When Amy Hanaiali'i began imagining the kind of record she would create as a follow-up to her Grammy-nominated " 'Aumakua," she realized it was time to stretch her wings and produce a new work that showcased more facets of her talent.
Exploring the possibility of creating a local duet project, Amy began assembling a remarkable collection of leading male artists from across the spectrum of the Hawaiian music industry.
Blending some Hawaiian standards and original compositions with familiar pop tunes, over the course of two weeks she recorded 16 duets with Keali'i Reichel, Robert Cazimero, Henry Kapono, John Cruz, Dennis Kamakahi, Martin Pahinui, Palani Vaughn, Sean Na'auao, Nathan Aweau, Fiji, Kaumaka'iwa Kanaka'ole, David Kawika Kahiapo, Darren Benitez, Rebel Souljahz, brother Eric Gilliom, and country legend Willie Nelson.
Mountain Apple Company photo
Jah Levi presents conscious reggae at The Studio Maui.
"I was in Japan and thinking about a cool new project and about everybody I'd want to be on it," says Amy. "We have such amazing male talent in Hawaii, and I thought it would be a chance to spread my wings a bit and cross over into genres that people are not used to hearing me sing."
This extraordinary ensemble of island talent combined with Amy's ability to shine on a diverse repertoire makes "Friends & Family of Hawaii" a unique, leading contender for next year's Hokus, and possibly another Grammy nomination.
Judiciously picking songs to match each artist, the duet track that could expand Amy's popularity way beyond the islands features Maui's country icon teamed on a remake of Van Morrison's classic ballad "Have I Told You Lately," from the "Avalon Sunset" album. The Irish musician's haunting love song provides a perfect vehicle for this new collaboration.
"We were trying to find a song that Willie hadn't recorded, that would pay respect to his voice and would make a great duet," Amy explains. "He fell in love with it. It was really an amazing experience. He takes his headphones off and says, 'Well, you sound fine, darling.' "
The most beautiful Hawaiian song on the album, "Pa Aheahe," teams Amy with the exquisite vocals of Keali'i Reichel. It's an original composition that pays tribute to both artists' grandmothers.
"He's one of my music mentors," she says. "When Keali'i was at Merrie Monarch this year honoring his tutu, it was such a beautiful moment. I was writing a song for the two of us and right then I said, it's going to be about his tutu and my tutu, about the winds and rains where they come from and how they blend together. It's a very special track."
To open the album Amy drew on the talent of veteran Hawaiian musician Palani Vaughan, performing Robert Cazimero's lovely composition "E Ku'u Lei."
"He hasn't recorded forever," she notes. "At a listening party for the CD I told him your voice is going to make a new generation of women fall in love with you. He's just unbelievable."
Depending on the artist involved she either selected a pop song (John Cruz - George Harrison's "What is Life," Fiji - Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love," Rebel Souljahz - The Main Ingredient's "Everybody Plays the Fool" and Eric Gilliom - James Taylor's "Shower the People"); a familiar Hawaiian composition (Darren Benitez - Lena Machado's "Ho'onanea," Dennis Kamakahi - his own "Ua, Ua Ho'e'ele," Sean Na'auao - Kamakahi's "Pua Hone"); and new songs either composed by Amy in collaboration with others including Matt Catingub and Gary Kalehua Krug of Pilioha (Martin Pahinui Trio - "Maka 'Alohilohi," David Kawika Kahiapo - "Ka Malu Akua") or the participating musician.
Thus Hapa's Nathan Aweau contributes a beautiful new song, "Kou Leo Nahenahe," and Robert Cazimero composed a yearning ballad, "I Believe in You."
"Robert's one of my best friends," she says. "He said, 'I have the perfect song. I wrote it on plane to L.A.' It was such an appropriate track."
Inspired by Henry Kapono's legacy, Amy co-wrote a dramatic new song, "Coming Home," that could grace a Disney soundtrack.
"Both Henry and I opened for Diana Krall in Honolulu, and I was watching him to do 'Home in the Islands,' and he was explaining how much he loved it and I decided to write a home tune for him," she says. "I wrote it in Molokai and it talks about how pure Molokai is and how beautiful the children are there, it's like going back in time."
With the album just out Amy is looking forward to a promotional tour around the islands and dates on the Mainland. "We're planning a huge tour," she concludes. "My dream would be to have everybody on the album tour with me. I'm gearing up to do three nights in October with Matt (Catingub) and Nathan Aweau and the Nashville Symphony."
After Ziggy Marley's amazing show at the War Memorial Stadium, there's more reggae heading our way with the conscious roots of Jah Levi, performing at The Studio Maui at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Levi has performed in concert on bills with many leading reggae and rock artists including Ziggy Marley, Burning Spear, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Black Uhuru and The Wailers, and at festivals such as Glastonbury in England, the Philadelphia Folk Fest and Reggae on The River.
Studying guitar with blues legend Rev. Gary Davis in the 1960s, Levi majored in Ethnomusicology and world music studies, and was also trained as an herbalist and acupuncturist.
Playing music that is spiritually uplifting and danceable, Levi delivers, "reggae that's nearly orchestral in scope while injecting the familiar ease of, say, folk or jam band music," praised Reggae Reviews. On his latest work, "World Fusion Project," he ventures into the horn-driven, afro-funk territory of Nigeria's legendary Fela Kuti.
Maui's Monkeys with Drums, featuring multi-instrumentalist Brian Wittman and multipercussionist/drummer Carlos Garcia, will open the show. The event includes an international community bazaar and food.
Tickets are $15, available at The Studio Maui by calling 575-9390, online at www.thestudiomaui.com, or at the door on the day of the event.