We can enjoy a spectrum of great island talent Saturday when the Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents Na Hoku Hou Award Winners Concert, featuring the traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music of Mark Yamanaka and Kainani Kahaunaele, the swinging gypsy jazz of the Hot Club of Hulaville and the melodic rock of legendary band Kalapana.
Big island artist Mark Yamanaka swept the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards this year, winning Album of the Year, Male Vocalist, Most Promising Artist and Song of the Year (for "Kaleoonalani," composed for his young daughter). Kainani Kahaunaele won Haku Mele and Hawaiian Language Performance; Hot Club of Hulaville won Jazz Album of the Year; and Kalapana was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mixing Hawaiian standards with newly composed Hawaiian language songs, Yamanaka's debut album, "Lei Pua Kenikeni," clearly impressed the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts judges. Nominated for seven awards, he is only the third musician to win three major categories with a debut album, after Willie K in 1992 and Keali'i Reichel in 1995.
Known for his beautiful falsetto, Yamanaka is a student of kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho. He began playing music while attending intermediate school in Hilo, beginning with the ukulele and later teaching himself guitar. Soon after, he discovered a talent for falsetto.
His love for singing falsetto was inspired by the work of artists like Dennis Pavao, Gary Heleamau and Darren Benitez. "For me it was mimicking, trying to sound like that," he said in a Hawaii Public Radio interview. "Making the CD, I didn't consider winning any awards. I just wanted to get a CD out with good music, something I and my family could cherish."
Honored with the most nominations - eight for second album "Ohai Ula"- Kauai musician Kahaunaele has continued a winning streak since her debut CD, "Na'u 'Oe," which earned Female Vocalist of the Year, Most Promising Artist and Hawaiian Language Performance in 2004.
Born in rural Anahola and raised by her grandparents, she grew up surrounded by four generations of musical talent. Her love for Hawaiian music was infused at an early age, playing ukulele and singing in church and with the Kapa'a High School Show Choir.
While studying for a degree in Hawaiian Studies at University of Hawaii at Hilo, Kahaunaele started singing professionally and composing traditional songs as part of 'Aha P?nana Leo's pioneering Hawaiian language revitalization program.
Kahaunaele's proficiency in composing haku mele led to artists such as Weldon Kekauoha, Aaron Sala and Na Leo recording her songs, while a number of halau have danced to her music - including kumu hula Keali'i Reichel's Halau Ke'alaokamaile at Merrie Monarch in 2009.
Strikingly talented with a lovely voice, she crafts memorable contemporary Hawaiian music with subtle touches of jazz and pop. Supported by the Wish List Band, Kahaunaele composed nine of the songs on her latest CD.
"My passion is to perpetuate Hawaiian culture in a way that is more authentic and to promote Hawaiian language and Hawaiian composition," she said in an interview.
One of Hawaii's most popular groups, Kalapana was celebrated in May at a Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony at the Hawaii Convention Center, which also honored Maui brothers Ernest and Freddie Tavares.
Besides current members Malani Bilyeu, DJ Pratt, Kenji Sano and Gaylord Holomaila, the event also honored the late Mackey Feary, and former members Alvin Fejarang, Michael Paulo and Randy Aloya.
The seeds of Kalapana's long career were sown in 1973, when childhood friends David John (DJ) Pratt and Malani Bilyeu auditioned at the Rainbow Villa for the newly popular duo Cecilio and Kapono.
C&K encouraged the two musicians to form a band, and they then recruited Kirk Thompson and Mackey Feary. Settling on the name Kalapana, the group's popularity soon grew, and the release of their debut album cemented their reputation as hot island talent. Packed with memorable songs, which would become audience favorites, including "Nightbird," "Naturally" and "Kona Daze," the album sold more than 125,000 copies.
Within three years of their initial meeting, Kalapana had become so popular that they headlined at the Waikiki Shell, selling out three evenings before a record attendance of 25,000. At the close of the same year they joined C&K, performing before a crowd estimated at 30,000 at Aloha Stadium.
