‘Kalawai‘anui’ Amy Hanaiali‘i’s latest release ‘breathtaking’
In conjunction with the release of her latest album, “Kalawai’anui,” Amy Hanaiali’i has produced a breathtaking video of the title song shot aboard the Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani ocean voyaging canoe as it sailed the Kealaikahiki Channel.
Opening with a chant and the beat of a pahu drum by her cousin, Kumu Hula Micah Kamohoali’i, Amy stands regally on deck as she begins singing the powerful song, while her brother Timi Gilliom, captains the canoe.
It’s so moving, HAPA’s Barry Flanagan took to Facebook to bestow praises on her achievement.
“Amy Hanaiali’i’s vision for her new song ‘Kalawai’anui’ vibrates at the highest level of what makes Hawaiian music composed in the Hawaiian language the true authentic soundtrack of these islands,” Flanagan wrote. “This is just a monumental, extraordinary song and video, one that comes along every 10 years or so.”
The remarkable new album pays homage to Amy’s ancestors and her deep connection to past Hawaiian generations.
“I do a lot of genealogy; it’s one of my passions,” says Amy, who is currently touring Japan promoting the album. “I was searching for one ancestor for a long time. Our family, we knew we were Kalawai’anuis, Nakoas and Ka’ahanuis, but how were we all connected? I was talking story with Clifford Nae’ole that I think I’m related to the Kamohoali’is, and he said I should reach out to Micah in Waimea. I gave him [Kamohoali’i] all the genealogy and he said, ‘This is the link we’ve been missing for a long time.’ That’s why the album is called ‘Kalawai’anui,’ because of that ancestor. Kalawai’anui is the grandson of Kamohoali’i, who was known as the shark god. He’s also Queen Emma’s grandmother’s brother.
“Micah and I just started writing together a song about Mauna Kea and Waimea, where he comes from, and the Kalawai’anui line. Then we shot the video. We were in the Kealaikahiki Channel outside of Maalaea, and Micah was chanting all the priest names and my brother was captaining the canoe and I’m singing. It was epic.”
Kumu Kamohoali’i of Waimea’s Halau Na Kipu’upu’u, who served as a cultural adviser for the album, explains in the CD liner notes: “This song reminds one that genealogy is most important, for it is truly the foundation that one proudly stands upon. The names of kupuna are woven and veiled in this composition like the hidden ali’i. The double entendre of this song relates to the molding of a leader, encouraging one not to waste time but rather to make ready and go using the lessons learned by the ancestors.”
With so many memorable tracks the new recording enhances Amy’s reputation as one of Hawaii’s most creative, gifted vocalists. Singing primarily in Hawaiian, she includes a few English language songs, focusing on original compositions, with five co-composed with Kumu Kamohoali’i, along with some classic covers.
Helping craft the songs are a stellar ensemble, including Maui musicians guitarist Jeff Peterson and pianist Sal Godinez, who contribute exemplary accomplishment.
After the opening “Oli Kaho’ali’i chant,” she mesmerizes with stunning vocals on the song “Mauna Kea Ku’u Iwi Hilo,” complemented by Godinez’s delicate piano and subtle percussion.
“There is Mauna Kea placed high above,” she sings in Hawaiian. “The mountain standing alone in the calm / Indeed a majestic mountain / That opens up to the heavens.”
And amid the swirling spirit of wind, she closes with the prayer: “Stand guard in the storm / Protect us from harm / Secure the island in peace.”
“There’s a section in the ‘Mauna Kea’ song, it was my Queen tribute,” she says. “I was watching the Freddie Mercury movie, and they go into these crazy tangents and interludes. So in the middle of the song, I went into this whole symphony breakdown. I’m always challenging myself to be better. With this one, I wrote some deep things about Mauna Kea and the struggle we’re having and, of course, my genealogy, and I did a duet with Josh Tatofi.”
In an homage to Waimea’s legendary rain rock, Manaua, named for the moo wahine, the guardian lizard of Kohakohau stream, she delivers another amazing vocal performance with lyrics by Kamohoali’i: “I give you my maile lei of La’ela’e / I give you my braided lei of Lehua / This cherished lei of love is for you Manaua.”
