Excerpt from Lena Machado, Songbird of Hawai‘i, na Pi‘olani Motta me Kīhei de Silva, © 2006 Kamehameha Schools.
Aunty Lena and Uncle Lu—Lena Wai‘ale‘ale and Luciano K. Machado—were introduced to each other at a parade in Honolulu in 1923. They were both celebrities. Aunty Lena was being honored as a very popular, up-and-coming singer, and she rode in an open car. Uncle Lu was a detective with the Honolulu Police Department and had just been named the city and county’s "Most Popular Employee of the Year." A year or so later, they got together, and then a year after that—on July 30, 1926—Uncle Lu married Auntie Lena. He was twenty-seven, and she was twenty-two.
Uncle Lu stayed with the police department until the famous Massie case of the early ‘30s. He was close to the families involved, especially the Kahahawai family, because of boxing and because he and Aunty Lena were always bringing displaced Hawaiian boys into their Ala Moana home. Uncle Lu was on duty on the night of Thalia Massey’s alleged rape, so when the boys were arrested, he went down and talked to them. They said, "No, we never touched that lady." He believed them, but other people—prominent, society people—didn’t want to. They wanted a quick conviction that would make as few waves as possible for the visitor industry. So calls were placed, and Uncle Lu was pulled off the investigation and placed on some kind of medical leave.
He didn’t agree with this treatment, so he never went back. Instead, he joined Aunty Lena’s group as a guitar player and traveled with her to the neighbor islands and the mainland. This wasn’t an entirely new thing for him; Uncle Lu, his brothers Dan and Henry, and his sister-in-law Rose were with Aunty Lena in 1927 when she recorded for Brunswick, and they belonged to the same Machado Troupe that appeared on KGU Radio in the late ‘20s. But now Uncle Lu became a full-time musician and went everywhere with Aunty Lena. This arrangement lasted for a while, but as their hānai family continued to grow, he stayed home more and more to do the cooking and housekeeping, and to keep everybody in line. He gave up his spot in the band in order to make sure that things were running well when Aunty Lena returned from her travels. He wanted to give her the freedom to use her wings and fly without having to worry about what she left behind.
So he stayed home, but on long trips they visited back and forth. He was a very quiet, efficient person. Everything had to be written down and accounted for, and his handwriting reflected his meticulous personality—it was just perfect. He was also a gentleman, a very gentle man. He never raised his voice, but even with all the young men in the house, he was in complete control. Everyone obeyed him. He was the center that held everything in place. When Aunty Lena was home, he would let her be the one to tell us what was going on. They would discuss it privately first, and then she would gather everyone together and say, "Okay, here’s what we’re doing." He was a Mister Mom, a Doctor Mom. In fact, sometimes we even called him "Mom" because Aunty Lena was away so often and he was home all the time. He managed the household and her career throughout their marriage; he did the bookkeeping, and he kept track of their spending. When they were building a new house, he would talk with her at night and say, "We have to save money, so we need to buy used lumber and take the nails out so we can use them again." A five-penny nail here, a three-penny nail there, you know. It was nice—a nice life we had. Sometimes he would tease her, "When you’re out in public, you’re the Hawaiian Songbird, but when you’re at home, you’re Mrs. Machado; you have to put on a different apron." At times, he even helped her with transcribing her music. When she was composing, he’d write it down for her. It was so cute to watch them. There was such a closeness with them.
When she was away, they would always talk on the phone. Even when she wasn’t that far away or gone for very long, they would talk to each other on the phone. I would complain to them, "You see each other all the time and this is only for a little while, a few months, and you don’t have to be on the phone so much." I’d go on and on, but they just went ahead and talked anyway. This is where "Ei Nei" and "Aloha Nō" come into the story. These songs were written in 1948 and 1949 when Auntie Lena was doing a lot of traveling back and forth to San Francisco. I think all those years of traveling finally got to her, and all of her emotions, her feelings for Uncle Lu, the closeness that they felt, just spilled out. She had to write it all down and sing it.
So Aunty Lena composed "Aloha Nō" for her husband Luciano K. Machado in late 1949 while she was on a singing engagement in San Francisco. She wrote about being alone with her thoughts and how she missed Uncle Lu dearly. She wrote about talking with him over the phone and how this would help her to be more relaxed because she could not sleep well without him close to her. When he wasn’t there, she would have sleepless nights and unsettled, churning feelings of loneliness. He was like her lei, and the warmth of him next to her would soothe her to sleep. Whenever she heard his voice on the phone, his loving words would make her feel better. She said that this was true love; it was "Aloha nō—love, love it is, ah love."
You have to remember that this song was composed after almost 25 years of marriage. He was fifty; she was forty-six. This is a song about mature love—when you’ve been partners in every imaginable kind of way, and the love is still there. It is about love that can still cause you to be lauwiliwili, all churned up inside. "Aloha Nō" is a very personal song; it is appreciated by people who have a strong and lasting affection for each other. It is also a song that helps bring other people into maturity. You know how your feelings for someone are different when you’re younger. This song shows how love can grow even stronger when you’re older; it helps you to appreciate your staying together in spite of all the ups and downs. "Aloha Nō" is the culminating expression of the closeness shared by Aunty Lena and Uncle Lu. After all those years, he was still her lei, and the warmth of his being right next to her was still something she dearly needed and missed.
Ho‘ohihi ko‘u mana‘o ‘eā
I ko leo ma ke kelepona
E haha‘i ana i kō* moe ‘ole i ka pō
A ka hana nui a loko
E lauwiliwili nei
Aloha nō, aloha nō, aloha nō
‘O ‘oe ku‘u lei, ku‘u mili ē
He aloha nā maka i ka haka pono mai
Ua ‘ike au he ‘i‘ini kou na‘u
Ma ku‘u poli mai ‘oe
E nanea ai kāua
Aloha nō, aloha nō, aloha nō.
My thoughts are caught up
By your voice on the telephone
Telling me of your sleepless night
Of the great yearning within you
Stirring restlessly, incessantly
It is love, yes, love indeed
You are my lei, the one I caress
How I cherish your eyes when they gaze at me
I know of your longing
Come to my arms
Where we will pass the time so sweetly
It is love, yes, love indeed.
Source: Hawaiian text from the collection of Pi‘olani Motta, © 1949. Orthographic editing and translation by Kīhei de Silva.
* Although kō ("your," in place of kou and kāu) is at odds with the short ko of Pukui and Elbert’s 1986 Hawaiian Dictionary, I have elected to kahakō the word throughout this publication in an effort to reflect what a number of scholars believe is a more accurate rendering of the word’s use by our native speakers (Puakea Nogelmeier, personal communication, April 6, 2005). The long kō is evident, furthermore, in Lena Machado’s recordings of the many songs in which the word appears.