On the gravestone of revered Hawaiian treasure Winona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Beamer, the inscription, "Malama ko aloha," reminds us of the wisdom of cherishing the essence of aloha in our hearts throughout our daily lives.
When Keola Beamer was growing up, his mother would often remind him to malama ko aloha.
"For my mom and myself, aloha became a way of being in the world," he explains.
JON WOODHOUSE photo
Raiatea Helm and Keola Beamer performed for Baldwin students earlier this week.
JON WOODHOUSE photo
Leaves of “Ke Kumu O Ke Aloha” (The Tree of Aloha) convey messages created by from Baldwin High School art students.
Guided by this principle, Keola has embarked on a series of island concerts, performing with Raiatea Helm, seeking to foster the idea of keeping aloha alive in the world.
"The idea of malama ko aloha was passed down from my mom to me," he continues. "It came from one of her ancestors, Princess Manono, who with her husband, the high chief Kekuaokalani, was killed in the battle of Kuamo'o in Kona. This was during the reign of Kamehameha II. They were part of the Hawaiian nobility that was opposed to changes that other royal factions were adopting, like the abolishment of the Hawaiian religious system.
"Both Manono and her husband were killed by musket fire. First he fell in battle and then she picked up his spear and with the words malama ko aloha, keep your love, she continued in the battle and was killed.
"This was passed down through the generations of my family, and it had a wider context. It became "cherish the aloha within you." As Hawaii becomes more Westernized, you can feel aloha dissipating, people become ruder and less kind to each other. In terms of quality of life and quality of being we have to try to keep the aloha alive."
On Saturday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater, folks attending their concert will be greeted in the lobby by a 5-foot-tall "Ke Kumu O Ke Aloha" (The Tree of Aloha), created by Baldwin High School art students.
"We were thinking about how to bring people with us," Keola explains. "One idea was 'Ke Kumu O Ke Aloha,' asking people to take a leaf and write how they would keep aloha alive in their lives. Some art students at Baldwin designed a tree from driftwood, with leaves made from recyclable paper. So there will be students (at the Castle) encouraging people to write their thoughts on leaves. And we're building a website called Malama Ko Aloha. We're going to try and expand this globally."
For their second live collaboration on Maui designed around their superb CD, "Keola Beamer & Raiatea," the master slack key guitarist and the young falsetto star will be joined by the Spring Wind Quintet, who backed the musicians on a number of album tracks, including the beautiful Hawaiian rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."
"They're wonderful musicians from the Honolulu Symphony and are totally behind this concept," he notes. "These are the top musicians in the state, and I'm honored to be playing with them."
With up to 11 musicians on stage, the concert will also include the hula artistry of Moanalani Beamer, who accents shows (and the new CD) with such traditional Hawaiian instruments as the ka'eke'eke - bamboo pipes used for rhythmic accompaniment; the ukeke - a small stringed instrument played with the mouth (restored for contemporary times by Aunty Nona Beamer); and the oeoe - a hollowed-out gourd attached to a cord and swung around the head.
"We really do share our lives, it's wonderful," says Keola of his collaboration with his wife.
"She's a gifted artist in her own right, and very concerned with the background of everything cultural she does. She really knows the instruments and understands the history. These instruments are so interesting because they have this capacity to instantly transport you backwards in time."
An inspired teaming of two exceptional artists, "Keola Beamer & Raiatea" provides a perfect vehicle for both to creatively soar. Crafted over a 16-month period, it encompasses original songs such as the beautiful tribute to his mom on "Our Time For Letting Go." There are also treasures from his great-grandmother Helen Desha Beamer and some covers including material by Kui Lee ("Days of My Youth") and British folk singer Sandy Denny, along with a Hawaiian adaptation of "When I Look in Your Eyes" from the musical film "Doctor Dolittle" that showcases Raiatea's stunning vocals.
"The more I play with Keola the more we build our chemistry," Raiatea reports. "Whenever I perform with him it's always inspiring."
Since their initial teaming in 2008 at a Buddhist peace event in Waikiki, the two musicians have toured China together, played at the Hawaii Theater at Raiatea's 25th birthday concert captured on her Na Hoku-winning DVD "Raiatea Live!," and completed an initial series of island concerts in May.
Heralded early in her career as a successor to such Hawaiian ha'i legends as Lena Machado and Aunty Genoa Keawe, Raiatea has also excelled as a jazz and even rock singer with Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band.
Before bursting on the local music scene with a remarkably mature debut album, "Far Away Heaven," that won Female Vocalist of the Year and Most Promising Artist Hoku awards in 2003, Raiatea hadn't recognized her innate talent until she was inspired to start singing and play ukulele hearing a televised Kamehameha School contest.
"I was a very kolohe girl," she recalls of her girlhood on Molokai. "I danced hula, but I have to admit I didn't really enjoy it because I was a tomboy. I preferred basketball to a hula skirt. I had two brothers and everyone's athletic in my family. For some reason, Hawaiian music came out of the blue. When I was 15, I had no idea something like that could come out of me. Nina Keali'iwahanana was on TV singing "Pua Tuberose," and I told myself if she can do that, I can too. My dad would always sing " 'Alika," but I had no idea who Aunty Genoa Keawe was."
The accolades mounted with her second release, "Sweet and Lovely," which not only won Na Hoku Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Favorite Entertainer of the Year, but also brought her the distinction of being the first solo female vocalist from Hawaii to receive a Grammy nomination. Then her third album, "Hawaiian Blossom," where she was accompanied by Robert Cazimero, Ledward Kaapana, Hoku Zuttermeister and the Makaha Sons' Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, earned Raiatea another Grammy nomination.
Now enjoying her time collaborating with Keola, she says she loves "when we're on stage, seeing his reaction. He has such a glow." She's also excited to be a part of a bigger vision.
"This idea of malama ko aloha is brilliant, with the music and the message. I'm for anything that is positive, anything that will make a better change. Malama ko aloha is a beautiful idea of spreading the message of love and everything positive."
In the concert program notes Keola writes: "Hawaiian philosophical thought suggests that within each of us, there exists a bowl of light. It is our sincere hope that as we share our music with you, we might each take a moment to explore this light. We believe it is the presence of Aloha.
"And then ask yourself will you Malama Ko Aloha? Will you help us keep Aloha alive in the world?"