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An AMAZING Evening in NYC with KAUMAKAIWA KANAKA’OLE

Monday, October 3, 2011

Last Thursday evening, I literally ran to the subway to head to Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium.

Why?

KAUMAKAIWA KANAKAʻOLE was in NYC and giving a performance!

(And it was FREE as part of  the Target Free Thursdays program!  Mahalo for that, Target!)

It’s not every day that we have the chance to see a member of the legendary Kanakaʻole family here in the Big Apple!

I was only familiar with him via his recordings.  His most recent collection, KAUMAKAIWA, is incredible.  The song LĀNAʻIHALE is one of my favorites–it’s one I listen to all the time.

But nothing prepared me for how POWERFUL his presence is in person.  Wow!

I arrived a the venue late–about 3 minutes into his performance.  A security guard met me at the door and told me that he wasn’t sure if I’d be able to enter–the space was near-filled to capacity.  Then he noticed the shell that I wear around my neck.  ”Are you Hawaiian?” he asked.  ”No,” I answered. “Not by blood.”

And then, as if it was planned, Kaumakaiwa’s voice filled the room and spilled out through the open door and onto the street where I was standing.  The security guard looked at me and said,  ”If you sneak in and sit over here, out of the way, I’ll let you in.”  Done deal!

Yes, Kaumakaiwa has an incredible voice that moves from low baritone to soaring falsetto.  Yes, Kaumakaiwa is an acclaimed ʻolapa (hula dancer).

But his performance was so much more!

The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) is his first language.  It pours of of his mouth effortlessly.  We don’t get many chances in NYC to see a young person who speaks Hawaiian so fluidly.   It was like listening to the songs–even familiar “standards”–for the first time.  (And how often can you say that?!)

His hands spontaneously hula as he sings, illustrating the lyrics with movement.  He comes from generations and generations (and generations!) of hula and Hawaiian music.  He was raised for part of his life by his grandmother, the legendary kumu hula, Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele of Hālau O KekuhiAnd his mother is the famed Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias. (And that’s only two generations of famed Hawaiians he’s descended from!)  It’s in his blood.  It’s in his bones.  I think he would feel like he was suffocating if he couldn’t move his hands.  They move like his breath.

His oli, his chant.  Well… I don’t really have words to describe it.  Like the ancient ancestors are heard, again, through his voice.  It’s so powerful that even thinking about it gives me chicken-skin.  Goosebumps.

And OH! the stories!  Yes!  He shared stories about the composers.  He shared stories about people and the places mentioned in the songs.  He shared stories from his own life experiences.  I was in heaven.

(**Crooner Note:  When my teacher sings, he always shares a story–either about the song’s origins or a story about the song and how it has come to life for him personally.  That’s the tradition that I’ve learned.  That’s the tradition that I am hoping/trying to perpetuate.  Sadly, I’ve seen more and more people just deliver song after song with very little storytelling in between.  As a Hawaiian music lover and musician, I would rather sacrifice some of the songs and offer the stories–it’s what helps to bring them to life!  Especially for those Hawaiian music “newbies” in the house– and especially when the song is in Hawaiian.  If you give them a chance to have a point of reference–something they can relate to while they’re listening–they won’t be lost.  Ah… but I digress.  That’s the subject of another blog post.  I was so grateful to see Kuamakaiwa keeping that tradition alive.)

The audience sat–mesmerized–throughout his entire performance.

(And that’s not something you see very often at a show–especially a free show–in NYC.)

At one point in the evening, I took a moment to watch some of the folks sitting near me.  A family with young kids sat to my left.  The kids laughed and danced while Kaumakaiwa sang, proving that one doesn’t need to know Hawaiian to appreciate a masterful performance.

And when it was all over, he greeted the fans who lined up to meet him.  He posed for pictures.  He greeted everyone with Aloha.  And he spent time with everyone who waited to see him–he didn’t rush them along as if he had a “better place” to be.  Instead, he made everyone feel like they were special.  He seemed to be truly grateful that they had attended the performance. (Mahalo for that!  And mahalo to those who taught him to be so gracious.  I’m suspecting it was some of the powerful women in his life–the women he thanked throughout the show.)

It was an incredible evening.  One of those nights that only comes along once in a lifetime.

However, as Kaumakaiwa proved by his “new” versions of “old” classics–first times can happen, again, in new and exciting ways.

I look forward to his next appearance here in NYC.

(**And a giant MAHALO to his fantastic guitar player/bandmate for the evening.  I’m terrible when it comes to remembering names.  I think it was Shawn Pimental.  Mahalo for sharing your musical gifts with us here in NYC!)

*Please click HERE to visit Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole’s website.

2 Responses to “An AMAZING Evening in NYC with KAUMAKAIWA KANAKA’OLE”

  1. Claudia says:

    I am still in awe of the fact that we had two such incredible Hawaiian singers performing in New York City in the same week. Yes, Kaumakaiwa was amazing that night at the Atrium in Lincoln Center! I wasnʻt aware of him before – and now I canʻt wait to see him again and hear more of his music. It was so powerful – what a gift he and his family have.

  2. Georgia Bibeau says:

    Oh, so sorry I had to miss it. Sounds like a wonderful evening. So glad you all got to see/hear/experience it. Thank you for bringing up the talk-story. There have been so many times I wanted to say something before singing, but my own nervousness or lack of confidence has stopped me or reduced me to some halting, barely understandable single sentence. Mahalo for that. Been too long in the world of musical theatre auditions where you just walk in and sing.