Nathan Aweau kicked off the sold out Hawaiian Legends concert this past Saturday at the Kauai Community College’s Performing Art Center. He played slack key guitar and his preferred instrument—a seven-string bass. He sang—beautifully, I might add—and, between songs, he told stories. Many stories. Funny stories. The more Hawaiian music concerts I attend, the more I realize that in order to be a Hawaiian musician, you must also a) be a decent storyteller; and b) like to tell funny and embarrassing stories about yourself.
“You like date?” Aweau recounted when as a 16-year-old “moke,” he asked out a girl he liked. Then, he remembered he didn’t drive and, humbled, had to ask her to do the honors. Aweau told that story to introduce his song, Mahina, inspired by his first date with the woman who would become his wife.
Aweau preceded a rousing medley of rock songs on bass by recanting a story about a woman in California who followed him on tour from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara and LA, each night asking, in a high-pitched, old lady voice, as Aweau told it, “Do you know any Don Ho songs?” Aweau played bass behind Don Ho for 16 years. “Yeah, I can play Don Ho,” he said and launched into a laughter-inducing, knee-slapping Don Ho imitation of Tiny Bubbles.
Before Aweau turned over the stage to the evening’s next performer, Dennis Kamakahi, he gave due acknowledgement to the real legends (read: older guys) of the evening—his cousin Kamakahi and his childhood neighbor Ledward Kaapana—and how honored he was to perform alongside them. Aweau said he might look all calm on the outside, but on the inside, he was screaming. To prove it, he let out a squeal.
Kamakahi wore his trademark cowboy hat and shared a story about getting lost trying to find the venue for his performance in Kalama, Washington. He stopped at city hall and ended up with a police escort. According to Kamakahi, the City of Kalama was named after a Hawaiian man of the same last name, who moved to the mainland at 16 years of age in 1830 and wound up marrying the daughter of Chief Seattle. Known as the most prolific Hawaiian music songwriter, Kamakahi wrote a song for the Hawaiian man and named it, of course, Kalama.
Kamakahi travels the world, sharing Hawaiian music wherever he goes. In fact, he travels so much that he often starts to miss his truck. Oops, did he say truck? Oh, and his wife, too. One night, across an ocean from his beloveds—the truck and the wife—he wrote Far Away. Once for their anniversary, Kamakahi told his wife had something special for her. “Let me guess,” she said. “Another song.”
When Kaapana took the stage, he started by sharing a bit of his genealogy. “I’m from Big Island,” he said, “Where the pace is simple and slow.” Kaapana is a big man—with a giggle. “At Kalapana,” he said, “From the first house to the last, everybody is related.” When he was a young man, his mother would tell him, “You cannot go out with that girl—or that girl—she is your cousin.”
And Kaapana giggled.
He was all set to begin singing when he stopped, threw his head back, giggled some more, and said, “I gotta tell you one story before I play this song.” It doesn’t matter what the story was—I can’t quite remember; it may have been about his cousin’s dog named Dog, pronounced dough-gee. It almost didn’t matter what songs any of the musicians played, either, because their laughter, their joy, their energy was palpable. You couldn’t help but laugh with them. Sometimes, later, you’d even wonder what was so funny, but you laughed anyway. I did.
I enjoyed the hearty style of play of Nathan Aweau, a musician in his prime. I enjoyed the more primal tones of Dennis Kamakahi. And I enjoyed the delicate sound and strumming of Ledward Kaapana. But what really made the evening for me were the stories. These men can weave some good tales. They can laugh. They can perform. I’m learning that it takes a good musician, a good voice and a stellar storyteller to be a Hawaiian musical legend. And these three are.
If you want to enjoy authentic Hawaiian music, there are many outlets around Hawaii. One is E Kanikapila Kakou on Kauai, sponsored by the Garden Island Arts Council. In its 28th season, EKK kicks off tonight and runs for 11 consecutive Mondays. This year’s theme is Hula and Harmony and will feature such performers as Kumu Hula Frank Kawaikapuokalani K. Hewett, Lady Ipo Kahaunaele, Jeff Peterson and Kupaoa. Here’s the complete 2011 EKK schedule.