Guest Blogger: Carol Yotsuda Wraps

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Guest Blogger: Carol Yotsuda Wraps

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Mar 09, 2010

Editor's note:  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, active artist, and she produces E Kanikapila Kakou, a Hawaiian music program held on Monday evenings through March on Kauai.  EKK celebrates its 27th year in 2010. The gatherings are conducted in the style of backyard musical jam sessions for which Hawaii is known, with many in the audience bringing their own ukulele to strum along, as hula dancers spontaneously step up to share their gifts. This year’s EKK theme is “The Stories behind the Songs.”  Here, Carol recaps three recent performances.

Monday, February 15, 2010
Winging it at EKK

Odd couple makes great music together -- Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole and Sean Na'auao together are as rare a pair as one will ever see performing together on stage. Each is a major solo artist coming from different worlds but when they play together, they seem to communicate with each other family style where just a nod of the head, a faint mutter, or the shrug of the body lets the other know what song is bubbling up, and all evening long, songs and dances bubbled up to the surface from this seeming endless well of their collective repertoire. Sean's exceptional versatility and guitar skills sets the mood for whatever Kaumakaiwa came up with in his unpredictable impromptu style; whether he is singing, chanting, acting, or telling exaggerated tales, Sean is right there with him and exploding with laughter at all the unexpected words that pour out of Kaumakaiwa's mouth. Kaumakaiwa introduces Sean and his music with such eloquent words, "....everything from Hawaiian to contemporary genre, from the simplicity of island life to the complexities of the heart, he has covered it all in his songs and his words...and he is my dear friend Sean Na'auao." Their mutual admiration society is what holds them together as each surprises the other all the time.

For one who has been dancing hula for 21 of his 27 years with only week-and-a-half break, which amounts to three rehearsals, performing hula would be second nature like breathing and eating...and so it is for Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, 15th-16th generation in his hula lineage that traces back very, very, very far. "I went to boarding school with Queen Liliuokalani...it was an all girls’ boarding school," he kidded; his comedic bent popped out everywhere with unexpected comments that have to be experienced. Repeating the things he said here would get lost in translation because so much about Kaumakaiwa is in the delivery.

Besides being acknowledged for his musical accomplishments with many Na Hoku Hanohano Awards garnered from a very young age, and carrying on his shoulders the weight and history of generations of hula dancers in the Kanaka'ole tradition, Kaumakaiwa should add actor to his list of artistry for he can't tell a story without a chameleon-like transformation of characters necessary to his stories. From kung-fu avenger of lunch-stealing birds, to little sweet skinny girls with childlike giggles, to powerful Mommy image, to dynamic chanter and sensuous hula dancer, Kaumakaiwa slips easily from one persona to another—even mid-song.

He opened the program with a chant that made you feel like you were standing on the fiery precipice of Halema'uma'u crater, his shock of wild black hair blown askew by the fiery atmosphere. His voice took you back generations to the early days where chanting was the main form of storytelling and music.

Together the artists blended their voices in the beautiful "Ka Pilina" by Frank Hewett; Sean definitely has an affinity to songs composed by Frank, and his beautiful voice and arrangements do justice to these memorable compositions. As Kaumakaiwa raises his voice in song, his hands need to speak out the words in graceful motions and his body sways to the sounds of the accompaniment so appropriately played by Sean.

Read Carol’s complete “wrap story” here.

Monday, February 22, 20101
Pueo Pata Scores a Hana Hou

So what is the program going to be? -- Every Monday my phone rings off the hook as visitors call to see what the EKK program is about so they can decide whether to come or not. I can never answer that question. One question was, "Is it traditional?" I ask, "What do you mean by traditional?" "Weeeelll, is it the LA hula ... things like "Little Brown Girl in the Little Grass Shack?" "Nooooooo...far from it. But honestly, I never know what to expect; but if you miss it, you will hear from others what you missed. Take a chance and come see for yourself what EKK is." Once they come and experience an EKK evening, they plan their Kaua'i trip to coincide with the EKK season.

Cody Pueo Pata, Kumu Hula of Halau Hula Ka Malama Mahilani, paid a high compliment to the EKK audience by the program that he presented on Monday, February 22; he recognized that our audience would appreciate the real deal. It was a glimpse into the allowable protocols and practices of his halau well represented by his halau alakai, Ku'ulei Alcomindras-Palakio, Alexandra Kahiau Rodrigues and young student Christian Keli'i Lum with music provided by their husbands, Dennis Keohokalole on upright bass and Mark Palakiko on guitar. The surprise guest who had everyone crowding to the front for a glimpse was two-year old neophyte dancer-in-training Kawekiu Palakiko. It was a dazzling evening of non-stop chants, hula, singing, stories, and laughter. The short intermission felt like a rude interruption and everyone pretended we were not running overtime.

Pueo started with a chant from Kaua'i which says "hold my hand; if I fall, you fall"...so the entities will do everything to make sure that I won't fall. He said Kaumakaiwa gave the same chant last week at EKK...."Kaumakaiwa was just here, yuh, I am finding her hair all over the stage....just kidding."

