More than 200 musicians from around the state have collaborated on a new CD project that will help benefit Hawaii charter schools.
"This is Maoli Music" (Volume IV) and "Hui Na Moku" (Volume V) compile 37 tracks of previously unreleased original or traditional music, with each track featuring two or more vocalists, and professional musicians teaming with students.
Some of the artists contributing include John Cruz, Jack Johnson, Ernie Cruz, Jr, Natural Vibrations, Paula Fuga, Anuhea, Napua Makua, InnaVision, Kapali Keahi, Pi'ilani Arias, Guy Cruz, King Kekai and Rebel Souljahz.
Jack Johnson and John Cruz jam backstage at a recent concert.
BRIAN BIELMANN photo
Over the past 10 years, Mana Maoli has worked with various musicians and students to produce three previous CD collections, along with presenting benefit concerts and smaller club gigs.
"Hundreds of artists are a part of this Mana Maoli collective," explains executive director Keola Nakanishi. "Some donate their time and talent to mentorships for the students. No one gets asked to do freebies more than musicians, yet they keep on giving. Many are just inspired by what these charter schools are achieving against all odds, despite the severe funding inequity, and taking all the 'have-nots.' When they visit they can see it in the eyes of the youth, and they can feel it. They know this is something worth supporting."
Mana Maoli's latest release marks the first time a dozen Hawaiian charter schools each contributed one track to the CD, "whether it's traditional Hawaiian oli, mele Hawaii, or reggae or other kinds of music," Keola says. And it features a music video filmed to accompany the new song "Little Bit of Love," composed by John Cruz and sung with Jack Johnson.
"It's great; it's really collaborative," says John Cruz. "I've been involved with Mana Maoli for about 10 years. When I grew up I never had a chance to learn Hawaiian, they weren't teaching it. So anything that supports cultural awakening and helping us reclaim the language I'm down with."
After composing some new songs, Cruz approached Johnson about recording together for the new project.
"Jack and I have been doing gigs for a while on Oahu," he continues. "He plays benefits and as his band is on the Mainland I back him up. I had these new songs and he was drawn to that one ('Little Bit of Love')."
"It was a lot of fun," says Johnson about the collaboration. "It's a catchy song with a nice melody. It came out real nice."
The Grammy-nominated musician previously teamed with Paula Fuga on the popular song "Country Road," heard on "Mana Maoli Volume 1."
"I think the Hawaii charter schools are really important," he says. "I was on the first volume with Paula. It's such a positive experience working with kids and helping out to help preserve Hawaiian culture. It's important to keep the Hawaiian culture and language alive, so to have these schools that focus on that is a great thing."
While the songs on "Volume IV" range from island and roots reggae, hip-hop and dancehall, to ska, R&B and electro pop, "Volume V" focuses more on traditional and contemporary Hawaiian.
Among the collaborations on "IV," Natural Vibrations team with students of Halau Ku Mana on "Better World," InnaVision and Paula Fuga contribute "Mr. Sunshine," Napua Makua and Pi'ilani Arias sing "Too Much Heaven" and Ernie Cruz, Jr. and Lahaina Grown's Kapali Keahi perform the roots reggae of "The Land I Feel."
"Volume V" includes Anuhea teaming with King Kekai on the acoustic, hip-hop flavored "Mr. Mellow," the Hawaiian chants "Ola Na Iwi" and "Ua Ao Hawai'i" performed by school students, and Cruz and Johnson's "Little Bit of Love."
Nakanishi was especially pleased to have so many students contribute to the albums.
"Working with the youth in the recording process is time-consuming but rewarding," he enthuses. "This project was not just doing a CD for the youth, but with the youth. It involved providing them with mentors related to creating and playing music, singing and engineering, toward creating the product. And then mentorships related to helping market that product."
The genesis of the cultural movement began with the work of Ku Kahakalau (sister to Robi). "Ku is the pioneer of the charter school movement in Hawaii," Nakanishi explains. "On her own time and dollar, she and her husband went across the islands telling everyone about this new thing called charter schools. While my intent was to be part of starting a school when I'm much older, the opportunity and the need was now."
Founded in 1999, Mana Maoli comprises a collective of educators, artists, musicians, cultural practitioners, and community organizers. The programs they support include the Halau Ku Mana Charter School, the Kanehunamoku sailing canoe program and Maoli Music, which produces innovative and positive music.
Their mission statement is summed up by the principles -ho'okumu, ho'okele, ho'omana.
Ho'okumu (build grounding and foundation) involves fostering a sense of esteem, stewardship, and kuleana to the land and communities through grounding in the ancestral knowledge and practices of Hawaii and the academic skills necessary to excel in the 21st century.
Ho'okele (forge direction and connections) entails exploring and inquiring in ways that build upon ancestral wisdom and bridge to other communities and cultures in a harmonious manner.
And ho'omana (provide sustenance and empowerment) encompasses striving for higher academic, cultural, social, environmental and economic standards to nourish the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical bodies.
Guided by these three principles Nakanishi feels encouraged by how the programs have positively impacted kids.
"To be able to have your work involving empowering youth and communities, through hands-on learning on land and at sea and through innovative music is a true blessing.
"They (students) learn academics in a real-world setting, so the learning is more fun and relevant, which increases retention and how well they apply that learning. No less important, they develop confidence and leadership skills, a strong cultural grounding, and a sense of service to their land and community. Most important, they are happy."
Besides presenting fundraising benefit performances throughout the islands, a number of Mana Maoli Collective musicians have taken part in a cultural exchange traveling to Aotearoa (New Zealand). In 2010 and 2011, they were the first group from Hawaii to represent traditional and original music and hula at the Pasifika Festival, a gathering of more than 200,000 people from dozens of nations across the Pacific, and at the WOMAD Festival in 2011.
"It was amazing," says Nakanishi about attending Pasifika. "There were 230,000 people gathered across a dozen stages and villages. Each village represented the traditional and modern music, dance, food, crafts and culture of a different place in the Pacific. In 2010, an all-star band representing the Mana Maoli Collective was the first group in Hawaii to represent at Pasifika in its 18 years, as the headline act. We then returned in 2011. The WOMAD festival there was also epic."
John Cruz is equally enthused about the cultural exchange. "We're actually working on a collaboration album with Aotearoa artists," he notes. "I'm doing a song with a musician who is in the contemporary reggae scene there. And there are a couple of other Mana Maoli artists collaborating with Aotearoa artists."
n The limited-edition double CD "This is Maoli Music" (Volume IV) and "Hui Na Moku" (Volume V) is available online at manamaoli.org and at Native Intelligence in Wailuku. The CD includes a 24-page color booklet featuring artwork by Solomon Enos, messages from the artists, lyric excerpts, photos, and brief bios on the schools and artists. It will be available in other stores soon.
Overtone, a South African a cappella group, makes its Maui debut in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Friday evening. This six-member vocal ensemble may be best- known to American audiences through its singing on the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie "Invictus."
They were "discovered" by the director's wife, Dina Eastwood, in Cape Town, performing a tribute show to rock legends Queen.
"Overtone blew me away with their voices, harmonics, looks, and stage presence," she reported.
"When does a housewife become a band manager? When her husband Clint shoots a movie in South Africa, and during ladies' night out, she experiences the best vocal band ever."
Overtone's repertoire ranges from traditional Zulu and Afrikaans folk to contemporary pop. They will soon release a CD of all original pop and dance music.
* Overtone performs at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 standard, and $45 for VIP with artist meet-and-greet after the show (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.