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Linda Dela Cruz, Hawai‘i’s Canary

Kīhei de Silva

Cord International / Hana Ola Records HOCD 77000

Ka hala o kai, maile a‘o uka
Kui a‘e kāua a lawa ku‘u lei
Mea ‘ole e ke kula me ke kaimana
Ke kumu manakō ho‘oluliluli.

Hala of the seaside, maile of the uplands
We join these together and my lei is complete
Gold and diamonds are nothing to me
The kumu manakō is what moves me.

—Daniel Kaopio, "Ke ‘Ala o ka Rose," 1938. Composed when he was 17 years old and in love with a young woman named Loke.

It’s been years since I lost my collection of Linda Dela Cruz LPs. Alice, Linda, and Sybil; Linda, Hawai‘i’s Canary; Twilight at the Halekulani; Linda Sings; Kuhio Beach Girl; Best of Linda. They melted in the trunk of my Austin-Healy while in transit from Mānoa to Kailua—or more accurately, after way too long a stop in the Sandy Beach parking lot. Half-Point beckoned, you see, and I succumbed to its Sirens’ call.

I have not been completely whole since then—or more accurately, since I realized, after a four-day experiment, that vinyl will not un-warp beneath a waist-high stack of cement block.

But I have learned to compensate.  

Late at night when all is quiet and I am desperately in need of the Hawaiian Canary, I take my last, long-empty Primo bottle off the kitchen shelf and hold it carefully to my ear. If the ghosts of Kang and Lang, of Bell and Tropical and Tradewinds and Wurlitzer, are sympathetic—and they often are—I somehow find myself on the receiving end of Linda’s "Ke ‘Ala o ka Rose" as it reverbs across the years from a distant jukebox, making its way to me through the stale, beer-and-Marlboro fumes of even later nights spent in the 70s at the Ginger Man and Blue Goose and Kuhio Grill. When this bottle-transmitter works, the ineffable rose-and-thorn quality of Linda’s voice drives away all shadows; she dispels my crises of identity, my dollars-induced doldrums, my gettin’ old blues. "Ka hala o kai, maile a‘o uka, kui a‘e kāua a lawa ku‘u lei" strikes right to the heart of me . . . every time.

I’ve been told that Linda’s music brought Ron Rocha home from France, that "Ke ‘Ala o ka Rose" inspired him to compose "He Hawai‘i Au." I’m not surprised. Linda does the same, I suspect, for many of us in-betweener Hawaiians: we who are not-quite kūpuna, we who are too-young for mānaleo but too old for pūnanaleo. She brings us home from wherever and whatever, from foreign climes and considerations; she pins us, thorn-and-rose, to "gold and diamonds are nothing to me; I am content with you as my lei." And by some trick of ‘i‘i and ‘eha she transforms Daniel Kaopio’s love-song into a Hawaiian-identity song; she inspires our own defiantly whispered testimony to the encroaching night: "Never mind the western accoutrements, I am Hawaiian."

Life, as of last month, has taken an unexpected turn for the better. Harry B. Soria, Jr. has again conspired with Michael Cord to return to our ears the music of a bygone day. There is a CD hou on the market, a much-improved, newly restored and remastered Primo bottle of a compact disc whose 23 tracks and 1:02:03 hours of Linda Dela Cruz have connected me again, day and night, to a much-needed kumu manakō.

And I don’t mean "mango tree."

Mama Lydia Hale explained the phrase to me once. She said: "There’s more to it than fruit on a tree. Kumu also means source. And manakō isn’t just a mango. It is the mana to kō, the power to fulfill. So ke kumu manakō is actually the source of the power to fulfill his heart’s desire."

No laila, he kumu manakō ka pā sēdē ‘o Linda Dela Cruz, Hawai‘i’s Canary—i ka‘u ‘ike. In my mind, Linda’s new CD is, therefore, a kumu manakō. It empowers the frayed and wandering soul with a renewed sense of what is nothing and what is more than enough.


Notes from the CD cover: Linda Dela Cruz is remembered fondly as Hawai‘i’s Canary for her incomparable presentation—a precarious balance struck between strength and fragility. As quickly as Linda could unleash her bluesy power, she could also caress with gentle and subtle teasing. Her voice could climb to the loftiest peaks of the soprano register in one moment, and descend to the deep guttural chants of her Hawaiian ancestors in the next. All done with a sweet, angelic smile on her lips and a naughty twinkle in her eye. There will never again be anyone quite like Linda Dela Cruz.Song List: Hupe Kole Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi ‘Akaka Falls Royal Hawaiian Hotel Kauoha Mai E Mama Ē Nani Kaua‘i Baby Opu‘ulani Beautiful Kahana Hanohano Olinda Kaulana ‘o Hilo Hanakahi Kaulana ‘o Waimānalo Ka ‘Ano‘i Kauoha Mai Ke ‘Ala o ka Rose Ka Loke Nā Pua ka ‘Ilima None Hula Wahine U‘i Kui Tree Kūhiō Beach Come My House Pakalana

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