Pueo studied with seven recognized masters. Aunty Eleanor Makida is a kahuna pule who spoke the formal Hawaiian language and trained Pueo to compose the chants in the traditional Hawaiian way. She asked Pueo to compose chants for every occasion until one day she told him he no longer needed to come to her. Pueo came to recognize the difference between slang language and the formal language, but he did not know the “school Hawaiian” until he studied it in school. The okina, or glottal stop, was often not used by native Hawaiian speakers.

He shared a number of chants, legends and kahiko dances to show the many steps that the dancers needed to go through to find the proper mindset to dance before an altar, to dance when offering awa and to dance when asking for strength, endurance, longevity, fertility; he invited the audience to add their own prayers to the dance. The turtle dance was shared with a warning that when their halau did this dance en masse, many of his dancers become pregnant. A kahiko number by Keli'i Lum included war motions which was practiced to maintain strength and flexibility at a time when fighting was not condoned.

Read Carol’s complete “wrap story” here.

Monday, March 1, 2010
Aaron Sala and Snowbird Bento - It's the kolohe Hawaiian in them...and the Portuguese...and the Samoan...and the friendship nurtured by music and dance

Their reputations precede them -- I was chatting about the tsunami with one of the off-island musicians who came to EKK. He asked who just came to EKK and I replied that it was Aaron Sala and Snowbird Bento. He laughed and said "...that must have put all that tsunami stuff out of your mind, yeah?" I guess what he was actually saying is that these two artists are known for their fun, kolohe, talent and being great party animals...and yes, they are! They can come to my party anytime...just bring along your piano, Aaron! When he sat down at that piano and started to play, it took me back to the good ol' days on west Kaua'i where you always hear the Hawaiian piano playing. What's a party without that piano?

Never mind that Snowbird is an award-winning kumu hula in the Merrie Monarch hula competition, when she lets her hair down, she is totally funny and rascal, especially when she's doing tag-team commentary with her friend from eighth grade...it was hilarious to hear her muttering affirmations and corrections to Aaron's stories and jumping in to give her own version whenever she chose to. But when she takes the stage and moves to the music, all else falls away and one can see why she holds the title of kumu hula. From teaching "Hanalei Moon" in a 45-minute crash course to over 25 women and one man during the ukulele hour to sharing the hula skills of Kaohimanu Kahaunaele, one of her Kaua'i male hula dancers, one can see the teacher in her. The complexity and power of the choreography of the two male hula dances was impressive. One was "Hole Waimea," a name chant for Kamehameha who attempted to conquer all the islands...except Kaua'i, was also a prophesy chant written before the 1795 battle of Nu'uanu where the warriors jumped off the cliffs of the Pali rather than surrender to Kamehameha.

With his extensive schooling in Ethnomusicology, Hawaiian mythology and genealogy, Aaron has so much background about Hawaiian music but when he translates, he throws in his own unique perspective on many issues. You have to say "...music according to Aaron is such-and-such..." because he holds his own view about many things and stands by them. For starters, the word "kanikapila" is not a Hawaiian word; it does not exist. It came from a concert series by Peter Moon in the '70's; the right word for our EKK program should actually be "Ho'o Kanipila". Whatevahs...but pretty hard to change our name at age 27.

The theme that Aaron and Snowbird wove through the whole evening is that Kamehameha never conquered Kaua'i...interesting coming from Kamehameha School graduates and teachers.

In Hawai'i where many ethnicities rub elbows in tight quarters daily, you learn quickly the underlying rule that you don't make fun of other races in front of them but you can laugh with them, not at them, when they make fun of themselves ... which every group does all the time. Aaron and Snowbird agreed that Hawaiian Airlines was not built for Hawaiians and gave this hilarious account of trying to fit into seats 8A and 8B with onlooking visitors staring with curiosity on how they would manage that and local folks giving the side-eyes and muttering between pursed lips, "Don't tell me they going sit together." Since all seats are reserved and unchangeable, they sucked in their breath for 30 minutes until they got to Kauai.

I waited in baggage claim for their arrival, and when I spotted this tall Hawaiian-Samoan in very colorful printed shirt and pants with long black unruly hair flying around in the hurricane wind and this voluptuous very relaxed looking Hawaiian woman in black centipede-proof pants strolling slowly by, I clicked the glass door with my keys to get their attention but they kept walking by with that relaxed finally-arrived-on-Kauai-look on their faces, probably relieved that they no longer had to hold their breath. Yes, Kaua'i is the place to let it all hang out.

Luckily, they had a couple of hours and a phone booth to completely transform themselves for EKK as they both waltzed on stage, Aaron looking very GQ and Snowbird gracing the stage with her gracious kumu hula presence. They opened their performance with the appropriate oli to greet the audience and to ask permission to share their mana'o on Kaua'i. Their delivery was quite different but both chicken skin. Striding to the piano and immediately making that music he is so famous for, Aaron sang Lizzy Alohikea's "Nani Kaua'i" in his soaring voice while Snowbird danced Kaua'i's most beautiful place song. Snowbird's description of trekking up and sliding down the burning hot sand dunes of Nohili with Aunty Margaret Aipolani was hilarious. Aaron observed that Kaua'i people are calm but Kaua'i is not a calm place....that's why Kamehameha never conquered Kaua'i.

Read Carol’s complete “wrap story” here.

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