Labels like “folk hero” and “living legend” are often applied to Eddie Kamae, although in their grandeur they actually under-service his true contributions. In his 83 years–from stage to screen to page–Kamae has contributed immeasurably to the understanding and perpetuation of Hawaiiana. His mantle of awards, a small testament to his life’s work, include Congressional resolutions for service and outstanding accomplishments, multiple lifetime achievement awards from cities, academies and museums, inductions into various halls of fame, a Purpose Prize Fellow for social innovation and the National Heritage Fellowship Award, the highest federal award for folk musicians.
Most notably of the original Sons of Hawaii–a band formed in the 1960s when Kamae joined forces with the late, great Gabby Pahinui and, later, Dennis Kamakahi–Kamae continues to produce albums featuring the Sons’ decade-spanning music, teaming with Mike Kaawa, Analu Aina, Ocean Kaowili and Paul Kim.
A historian at heart, Kamae sought out the last living links to the source of the Hawaiian sound that’s been his life’s passion. By the late ’80s, he’d befriended many kupuna, who shared their stories with him–stories, according to Kamae, that needed to be told.
Between 1988 and 2007, Kamae and his wife Myrna directed and produced nine award-winning documentary films as part of their Hawaiian Legacy Series. This year, the films are being released to the public on DVD for the first time, ahead of two new films slated to debut by 2012 (My Teachers Teach Me and Feeding the Soul). We screened three of the Kamae’s movies–all in stores and online now–plus Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii’s latest studio album, and thought them each a delight worth sharing.
Winsomely humble yet articulate, the album features five Sons songs from “yesterday,” and seven from “today.” Liner notes include a unique backstory for each track, sharing translation insights and historic tidbits. Doused in all the sweetest luau smells and radiating with pastureland sunshine, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a country drive or family picnic. There’s something especially kolohe-sounding (and smile-eliciting) in the bouncing guitar riff of “Pua O Ka ‘Ilima,” which was written to pay “homage to Oahu’s honored ‘ilima blossom, loft Mount Ka‘ala and revered King Kahuihewa.”
(including “stories” and info from liner notes)
#4 – “Ho’ina ‘Inau Mea Ipo Ka Nahele” (Love-making in the Forest)
A delicate romance is recalled in this poetic tribute to a pair of lovers in the Puna forest, by Queen Lili’uokalani. Lyrically translated as “Lovers are wooing in the woods,” this mele speaks of flowers tying love-knots and lying wilted at noon.
Composer: Queen Lili’uokalani. Lead vocal & ‘ukulele: Eddie Kamae ASCAP. Mike Kaawa: 12-string guitar. Ocean Kaowili: 6-string guitar & bass. Paul Kim: steel guitar.
#7 – “Hui Wai Anuhea” (The Fragrant Waters Glee Club)
This mele honors the name and fame of Waipio Valley and the 16th century Kings Liloa and Umi-a-Liloa who lived in the coconut grove at sacred Paka’alana and the cool spring water pool of Waiamoa. Sam Li’a, Eddie Kamae’s mentor, told him that they valley choir’s leader, Walter Kuikahi, wrote the song in 1889 to celebrate this center of history and legend.
Composer: Walter Kuikahi. Arranger, lead vocal & ‘ukulele: Eddie Kamae ASCAP. Mike Kaawa: 12-string guitar. Ocean Kaowili: 6-string guitar & bass. Paul Kim: steel guitar.
#9 – “Koke’e”
The forests, streams, rolling fog and symphony of night-time creatures at Koke’e on Kaua’i are a spiritual comfort and refuge for Dennis Kamakahi, held forever close to his heart in the memory of his friend Dave Boynton who also loved Koke’e and the forest of Hawai’i.
Composer, lead vocal & 6-string guitar: Rev. Dennis Kamakahi ASCAP. Eddie Kamae ASCAP: ‘ukulele. Joe Marshall: bass. David “Feet” Rogers: steel guitar.
#11 – “Pua O Ka ‘Ilima” (The ‘Ilima Blossom)
Returning home after visiting his hanai son Samuel and wife Leimomi on O’ahu, Sam Li’a was inspired to write about the ‘ilima flowers he saw on Mount Ka’ala from the airplane. He wrote the lyrics and Eddie Kamae wrote the music to this homage to O’ahu’s honored ‘ilima blossom, loft Mount Ka’ala and revered King Kakuhihewa.
Lyrics: Sam Li’a. Music, lead vocal & ‘ukulele: Eddie Kamae ASCAP. Mike Kaawa: 12-string guitar & bass. Paul Kim: steel guitar.
Luther Kahekili Makekau: A One Kine Hawaiian Man [(c)1997; 2010 DVD release]
A snapshot of one of the most captivating characters of our (or any) age. Born on July 13, 1890 on Maui and reared on the Big Island, the infamous Luther Kahekili Makekau lived to nearly 100 years old, and throughout the documentary is described as a “rustler,” “a rascal” and “a rebel,” who came of age during the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and “roam[ed] these islands, a restless, warrior cowboy… a living encyclopedia of ancient knowledge, born a century too late,” possessing, “a form of warrior energy with no place to express itself.” The film is a wonderfully edited compilation of interviews with his descendants, those who knew him and the twinkling Makekau himself. It’s a joy to hear impassioned tales of this true paniolo, sometimes gorgeously and gloriously told in Hawaiian tongue by the likes of Ruth Kaholoaa and Rev. David Kaalakea. “He had a constitution that was so strong,” says Henry Bianchini in the film, “everyone wanted to know where his power [came] from.”
Listen to the Forest [(c)1991; 2010 DVD release]
The Kamaes’ films have been widely integrated into school curriculum, and rightly so. As evidenced with Listen to the Forest, they strike a tone of pleasantly pretension-free academic authority, and effortlessly traverse the borderland between Hawaii’s unique ecology and cultural practices. “The forest is crying out, we need to listen… I don’t just mean the beautiful sounds of the birds and the wind in the ‘Ohi‘a, but the message of the old Hawaiians who lived close to earth and can still hear and remember,” says Eddie of the film. It focuses on hula and oral tradition’s weave to nature, kalo cultivation, the Hawaiian Happy-Face Spider, the haunting tale of singing Hawaiian tree snails and the diversity of our tragic Native Hawaiian birds.
The Hawaiian Way: The Art and Tradition of Slack Key Music [(c)1993; 2010 DVD release]
With his gifts as both musician and filmmaker, if there’s any story Eddie Kamae seems made to tell it is that of Ki Ho‘alu, or Hawaiian slack key music. Beginning with the style’s 1830s genesis and through to modern day, the documentary explores the uniqueness of the “slack” or “open” tunings through the insights of the masters–including Kamae’s late, legendary bandmate Gabby Pahinui of The Sons of Hawaii, and present-day master Ledward Kaapana. Accented throughout with archival footage, another unique feature of the film is a section on slack key sound specific to the island of Ni‘ihau, “whose music has a quality all it’s own”–neatly analogous to the Ki Ho‘alu as a whole.
“Every cent” from DVD sales and donations “is put back into funding films and preserving Hawaiian cultural for educational and archival purposes,” through the Kamae’s nonprofit, The Hawaiian Legacy Foundation. For more info, visit hawaiianlegacy.com.