-native speakers."
With Keli'i creating the poetic lyrics and David the contemporary music, Maui's natural splendor inspired the duo to craft enchanting songs like the opening "Haiku Rainbow," which illuminates our rare night moonbows, "No Kai Oi," which pays tribute to sacred mounts and valleys, "Maui O Ka Lani," honoring the demi-god, and "Hana Breeze."
"There are great song writers out there, but very few thematic album writers and that's my passion," Keli'i continues. "I'm a historian by education and it's my passion to tell a story in a whole album."
"Haleakala" Jeff Peterson & Riley Lee, Peterson Productions
Maui-born guitarist Jeff Peterson recently released his fourth collaboration with acclaimed shakuhachi flutist Riley Lee. A double Hoku winner last year - Instrumental Album of the Year for "Pure Slack Key" and the 2008 Na Hoku Hanohano Ki ho'alu Award - Peterson's an expressive guitarist adept at a variety of styles from Hawaiian slack key to jazz, pop, and classical. Releasing more than 50 recordings, Lee's the first non-Japanese honored as a shakuhachi grand master.
Fitting with the title, the new CD mixes original instrumental compositions inspired by our magnificent mountain with charming arrangements of some classic Hawaiian songs like "Ipo Lei Manu," "Akaka Falls" and "Lahaina Luna." As with previous collaborations, the two musicians perfectly blend their instruments.
"Both sounds are very soothing and relaxing, slack key guitar is very nahenahe, and the shakuhachi is often used for Zen meditation," notes Jeff. "Riley often takes the role of the vocalist and the shakuhachi has a very clear vocal quality the way it's controlled by the breath and you bend pitches like the human voice."
On some tracks the musicians just feature solo guitar and flute; others like the lively, original "Holua Cabin Serenade" are multitracked with layered guitars, ukulele and bass. "The cabin is one of the places where I was introduced to music as a kid," Jeff explains. "We often camped there and cowboys would come and play. With that song I was reflecting on the sound of the music from that time."
Another original song, the lovely, haunting "Manu O Ke Kai," reflects the Zen roots of Lee's ancient instrument. "That's really coming from the shakuhachi tradition," says Jeff. "On that song, the shakuhachi represents a bird flying over the ocean and the guitar represents the ocean. We often try to think of images when we play."
This Hoku-winning guitarist (and one of the artists who shared in Hawaii's first Grammy honors) can be heard serenading diners at Michel's at the Colony Surf in Waikiki. A member of Amy Hanaiali'i's band, he contributed arrangements to her latest CD, "Aumakua." In October he will tour China, performing at various Shangri-La Hotels.
"I'm putting together music for a Hawaii night," he explains. I've invited Keola and Moana Beamer and Raiatea Helm. "I'm very excited. It will be great to introduce more Hawaiian music to China."
"Beyond The Shores" Micah Wolf, Blockplane Records
With backing vocals by his daughters and a couple of young cousins, Micah Wolf opens his latest CD with a plea to raise awareness about the harmful impact of discarded plastics in our environment. "The world is dying from our hands," he sings on "One By One," "the world is crying, make a stand, one by one we can make a change."
With an easygoing, folk-rock style reminiscent of Jack Johnson's soulful work, this Maui-based artist was inspired to compose the song while on a Mainland tour.
"We were trying to do the tour on veggie oil but it turned into a greasy disaster," he recalls. "I was looking at personal choices I had made and what I needed to change and the song came along."
Teaming with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation out of Long Beach, Calif., and adventure photographer Ben Moon, Micah helped produce a music video for "One By One" that is now featured on a number of Web sites.
"It was neat how it worked out," he continues. "Ben had done work for Patagonia so he got it on Patagonia's Cleanest Line."
Though it's the only song on the album with an issue message, Micah says he feels better "talking about things that are more interesting and important than, hey listen to me, I'm a singer, I write songs."
Armed with an acoustic guitar, an engaging voice, and help from Maui musicians like drummers Michael Buono and Chava Godinez, violinist Willy Wainwright and keyboardist Gilbert Amata, he's spun a catchy collection from the breezy melodies of "Weekend" to the sweet romantic lilt of "Turn Out The Lights."
In keeping with his environmental awareness Micah encourages fans to purchase and download his music from his Web site, www.micahwolf.com.
"It's not only more environmentally friendly it's economically friendly for us because then we don't have any manufacturing costs," he notes. "Clearly there's better sound if they purchase the CD. Maybe someday when we're high rollers we can get vinyl printed up."
Having grown up in Oregon, Micah has called Maui his home for the past 15 years. He formed his own record label with a friend and built his own studio. Looking to further his career beyond the islands, he gained exposure on MTV a couple of years ago when the music channel filmed "Maui Fever" in Lahaina. They bought the rights to air two of his songs, "Muse" and "Plastics" from his debut album.
"It was sort of embarrassing," he says about the "Maui Fever" inclusion. "And they used one on a Scott Baio show. They don't tell you what shows they're going to use them for."
Before heading out on the road in March Micah plans to play a Women Helping Women fundraiser at the Lahaina Civic Center.