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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Singer/songwriter Barry Flanagan releases solo CD

 •  Review: Flanagan's latest evokes tranquility without words

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Life after Hapa has been both an artistic struggle and a time for reflection for guitarist Barry Flanagan. After all, Flanagan had an 18-year association with Keli'i Kaneali'i, his partner in Hapa. When they parted company in 2001, Hapa — the Hawaiian word denoting part or fragment, as in part haole (Flanagan) and part Hawaiian (Kaneali'i) — had recorded a couple of CDs and won a few awards, making the duo from Maui a Hawai'i favorite. The split was like an unexpected divorce.

Barry Flanagan, right, at Hobo House on the Hill studio, makes adjustments on a track as brothers Lawrence and Roni Yurong Jr. look on. For now, Barry's shelving rock and blues performances. Flanagan says he was stunned by the breakup of Hapa, his duo with former partner Keli'i Kaneali'i.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I had to respect the fact that Keli'i had quit (me)," said Flanagan, 48, who was stunned by the breakup. "I really learned through the newspaper that Hapa was pau."

But, he said, things happen for a reason.

"My faith is strong," said Flanagan, who is finally surfacing on his own merits after months of low-profile gigs.

"Instrumental Peace," his first post-breakup CD, is just out. He had worked with Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom soon after the split, generally taking a backup posture, and most recently aligned with Ernie Cruz Jr., adding harmony to the former's act.

More importantly, Flanagan has used his solitary time composing and recording, relying on his publishing royalties to pay the rent while he gets his performing house in order. He's accomplished a lot in the past two years.

The split stimulated his artistic juices and triggered a roaring return, finally

"If you're not struggling, you're not growing," said Flanagan. "I learned a lot about myself during this period. I met R. Carlos Nakai (a Grammy nominee this year, and a collaborator with Flanagan on the CD's title song) right after Hapa broke up. I met Jon de Mello (who had released a compilation of Hapa hits) and three weeks after disbanding, I was laying down three different guitar tracks to back up Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's voice. It was a chicken-skin experience, working posthumously with Iz, and for that I'm grateful to Jon de Mello."

By bringing his guitar (and vocal) stylings to the backdrop of other local artists, like Gilliom and Cruz, Flanagan essentially has become one of the music industry's trusted and gifted sidemen.

"I remember the day I heard the news that Keli'i quit; my lawyer called me five minutes before I got the news (to say) that Hina, my African gray parrot, had been found on Maui," said Flanagan. "It was a bird I bought in 1982 and had till 1995, when she flew away. I had her one year before I met Keli'i, and anyone who knows me knows I care a lot about this pet. It was the 'up' side of a sad day."

Barry Flanagan
  • 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays, with Ernie Cruz Jr.
  • Hale Noa, 766 Kapahulu Ave.
  • 735-4292

Coming up:

  • Punahou carnival, 7 to 8 p.m. Friday, Punahou campus. With Ernie Cruz Jr. and Nathan Aweau
  • Borders Ward Centre appearance, 8 p.m. Feb. 21
  • Borders Waikele appearance, 2 p.m. Feb. 22
  • Honolulu Symphony Pops Concert with Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, 8 p.m. April 11 and 12, Blaisdell Concert Hall
Flanagan admits that he was not prepared for the split, but in retrospect, the duo had some artistic differences.

They still talk today, but a reunion is out of the question.

"I love him like a brother; my door is always open," Flanagan said. "I visited him on his birthday last September at Neptune Garden, and his family was here — I knew his family before I met Keli'i. It was fun to catch up on the news. (But) Keli'i has decided to once and for all be pau with Hapa."

Without a partner or a full-time gig, he had lots of time time to reflect, compose, regenerate, and take action.

All for the better, he said.

"I figured I had to do something to get my feelings expressed, so I really wanted to do a recording that would reflect my thoughts," Flanagan said. "I felt like I was like a kid in grammar school involved in art; when you have certain feelings, these emotions are reflected in finger-painting art. For me, the answer was an instrumental recording — no singing, no talking. Just music."

The new disc is introspective, with mood shifts that bridge cultural styles and mirror tranquil and personal moments. Without lyrics, these emotions seem deeper, more eloquent, considerably revealing.

"I was going for the higher energy stuff," he said. "The first three songs on the record (reflect) my zone of thinking."

In easing his way back into the musical mainstream, Flanagan decided to create his own record label, demanding a personal preference: a costlier CD cover from recyclable cardboard.

"It felt hip, I like the format better," he said of his final presentation.

"The plastic CD cases have gone to the plastic CD case dumping grounds; with this concept, much like an old LP, the CD feels more like a (mini) coffee table book."

Completing the album "was one of the hardest things ever for me, as most creative endeavors are," he said.

One reason Flanagan opted for an instrumental album: "I'm very careful of what I sing; and very picky about when I sing lead," he said. "I love singing. But on stage for most of my life, I did harmony parts — with Keli'i and with Kenny Loggins and with Amy. I specialize in harmony, though I sing a pretty good 'Fields of Gold' by Sting as well as a few Sinatra tunes.

"I like harmonizing; my guitar is my voice. I still play a Washburn Monterey that I bought in 1980, with a Willie Nelson-type puka." He said local guitar maker Stephen Grimes, "one of the best in the world," has replaced the neck and "turned it into a Grimes guitar, with regular maintenance."

He misses the regular audience contact in a recurring club gig. He knows the booking climate has changed and with it, the number of Waikiki shows exposing island music has dwindled.

"I always use the Brothers Cazimero show at the Royal Hawaiian as the gold standard of what I consider the best," Flanagan said. "Others have imitated that concept, but few have succeeded."

Aside from an unadvertised gig every Tuesday with Cruz at Hale Noa, the kava club at 766 Kapahulu Ave., Flanagan has been virtually invisible on the show front.

He said that the freedom of not being committed to a lounge or club enables him to tend to his beloved songwriting "and the tributaries of income it brings in. Songwriting and publishing are the main things for me now," he said. "It's like throwing good pebbles in the lake out there; it sustains me to do a lot of other things. There is a ripple effect."

Among projects under way: Hawaiian Airlines' in-flight videos, being shot by Scott Sorensen, featuring Flanagan's music that will be keyed to Island scenes and looped for continuous viewing as passengers board Mainland flights.

There will be occasional gigs with Gilliom, like a pair of Honolulu Symphony pops concerts, April 11 and 12. And a number of Mainland promotional treks to promote "Instrumental Peace."

For now, Flanagan is maintaining two residences, on O'ahu and on Maui. He finds the Valley Island particularly conducive to song-writing, particularly Upcountry Maui, "my poetic getaway. I also like Lana'i for songwriting; it's a small-city feeling and everybody knows each other; it's so inspiring."

For inspiration, Flanagan also favors Bend, Ore.

"(Surfer) Gerry Lopez lives there, and he was my neighbor in Olinda, and I wondered why somebody that awesome would wind up in Bend till I went there with Hapa, playing gigs there. It's decidedly beautiful; you're easily drawn to it. The air is clean, the feeling spiritual, and you feel very creative."

For now, Flanagan is content with sticking to his Hawaiian and contemporary Hawaiian songbag, temporarily shelving performances in rock and blues till he's ready to engage in another chapter of his life.

"I've loved New Orleans blues, and I listen to everything from Nelly to techno to Mozart. But rock is an amalgam of everything I've done, everything I've been till now."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.