Shifting stylistically and singing in English, on “Hawai’i You’re My Home,” with its light reggae rhythm and tasty guitar by Peterson, she extols our state’s natural wonders from Haleakala to the Ko’olau Range and Molokai’s Papohaku Beach to Wai’anae.
“I was driving one day thinking [about] people who move here from the Mainland and they say they’re kama’aina; I don’t think you’re kama’aina ’til you know these places,” she explains. “It’s not negative in any way. We just want you to hang out where locals hang. And it turned into a reggae track — I love all kinds of music.”
Peterson’s impressive guitar playing is also a highlight on a superb Hawaiian version of Lionel Richie’s romantic hit ballad, ‘Endless Love,’ which he performed with Diana Ross in 1981. Sung here as a landmark duet with Tatofi, “Ku’u Nui Aloha” is so beautiful it takes your breath away.
Amy first sang the song, in English, with Tatofi on Valentine’s Day.
“He asked me to be on his show and sing Lionel Richie’s ‘Endless Love’ with him,” she says. “And then it went viral online with so many shares that I thought, ‘Let’s record the song in Hawaiian’ — it came out magical.”
As for other tracks, “Will You Love Me” is an amusing, saucy English-lyric song that recalls jazz vocal standards of the past. Known as the “Carburetor Song” with its reference to car parts, it was originally recorded in the 1940s and “Hawaiian-ized” by George Na’ope.
“Will you love me when my ka’a uwila no can go?” she wonders on the song.
Double entendres abound in the traditional “Nanea Ko Maka I Ka Le’ale’a,” a paean to sensual delights, and she artfully covers “Kamalanai O Keaukaha,” Lena Machada’s classic song, which was Machada’s first commercial recording.
Amy produced “Kalawai’anui,” her 15th solo album, herself.
“I had a great time in the studio by myself, doing it the way I wanted,” she notes. “I really enjoyed the freedom.”
Besides Peterson and Godinez, other musicians on board include bassist Mark S. Johnson, former Chuck Mangione drummer Darryl Pellegrini, Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning guitarist Wailau Ryder and violinist Wenlu Duffy, who plays with the Maui Pops and Maui Chamber Orchestra.
Closing the album on a triumphant note, Amy premieres a remarkable new song dedicated to Queen Lili’uokalani. Composed by Denny Miyasato, the “Queen’s Anthem” is also featured on the soundtrack of the forthcoming musical, “A Timeless Princess,” which will open in July at the Mamiya Theatre at St. Louis School in Kaimuki on Oahu.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she says. “Danny is a beautiful composer, and he recorded the song with a full orchestra.”
With lyrics addressing the queen’s shameful imprisonment, words of encouragement are offered for current and future generations.
“Soon my voice of peace will resonate throughout the world for all to hear / The story will be told and the truth will then unfold / And once again my people will rise up and celebrate me home,” Amy sings.
The Masters of Hawaiian Music series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort’s Aloha Pavilion present an “All Star Show” on Wednesday. With George Kahumoku Jr. hosting, performers include Led Kaapana, James Hill, Jeff Peterson, Herb Ohta Jr., Sonny Lim, Kevin Brown, Brad Bordessa, Peter deAquino, Sterling Seaton and Max Angel.
Then on June 19, there will be a special “Guitar & Ukulele Masters Showcase,” with Uncle George hosting, joined by Kaapana, Peterson, Ohta Jr., Hill and deAquino.
Dinner and show tickets are available for $95 (plus applicable fees), with dinner beginning at 5 p.m. with advance reservations. Show-only tickets are $37.99 (plus applicable fees) in advance online or by phone. Tickets are $45 at the door. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.slackkeyshow.com or by calling 669-3858.
It was great to hear that ukulele goddess Taimane just won her first Hoku Award for Favorite Entertainer of the Year. For anyone wondering why there was no ukulele category this year, while Taimane submitted her album for consideration, there were not enough submissions this year — so no award.
Taimane makes her UK debut in London today at an ornately decorated early 20th-century music hall, where Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison and Adele previously performed. Jake Shimabukuro just played there in early May.
The ukulele virtuoso can now be seen modeling as part of British fashion retailer AllSaints’ summer season, Hawaii-themed collection.