Kuana Torres Kahele wins six Hoku Awards
(Star-Advertiser photo by FL Morris)
BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.orgKuana Torres Kahele, founding member of perennially popular Hawaiian traditionalists Na Palapalai, proved equally popular as a solo artist as the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) announced the winners of the 2012 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in the Kalakaua Ballroom of the Hawai‘i Convention Center on Sunday.
Kahele won six awards in five categories — Male Vocalist of the Year, Hawaiian Album of the Year, Song of the Year (for “Na Vaqueros”), Liner Notes and Album of the Year. The award for Album of the Year goes to the producer(s) as well as the artist, and since Kahele co-produced the album, “Kuanaloa,” with Dave Tucciarone he earned one as the artist and a second for his work as one of the producers.
A seventh award, Graphics, went to Kuhao Zane and Kamele Eskaran for their work designing the album artwork and the beautiful liner notes booklet.
Kahele, a multi-Hoku Award-winner as a member of Na Palapalai, said that winning as a solo artist was “totally different, but it is an awesome experience. You’d think that after all these years with Na Palapalai you’d be used to it, but it is still fresh every time you set foot on that stage.”
“I never really thought that the album would go this far. (The album) was something I had to do for my mother, and being here tonight for my mother’s album is awesome.”
There’s been almost a tradition in recent years that at least one winning artist will be outside the ballroom when his or her name is announced. A few years ago Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole had to run the full length of the Hawaii Ballroom at the Sheraton Waikiki. Chino Montero was talking with well-wishers outside the Kalakaua Ballroom at the Convention Center last year when his name was called. Kahele was taken by surprise twice on Sunday.
“Don’t ever make a fat man run,” he said, glistening and sounding a bit winded, when he reached the podium to accept the Hoku Award for “Song of the Year.” He explained that he had written “Na Vaqueros” to commemorate the Spanish-speaking Mexican cowboys who had come to Hawaii in the 1830s to teach Hawaiians how to handle cattle. It had seemed appropriate, he continued, that some of the song’s lyrics be Spanish, and since he doesn’t speak Spanish he’d asked a friend, Jose Acevedo, for help writing the Spanish lyrics
Acevedo, whose lyric contributions to the award-winning composition certainly earned him his time with Kahele at the podium, told the crowd that he didn’t speak English well and switched to Spanish. A previous speaker had chosen to speak entirely in Hawaiian and so Acevedo’s use of Spanish to convey his thanks and well wishes certainly seemed appropriate.
Although Kahele was the biggest winner of the evening, it was also a big night for Waipuna. The group — Kale Hannahs, Matt Sproat and David Kamakahi — won Group of the Year and Island Music Album of the Year with their second album, “E Ho‘i Mai,” which Hannahs and Sproat recorded and released before Kamakahi became a member. The duo — now a trio — received a third Hoku, Single of the Year, for “’Ainahau.”
Kamakahi, a previous Hoku Award-winner as a solo artist, joined Hannahs and Sproat on stage and thanked the other two “for giving me the greatest job ever.”
Hannahs said later that all of the nominees in the categories that Waipuna was up for were so talented “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen it where people have gotten nominated for eight or nine — it happened to me in ‘Ale’a — and walk away just one tech award (or none at all), so we’re very thankful.”
Tucciarone picked up a second award (Compilation Award) for his work as the producer of the “Ho‘ala Iapana” fund-raiser project (The award in that category goes to the producer and not to the artists).
Jake Shimabukuro won Instrumental Album of the Year for the fifth time and was voted Favorite Entertainer for the fourth time (He has numerous prior wins as a member of Pure Heart and as a member of Colon
Three men who are recipients of HARA’s Lifetime Achievement Award showed on Sunday that their “lifetime” as recording artists is far from over: Robert Cazimero (Hawaiian Language Performance), Benny Chong (Jazz) and Dennis Kamakahi (Slack Key Album) won one Hoku each.
Natalie Ai Kamauu went three-for-three when her third album, “‘A,” won Female Vocalist of the Year (Her first, “‘E,” won Female Vocalist in 2006; the second, “‘I,” won the category in 2009).
Looking beyond individuals, HARA did a good job this year controlling the microphone and generally keeping things moving. Emcee Bill “Billy V” Van Osdol announced before the presentations began that award recipients would have 30 seconds for their acceptance speeches and that anyone who went much over 30 seconds could expect to have their mike cut off. A couple of people seemed to go a bit longer then 30 seconds, but not by much, and it was a big improvement over the old days when acceptance speeches occasionally ran five or six minutes.
The Board of Governors also neatly defused the potential problems created when they decided to hand out 24 Lifetime Achievement Awards — to nine individuals and the members of two groups — earlier this month. Rather than rerun the full-length video presentations shown at the separate Lifetime Achievement Awards show — a procedure that could have burned up almost an hour — this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients were honored on Sunday with a silent slide-show presentation of three still photos per person or group while the Royal Hawaiian Band was playing and most of the audience was either talking, eating or outside the ballroom drinking.
Unfortunately, but probably unavoidably, six Hoku Awards and the three Legacy Awards were also presented during the dinner hour. The recipients made their 30-second acceptance speeches through a sonic fog of clattering silverware and other crowd noise.
HARA has been divided almost since it was created in 1982 between people who believe that it should recognize excellence in all the genres of music that is recorded here and people who believe that it should be for Hawaiian music only. The HARA Board of Governors has become much more inclusive in recent years and HARA’s Na Hoku Hanohano Show committee emphasized inclusiveness with its choice of performers in the musical segments.
Hawaiian tradition was represented beautifully with the performances by the duo of Dennis Kamakahi and Stephen Inglis and the collaboration of Mailani Makainai and Waipuna on Kihei De Silva’s version of “Heeia.”
On the other hand, segments by Micah G, the Throwdowns, and Sing the Body and Navid Najafi working together — all of them performing with the volume cranked up — took the program far into non-Hawaiian territory. Some welcomed the cultural diversity. Others did not.
The segments that paired separate recording acts usually succeeded as musical collaborations — Waipuna and Mailani Makainai, Sing the Body and Navid Najafi, and Hi’ikua and Natalie Ai Kamauu. However, the performance segment shared by Henry Kapono Ka’aihue and Lehua Kalima turned out to be two entirely separate performances with no interaction between them. Ka’aihue presented a solo rendition of a song from his current album on one side of the stage. When he was pau Kalima and her musicians did a song from her current album on the other side of the stage.
Although most of the presenters stuck to the no nonsense script there some light moments. KPOA “Morning Goddess” Alaka’i Paleka demonstrated her command of improv and ad libs as she shared the podium with contest prize winner Mehana Hinz to announce the winner of Group of the Year. Local-style “tita” humor hasn’t always been a good idea at the Hoku Awards but Paleka did it with a light touch — assertive and brassy without being self-indulgent or getting abrasive.
The Hoku Awards show is always a time to network and catch up with friends. One topic of discussion was the newly created adjudicated International Album of the Year category for non-residents only. Some welcomed the decision to include Hawaiian music recorded by people who don’t live in Hawaii and who don’t record here. Others expressed concerns that the adjudication process could become “political” and be manipulated by insiders with various agendas. It was also suggested that since “International” appears to equate to Asian — this year, anyway — another category should be created for recordings by non-resident Pacific islanders.
Looking at the evening overall, multi-Hoku Award-winning song writer and liner notes annotator Puakea Nogelmeier summed it up this way: “He po maika’i keia – a ua laha ka hana maika’i mai ‘o a ‘o.” (“This was a fine night – and there were wonderful works on all sides”).
And so it was, and so there were.
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