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Take a trip around the world with Pink Martini

Pink Martini’s founder, Thomas Lauderdale, has often described his Oregon-based group as resembling the United Nations having a house band in 1962. Their sumptuous recordings are typically sprinkled with retro songs from many cultures, and their latest, “Dream a Little Dream,” is no exception.

With tunes from nations as diverse as China and Germany and Rwanda and Sweden, the album features something even more special – a collaboration with Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August von Trapp, the great-grandchildren of Capt. Georg and Maria von Trapp, made famous by the 1965 film “The Sound of Music.”

“The von Trapps are so amazing,” says Lauderdale, talking from a tour stop in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. “They wanted so badly to come to Hawaii, but they’re on their own tour. By far, they’re the youngest people we’ve ever worked with. Normally, we collaborate with people who are over 70.”

First encountering the four von Trapp siblings at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Lauderdale felt inspired to help advance their musical career.

“I met them at a juncture where they were trying to figure out whether they were going to quit and stop performing or continue,” he explains. “They had been doing a lot of ‘Sound of Music’ songs and folk songs. Somehow we convinced them to move to Portland, and they’re about to release their own album.”

An avid fan of “The Sound of Music” movie – he calls it “the last great optimistic American film” – Lauderdale says it was natural to include a couple of the musical’s songs on “Dream a Little Dream.” So there’s “Edelweiss,” featuring 72-year-old Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in the film, and “The Lonely Goatherd,” sung by Wayne “Mr. Las Vegas” Newton and zoologist Jack Hanna.

“They knew Wayne Newton from Montana,” Lauderdale explains. “He lived down the road from them. When I found out, I said it would be amazing to get him on the record. So he flew in and recorded it, and it was amazing. But the idea was to escape a bit from just ‘The Sound of Music’ to potentially free up the von Trapps to do more of the music they really wanted to do.”

Opening with the siblings singing the title tune (after a snippet of Debussy’s gorgeous “Clair de Lune”), the exotic material includes a 1920s German folk song “Die Dorfmusik,” the Israeli lullaby “Hayaldah Hachi Yafa Bagan,” French singer Francoise Hardy’s “Le Premier Bonheur du Jour,” the Japanese pop song “Kuroneko no Tango,” and a unique take on ABBA’s hit “Fernando” (sung in the original Swedish, of course) augmented by a samba band.

The von Trapps composed three original songs on the album including the lovely “Thunder,” which was recorded in Dublin with Irish music stars the Chieftains.

“August von Trapp is writing an incredible volume of brilliant songs,” says Lauderdale. “He’s like a cross between Donovan and Simon & Garfunkel and the Fleet Foxes.”

And there’s another beautiful, rather surprising inclusion, “Rwanda Nziza,” the national anthem of Rwanda, sung in Kinyarwandan.

“They brought that one to the table,” he notes.

It turns out the siblings spent time in that African nation teaching music and performing at orphanages, and previously sang the anthem for Rwanda’s president.

Pink Martini’s recordings typically feature songs sung in a range of languages. On their 2009 album, “Splendor in the Grass,” the opening lullaby “Ninna Nanna” was sung in Neapolitan (an Italian dialect from Naples), and it included the French cha cha “Ou est Ma Tete,” a cover of the Italian pop hit “Tuca Tuca,” and a unique version of the Carpenters “Sing,” performed as an English-Spanish duet with a cast member of “Sesame Street” and a children’s choir.

At their recent sold-out concert in Singapore, lead vocalist China Forbes sang a song in Malay.

“Both China Forbes and I grew up studying languages,” he notes. “I always liked the cinema of Italy and Japan and other parts of the world. And I loved the songs that were in some of these films, and China is so gifted with language. Now we have a repertoire with songs in 25 different languages.”

From their earliest days, Pink Martini’s classy, retro music was a hit internationally. Their debut album, “Sympathique,” sold platinum in France and gold in Greece, and racked up sales of more than 700,000. Their follow-up album, “Hang On Little Tomato,” included original songs in French, Italian, Japanese, Croatian, Spanish and English. It sold more than 500,000 copies, and was certified gold in Canada, Greece and Turkey.

Last year, the group celebrated its 20th anniversary. Lauderdale seems rather amazed that their popularity has endured.

“When the band first started, I never expected to travel beyond the borders of Portland, Ore.,” he says. “It doesn’t seem real that it actually works. It’s preposterous that we’re going in the opposite direction of everybody else in the music industry. When the band was starting, I wanted to play the material that I really loved, to create the kind of band that I would want to go and see myself.”

Formed amidst a lounge music resurgence in the mid-1990s, the band has served as a vehicle for Lauderdale’s love of pre-mid-1960s culture, delighting audiences with elegant, sophisticated, sultry music.

“I think because the music is so accessible on so many different levels and has a commitment to beautiful melodies and lyrics, it has this widespread appeal to people no matter who they are,” he says. “For me, music is always melody-driven. I was always attracted to beautiful melodies. If the melody is very beautiful, often the lyrics are beautiful too. I love the grand, exquisite beauty of these melodic songs from the ’20s, ’30s ’40s and ’50s. They’re so inspiring and there’s so little of it these days.”

*****

Reflecting Japan’s important role in supporting Hawaiian music, the nominations for the 38th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards were announced Sunday at the Tokyo Disney Resort, with Maui’s artists once again prominent.

Congratulations to our musicians including Keali’i Reichel, who dominated with 12 nominations in eight categories for his wonderful “Kawaiokalena,” and Amy Hanaiali’i and Willie K with five nominations for their superb “Reunion.”

Also recognized with nominations were Richard Ho’opi’i for Male Vocalist of the Year and Hawaiian Music Album (and he’ll receive a Lifetime Achievement Award); George Kahumoku Jr. for Slack Key Album; Joel Katz for Jazz Album; Jeff Peterson for Instrumental Album and Instrumental Composition; Na Hoa for Group of the Year; and Kulewa for Contemporary Album. Derek Sebastian also received a mention for inclusion on the Compilation Album-nominated “Island Style Ukulele 2.”

*****

Great news that John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame will play the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on June 6. Fogerty’s classic hits include “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Green River” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

*****

Needless to say, Amy Hanaiali’i and Willie K’s show Saturday at the MACC was amazing. Based around their new album, the show featured a number of standout songs on “Reunion,” like the anthemic “Who’s Got The Water” and “Hanohano O Kamanu,” which sounded even more powerful live. Fusing talents on stage, they are unmatched in Hawaii.

Backed by Warehouse Blues Band bassist Jerry Byers and drummer Chris Thomas, the duo even pulled off a brilliant Motown medley that included Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and “A Natural Woman,” and a phenomenal version of The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

During the concert, they announced plans for an ambitious project to present televised concerts at Hawaiian Home Lands sites on all islands.

*****

You’ve got to love Kickstarter. It’s become the can-do approach for local musicians trying to get their projects realized. Last week, filmmaker Dave Barry and musician George Kahumoku Jr. met their goal for their 2015 campaign for The Masters of Hawaiian Music Film Series. Pledges from 424 folks raised $61,900 to help bring the documentaries to life.

“Thank you all,” said Barry. “We will be able to make these two films on Martin Pahinui and Brother Noland. It is always an incredibly humbling experience when we run our campaigns to fund our films. . . seeing so many step up to help us.”

Also happy last week, HAPA’s Barry Flanagan, who successfully raised $53,000 from 310 backers on Kickstarter to record a new studio CD and concert DVD.

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