It’s been about two weeks since the winners were announced at the 30th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. You’ve probably seen the lists of winners in various local publications. But what you probably haven’t seen is why they’re such a big deal in the first place. Or what it’s like to actually be there.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Hawaii Convention Center, Oahu
The reception area outside is awash in color. Dazzling arrays of orchid and gardenia adorn the upswept coiffures of women in floor-length gowns, accompanied by men in tuxedoes and formal lavalava with elaborate maile and ginger lei. Crowds of people file past tables of workers, the KHNL News crew, and the live band Mana‘o DNA, on their way into the Center’s Kalakaua Ballroom, where the evening’s awards ceremony—“Celebrating 30 Years: The Stars of Distinction”—will take place.
The Na Hoku Hanohano Awards began in 1978. At the time, popular radio deejay Krash Kealoha wanted to find a way to boost his all-Hawaiian station, KCCN-AM, while also officially recognizing the multitude of amazing recording artists in Hawai‘i, most of whom were largely ignored by awards shows on the mainland.
That first Awards presentation was determined by public vote. Melveen Leed won Best Hapa-Haole Album, Best Song and Best Single for “I Love You Hawai‘i,” Cecilio and Kapono won Best Contemporary Album, Best Composer and Best Engineered Album for Night Music, and The Brothers Cazimero took Best Male Artist, Best Group and Best Contemporary Hawaiian Album for In Concert.
By 1982, the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts developed as the organization of recording professionals that administers the ceremony, much like the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does for the Grammy Awards.
Ki ho‘alu master and ordained minister David Kahiapo officiates a pule, followed by a performance of the Kaumakapili Church Choir. Attendees at the 100 or so tables dine on broiled salmon and beef filet, Molokai sweet potato and lilikoi cheesecake. Before the show is broadcast, winners are instructed to take “no more than 30 seconds to say your thank you’s, and we ask you to prepare what you say in advance…”
The Hawaiian Music category wasn’t added to the Grammy Awards until 2005. Its inclusion was as an addition to the “folk” field, and nominees included a series of compilation instrumental albums, of which Slack Key Guitar Volume 2 claimed the inaugural victory. The following year, Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Volume 1 took the prize. And the year after that, it was Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar—Live from Maui.
Some local music industry insiders balked. For them, after all this time, the effects of the Academy seemingly making “safe,” perhaps even uninformed, choices—picking various artists’ albums versus singling out a deserved musician or group, awarding non-Hawaiian producers, choosing albums that contained no Hawaiian language whatsoever—dampened the pride of finally having Hawaiian music recognized in the prestigious international awards ceremony.
But it’s just a start. And while hope remains that this newfound Grammys’ category will eventually include these things, most recognize that the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards more accurately represent the greater scope of the Hawaiian music that exists.
After a video tribute to Hawaiian musicians who’ve recently passed—like Don Ho, Linda Dela Cruz and Kawai Cockett—various musicians take the stage, including this year’s Hoku co-chairs Marlene Sai and Kenneth Makuakane, to sing “This is Hawai‘i.” Melveen Leed presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to Loyal Garner. And Best R&B/Hip-Hop Album nominee Afatia performs.
I am becoming overwhelmed by my ignorance of the world of Hawaiian music. Although I thought I knew enough to recognize the artists of the past few years, I really had no idea. But watching the stories of Lifetime Achievement honors for groundbreaking musicians like Loyal Garner, the Surfers, Society of Seven, Rene Paulo and Gabe Baltazar, I started to get a clue.
Garner was a member of the popular, all-star quartet Local Divas, along with Melveen Leed, Carole Kai and Nohelani Cypriano, before succumbing to cancer six years ago. The Surfers were a Beach Boys-esque 1960’s pop group of young Hawaiian men, including Clayton Naluai, Pat Sylva, Alan Kalani and Bernie Ching. Rene Paulo was a pianist, also popular in the ‘60s, who combined the melodies of Japan with Hawaiian lounge music. And Gabe Baltazar, ever-so-stylish in his gentleman’s cap, is an alto sax master and 50-year veteran of the music industry.
Miss Hawaii USA 2007, Chanel Wise, stunning in her black satin gown and tiara, hands over the award for Best Reggae Album to producer Jon De Mello, who accepts on behalf of Brother Noland—an artist De Mello said did “27 songs in one night” in the studio. Nohelani Cypriano, Na Hoku Female Vocalist of the Year in 1980, performs live.
A raucous crowd grows in number by the satellite bars. Manu Boyd gives a lesson in Haku Mele—the award presented to best achievement in creating a new song or chant exclusively in Hawaiian. Paula Fuga, winner of Most Promising Artist, gloriously sings her thank you speech to riotous applause, followed by the Barefoot Natives’ Eric Gilliom’s hilarious and shocked acceptance of his win for Contemporary Album of the Year.
“I’m just so grateful and honored to have so much support from these people—I really wasn’t expecting to win…” Fuga told me later, at the Winner’s Circle. “I feel terrible I forgot to thank my boyfriend on TV!”
“Did I forget to thank Brian [Kohne—producer]?” Gilliom said, also at the Winner’s Circle. “The creator, the producer of it all? Yeah. I thanked Willie though, said he couldn’t be here tonight because he had a sinus infection, the gout, and a bad rash.” MTW