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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Newcomer 'Ale'a wins four Hoku awards

 •  List of Na Hoku Hanohano Awards winners (including audio clips)

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

All eyes were on Table 92 last night at the Sheraton Waikiki's Hawai'i Ballroom, as four young harmonizers made their debut at the 24th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

The members of 'Ale'a, from left: Kale Hannahs, Kale'i Stern, Ryan Gonzalez and Chad Takatsugi.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

And 'Ale'a didn't disappoint, taking home four Hoku awards, including Group of the Year and Most Promising Artists of the Year.

"I think for us, we each add in something special," said Kala'i Stern, one-fourth of the vocal ensemble whose name means "sweet-voiced." "When we're together, we create a good dynamic. We feed off each other. We have fun when we play music, and that's the bottom line. That's our main objective."

Newcomers to the Hawaiian music scene, 'Ale'a, who also won Hoku awards for Haku Mele and Island Contemporary Album of the Year, represents a return to traditional mele. The group's debut album, "Take Me Home," shows off their sweet harmonizing with a wholesome sound in both Hawaiian and English. The foursome — Stern, Ryan Gonzo Gonzalez, Kale Hannahs and Chad Takatsugi — earlier won the 1998 Ka Himeni Ana competition.

"They're so good," raved Josiah Kekoa, lead vocalist for Ten Feet, which won Contemporary Album of the Year for its "Island Feeling." "It's good to have the younger generations do traditional Hawaiian music."

Added Colon's 'ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro: "They're just really good people, and it shows in their music. They're so talented. They deserve to win tonight."

The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts, which sponsors Na Hoku, also recognized another ensemble known for its sweet harmonies. Veterans Na Leo Pilimehana walked away with Album of the Year for "A Pocketful of Paradise," Song of the Year for "Saving Forever" and a Hoku for engineering, taking their overall total to 19. The harmonic trio won Song of the Year three times before. In 1996 they took the award for Album of the Year.

"Longevity is the mark of enduring artistry," commented Keali'i Reichel, last year's big winner who opened the evening's gala with a performance of "Mele Aka Pu'u Wai." "They continually have something new to say, something to convey to listeners."

And thanks to the Na Hoku awards, musicians say, the perpetuation of Hawaiian and Island music is possible.

Maunalua, winner of Hawaiian Album of the Year, performs with Lifetime Achievement Award winner Leina'ala Haili.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"The fellowship tonight is important," said Ku'uipo Kumukahi, who won Female Vocalist of the Year, her first Hoku since taking home three in 1994. "My hope is that future generations of Hawaiian performers keep the respect, dignity and integrity of Hawaiian music and its history. That's important."

That the Hawaiian music community is family was obvious last night, as guests strolled the red carpet from the hotel valet to the lobby, hugging and kissing everyone in their path. They were greeted with mele from an all-female ensemble from Japan called the Birds, as tourists and hotel guests watched and waved from the sidelines.

From traditional holoku and old Hawai'i mu'umu'u to Cinderella ball gowns and expensive tuxedos, the gala showcased the range of generations, styles and philosophies of the Island's musical talents. Shimabukuro arrived in a fire-engine red, custom-made T&C outfit that looked straight out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," complete with black kung-fu shoes and pants. Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Clayton Hee donned a cowboy hat and matching boots. Nominee Ellsworth Simeona put on what he called his "shake his bon-bon" black-and-white polka dot shirt, untucked over black pants.

The waiting area outside the ballroom was a sea of suits and sequins, with guests wearing everything from sweeping velvet gowns to fitted black numbers. But the attendees had one accessory in common: Lei. Puakenikeni, pikake, pakalana — the scents were unmistakable. That and the local-style cheek-kiss, handshakes and warm smiles, last night's gala proved one thing: The world premiere of "Pearl Harbor" may have been grander, but Na Hoku was definitely all Hawai'i.