From the mid-1980s until the late 1990s, the band performed as a quintet comprising founding members Bilyeu, Feary and Pratt, with Gaylord Holomalia and bassist Kenji Sano.
In recent years all the members have pursued solo careers. While their appearances in Hawaii became sporadic, Kalapana has consistently enjoyed a huge following in Japan.
In 2002, the band released an album of new material, "Blue" - featuring Robert Lynn Nelson's painting "Yellow Moon over Lahaina" - which earned them Hoku Awards for Best Rock Album and Best Engineered Album. And in 2009, they again won Rock Album of the Year for a collection of re-recorded favorites, "Many Classics, Kalapana Plays Their Best."
"When we're together it's great," says Gaylord Holomalia. "We don't see each other all the time because, individually, we all have our own projects, but when we get together we have a lot of fun."
Returning to Maui after impressing folks opening for John Jorgenson, the Hot Club of Hulaville won this year's jazz Hoku for their CD "Django Would Go." Based on Oahu, the group features Duane Padilla on violin, Emmet Mahoney on guitar, Ricardo Diaz on bass, Sonny Silva on guitar and vocalist Ginai. They perform their own special blend of 1930s-style jazz, swing and gypsy music with a Hawaiian flavor.
"It's a French twist to American swing," explained group leader Sonny Silva. "We're influenced by the original Quintet du Hot Club of France. We play jazz and hapa-haole Hawaiian music like 'Sophisticated Hula.' "
The group's talented vocalist sings in Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian, English, Tahitian and Hawaiian (on the sweet track "Kalua" on "Django).
The band's violinist recently released his own album, "Sentimental Swing." A member of the Honolulu Symphony, Padilla has also performed with Amy Hanali'i and Uluwehi Gurrerro. Interpreting classics from the Great American Songbook such as "Autumn Leaves" and "Embraceable You," the album was recorded live without rehearsals.
* The Na Hoku Hou Award Winners Concert is presented Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 event day, and $40 for premium table seating (plus applicable fees). For details or to purchase tickets, visit www.mauiarts.org or call the MACC box office at 242-7469.
The Maui duo Ahumanu, featuring Liz "Kopa'a Tita" Morales and Joni DeMello, will perform songs from their new album, "No Ku'uipo," at a CD release party at Stella Blues Caf on Saturday evening. They will also play a sold-out show at Stella Blues on Friday.
A follow-up to their debut album, "The Gathering," the new project features a number of original compositions ranging from contemporary Hawaiian to the jazzy "All Right Now," along with songs by Ka'upena Wong and Johnny Lum Ho, and a cover of Duke Ellington's "Swingtime in Honolulu."
Multi-instrumentalist Liz plays ukulele, lead and rhythm guitar, upright bass, percussion and Tahitian banjo on the album, while Joni contributes guitar and bass.
* Ahumanu CD release party tickets are $60 for dinner and show at Stella Blues Cafe, with seating at 6 p.m., or $30 for the show only, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Call 874-3779.
It may be a Maui first when a total of nine pianists combine talents for the "Battle of the Pianists" concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Music Conservatory at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center.
Presented by Ebb & Flow Arts as part of their "A Little More Summer Music, Please" series, the concert features Ruth Murata, Lotus Dancer, Robert Pollock, Beatrice Scorby, Karyn Sarring, Peiling Lin, Anna and Laura Reiley, plus special guest Winston Choi, performing pieces for one, two and four pianos.
The program features works by Igor Stravinsky, Simeon ten Holt, Anne Ku, Percy Grainger, Maurice Ravel, Johannes Brahms, Phil Dennys and Henry Gilbert. And the world premiere of Robert Pollock's special composition for the occasion, "16 for 4," features eight pianists playing four pianos.
As usual, the concert is presented free of charge.
* Ebb & Flow Arts' "Battle of the Pianists" free concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Music Conservancy. For details, www.ebbandflowarts.org.