Holunape Wins at Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana
Kīhei de Silva
The third time proved to be the charm for Holunape, this year’s winner of the Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana old-fashioned Hawaiian singing competition held Saturday night, August 14, at the Hawai‘i Theater. The all-male quartet formerly known as Kilinahe had entered the event in 2001 and 2002, but it was not able, until the last Merrie Monarch Festival, to find the harmonious mix of personality and sound that characterized its success this weekend.
When the group’s most recently recruited bass player left in March for "greener pastures," its remaining members lost both their name and permission to record many of the songs on their then almost-complete CD. Where most groups would simply have crashed and burned, the three survivors (Jeff Au Hoy, Kama Hopkins, and Kanai‘a Nakamura) wooed back their original bassist (Kekoa Kaluhiwa), rededicated themselves to hard work and gentlemanly behavior, took up the name Holunape, and kept a promise to the ladies of Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima. That promise—"Mai hopohopoho, hiki nō mākou; don’t worry, we can do it!"—resulted in a rousing, impeccably delivered "Iā ‘Oe e ka Lā" in the women’s ‘auana division of the Merrie Monarch, one that had Maiki Aiu-Lake graduates everywhere—at the stadium and in living rooms across the pae ‘āina—up, dancing, and calling for multiple ha‘ina hou.
Holunape’s newly established virtuosity—now infused with a paradoxical but all-important blend of humility and confidence—was clearly evident in its Ka Hīmeni ‘Ana renderings of "Pililā‘au" and "Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha." The first mele, a now seldom-heard, John Pi‘ilani Watkins classic about Medal of Honor winner Herbert K. Pililā‘au, featured alternating vocal solos by Nakamura, Kaluhiwa, and Hopkins and the beautiful steel guitar work of Au Hoy. "Jeff went a little out of control last time;" said Nakamura of their 2002 appearance, "he was so loud that you could hardly hear us singing." This time, though, the steel was spot-on, understated, and totally complementary, earning on stage approval from emcee Iaukea Bright (no stranger to the instrument) and event organizer Richard Towill.
The group’s second mele, Matthew Kāne’s ever-popular composition about the change of heart that reunites a love-torn couple, featured more impressive vocal solos by all four members—an unprecedented Au Hoy falsetto included—and an instrument swap that gave Kaluhiwa an opportunity to demonstrate his enviable, K-Lake influenced skills on the ‘ukulele.
Both selections were presented in a carefully conceived and constructed, hula-set fashion. "Pililā‘au" opened with a sweet, newly-composed prelude—a ka‘i, if you will. And "Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha" closed with an equally elegant, musical postscript—a ho‘i, if you will. Every kumu hula in the house had to have been envisioning the performance possibilities. The two mele were linked, furthermore, by the engaging commentary of Kama Hopkins whose ‘olu‘olu nature, depth of knowledge, and obvious command of both English and Hawaiian make him one of the best speaker-singers we have today, a Kahauanu Lake of the new generation.
It is not often that style and talent coalesce in this manner, not often that we are privileged to witness an early, group-defining success. Let us all count our blessings, Holunape and mele Hawai‘i lovers alike. Holunape means "to sway resiliently" as in "ka holu nape a ka lau o ka niu—the swaying of the fronds of the niu." Let us hope for the continued, long-term swaying of Holunape’s sweet music—the music of resilient gentlemen who, like niu, are rooted in a solid foundation.
Five other winners were announced in a Ka Hīmeni ʻAna competition remarkable for the consistently high quality of its performances. In second place: Nā Pūlama o Hawai‘i (Kahalelaukoa Alexander, Roselani Moreno, Puanani Lee, Haleaha Montes). In third place: Kaukahi (Walt Mix Keale, David Kahiapo, Dean Wilhelm, Barret Awai). In fourth place: Mona Joy and ‘Ohana (Mona Joy, Jimmy Lota Jr., Dwayne Conching, Henry Barrett). In fifth place: Pōmaika‘i (Ron Loo and son Pōmaika‘i). And in sixth place: Nā Wele: (Kaipo Manoa, Shawn Keli‘iliki, Keanu Manoa).