Photo courtesy Irvine Barclay TheatreWhat a gracious, giving and forgiving people the Hawaiians are: like other native Americans, they got heinie-screwed out of their land, sovereignty, legacy and culture; a great people reduced to providing entertainment, color and maid service for the world's overaccessorized tourists. If I'd seen my paradise shaved and paved into a developer's wet dream, I might be righteously inclined to split a few heads open with a koa-wood cudgel.
While there is an increasingly restive native-rights movement in the Islands, there is also still more than plenty aloha. In the 1950s, a few hardheads began reclaiming the cultural heritage that had been nearly extinguished by missionaries, and the traditional hula and music styles revived then have proved to be a gift to the world. At times when it's hard to remember how welcoming, vital, sensual and peaceful life on this planet can and should be, this is the music to turn to.
The Irvine Barclay folks are bringing a goodsome representation of that to their hall this week with Hawai'iBeauty.The first evening ("Ulukou: Waikiki Revisited") of the four-night series has already passed, but the real feast remains to be served.
If you're reading this on Thursday, April 21, then tonight's program, "Ho'omau: To Continue," showcases Eddie Kamae & the Sons of Hawai'i. Formed in 1960 by ukulele virtuoso Kamae and the legendary singer/guitarist Gabby Pahinui, the Sons were the group that brought traditional music back into the mainstream. Kamae is the only surviving member of the original lineup, but his chops are stronger than ever, and the band's current membership does its forebears proud.
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Series-closing headliner HAPA (doing two shows Saturday) isn't quite my cup of poi. Singers Nathan Aweau and Barry Flanagan have big, luscious voices, but they tend toward heavy-handed fusion arrangements. If U2's version of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" sounds a little grandiose to you, then run in panic from HAPA's, which cascades from heavy drums to chanting to an MLK loop. They do mix awfully well with singer/Polynesian chanter Charles Ka'upu, though.
Ka'upu has a part in HAPA's Saturday program, but to my ears, the essential show of the series is Friday night's "Ke Aka: Reflections," in which Ka'upu headlines. A master of traditional chant and song, Ka'upu also likes to goose things up, but in his case, it works. On "Kona Winds," his old-as-lava chant style blends with a ravishing Martin Denny exotica sound as well as outer-spatial synths, yet the result has stillness, surprise and soulfulness. The show also features Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu, whose outfit has a nimble male choral sound wherein the voices are like a school of fish darting and weaving through the arrangements.
And yeah, the show is also rife with hula dancers.
HAWAI'I BEAUTY: THROUGH THE EYES OF HER PEOPLE AT THE IRVINE BARCLAY THEATRE, 4242 CAMPUS DR., IRVINE, (949) 854-4646. THURS., APRIL 21, 8 P.M., WITH EDDIE KAMAE & THE SONS OF HAWAI'I; FRI., 8 P.M., WITH CHARLES KA'UPU, MARK KEALI'I HO'OMALU AND OTHERS; SAT., 5 & 8:30 P.M., WITH HAPA, FEATURING CHARLES KA'UPU. $35, EXCEPT FOR SATURDAY'S SHOWS, WHICH ARE $38. ALL AGES.