Editor’s note: Guest blogger Carol Yotsuda recaps the opening night of E Kanikapila Kakou on Kauai. In its 27th year, the Hawaiian music program will be held Monday evenings through March. The gatherings are conducted in the style of backyard musical jam sessions for which Hawaii is known, with many bringing their own ukulele to strum along and hula dancers stepping up to share their gifts. This year’s theme is “The Stories behind the Songs.” The January 18th event featured the father-and-son team of George Kahumoku, Jr. and Keoki Kahumoku.
Keoki led off the program with “ Noho i Pahala," an ‘oli composed by Liko. He shared a bit of history about the Kau district [on Hawaii Island], once a bread basket of Hawaiian civilization where thousands thrived in an area with no water. What a great intro to Hawaiian music to learn a chant with proper flexing of the knees and all the little vocal inflections, wavering voice and grunts from the piko.
The songs that they taught us, each with its own story, were exquisite melodies with beautiful harmony. At times I forgot to sing and just wanted to listen to them singing. “Ku’u ‘Aina Aloha ‘O Kahakuloa” (My beloved Land of Kahakuloa), composed by George with Hawaiian translation by Ke’haulani Shintani, is based on a geographically remote and very special place near George’s home on the Lahaina side of Maui, culturally connected with the legend of the birth of Maui by Hina, Goddess of the Moon, and musically describes the unique and stark beauty of Kahakuloa. As George went over the lyrics of the song, he touched upon many historical and geographical trivia. This was where Chief Kahikili tested the warriors and only those with the physical prowess to survive the gauntlet of challenges could serve in the royal army.
Over the years he [George] has farmed on Hawaii Island using ingenious planting methods in rocky ground and on Maui -- everything from taro, papaya, mac nut, ti leaves to cattle, pigs, goats; he even invited anyone in the audience to visit him at the northern tip of Lahaina but go there prepared to work the farm. Anyone need a little adventure in their lives?
Based on the legend of Volcano Goddess Pele and her bovine boyfriend Kamapua’a, George describes the tempestuous centuries-long love struggle between the two, complete with all the pig grunts, goat blubbering and other sound embellishments that is George’s signature style of story-telling.
Revealing his softer feminine side, George composed “Ke Welina A Ke Aloha,” a mele inoa for his niece Kewelinaakealoha Kamoku while he was trying to rock this crying 6-week old baby to sleep. George said that in those days everything from car rentals to plate lunches to dog grooming services were being named “Aloha,” so he wanted a name other than Aloha to fit this child born on Valentine’s Day. Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole’s name choice translates to “the essence of love.”
George’s introduction to playing music at age 11 is his famous story about cleaning cars for Lippy Espinda at ten cents a car and playing a three-minute gig for Kui Lee at Forbidden City that scored him $27.10 from the appreciative audience of construction workers and stevedores. They sang Kui Lee’s “I Will Remember You” to acknowledge Kui Lee’s support of young talent; George has spent his lifetime doing the same. Not one to only talk; he backs up his words with action. Keoki is George’s own true son, but he parents 14 other hanai youngsters plus, over the years, has mentored over 100 problem youths in special programs.
“Aloha Hale O Ho’oponopono” with lyrics by Diane Aki and melody by George describes the way the students in this Kamehameha and DOE-sponsored alternative learning center in Honaunau never cut out of school because the curriculum is rooted in traditional Hawaiian values – fishing, hunting, planting, surfing, canoeing, hula, halau building, and building stonewalls. An upbeat song, it captured the spirit of this learning center.
Keoki wanted to share Aunty Irmgard Aluli’s “Boy from Laupahoehoe”, a lively hula number that brought Uncle Vern Kauanui up front to show his lively hula hips. Boy, that Uncle can really “ame”! For visitors who had never experienced Vern, it was a visual treat. Wheee…haw!
As the evening rolled on and Uncle George started to feel ono for some Hamura Saimin and thinking of how to get his toe in the door before they stopped serving, he started in on what must be one of his most memorable stories – the fish story at the fancy resort in Maui – which had everyone in stitches with tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks. In his most eloquent and descriptive pidgin English (which made me nostalgic for my small kid time in Waimea Valley), he painted visual images in our heads that were so bizarre they were almost fictional. Keoki, one of the guilty parties in this fiasco, could testify to the authenticity of every word.
The stories could have gone on all night, but Hamura was calling.
The duo topped off their fish story with a favorite fish song from Niihau, “Aloha Ka Manini” and all too soon the evening had to come to an end. All rose to sing “Hawai’i Aloha” with a special remembrance to Uncle Kepa Goo and Rocky Pau who were faithful attendees of EKK through season 2009. It’s great that Faith Pau was present to carry on this family way of life.
In 2006, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii named Carol Yotsuda a “Living Treasure” for her efforts in preserving the culture of Hawaii. Carol is the executive director of the Garden Island Arts Council, a volunteer position she’s held since 1998. She is also a retired teacher and artist. You can read Carol’s complete account of this event and see the 2010 E Kanikapila Kakou schedule at