'Ale'a learning to adjust to star status
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
'Ale'a, whose name means "sweet-voiced" in Hawaiian, is sweet on success. But the group is still adjusting to how fans respond to its music and its name.
"Some people like what we do, others don't in the sense that they prefer us to play contemporary music," said group leader Kale Hannahs, 23. "We focus on the traditional, and somehow, this has helped us. It's been a fun ride so far, and it's amazing how many doors have opened for us."
For a group not adhering to Island rhythms or Jawaiian, 'Ale'a, indeed, is somewhat of a rarity. It is one of the handful of Hawaiian acts performing in the ho'ike tomorrow (the program continues Sunday) at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
The group won last year's Battle for the Bash, earning a chance to record a CD with Poki Records and the opportunity to appear with the Makaha Sons in this year's annual Makaha Bash, which will be held May 27 at the Waikiki Shell. "The fact that the guys were doing traditional Hawaiian music is what excited me," said record producer Lea Uehara.
The group's debut CD, "Take Me Home," also has been the surprise of this year's Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, set for May 29 at the Sheraton Waikiki's Hawai'i Ballroom. 'Ale'a picked up the most nominations, six, including Album of the Year, Island Contemporary Album, Most Promising Artist of the Year and Group of the Year.
"We've really been lucky," Hannahs said. "Winning the bash, doing the album and all; and just being nominated for the Hoku awards was a thrill."
While in the studio, Hannahs said he discovered that the group wasn't really ready for that career move "so we chugged around a bit."
Consequently, while Uehara, anticipating some success in the upcoming Hoku evening, wants the act to gear up for a follow-up disc, Hannahs and his buddies Kala'i Stern, Ryan Gonzo Gonzalez and Chad Takatsugi want to take a little more time to be better prepared for the session. "We don't want to waste valuable studio time," he said.
Hannahs said his sister, Lihau, came up with the group's name. "The fun story is that she looked in the Hawaiian dictionary under the A's and came up with the name," he said. "But she looked under sweet harmony and sweet-sounding, and 'ale'a meant sweet-voiced, so that's what we picked. It was a night before a gig, when we were desperately looking for a short name. And 'Ale'a stuck."
The name also has brought on a round of mispronunciations so far. "We're sometimes called 'Alia and even 'Aiea," Hannahs said.
Music is a part-time proposition for now. Hannahs works at Design Systems, installing computer networking and home theaters. Stern, 27, is a University of Hawai'i student who works part-time at Kamehameha; Gonzalez, 23, has a home business and works part time in the light booth at the Outrigger Waikiki's Main Showroom; Takatsugi, 24, also is a UH student.
'Ale'a earlier won the 1998 Ka Himeni Ana competition, in which it performed without amplification in the old Hawaiian style. Its gentle, layered Island sound is reminiscent of a younger Makaha Sons, with the harmonic posture of Ho'okena.
"Winning a contest is nice, and the other three in our group will be going to the Hoku evening for the first time (Hannahs has attended once)," he said. "If we don't win, no big deal. We try again."