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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

97-year-old Tapia strums his stuff on CD

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

An 'ukulele wizard, three years shy of 100, shares his strumming (and vocal) style in an easygoing CD that should foster a following of new fans.

A steel guitarist/uke-strummer collaborates with a ki ho'alu player — an unlikely but beguiling combo.

And if you're reggae-oriented and like your love songs with a tempo, a compilation provides a jam of 16 tunes.

"DUKE OF UKE" by Bill Tapia; MoonRoom Records

Genre: 'Ukulele instrumentals, a few vocals; world music.

Distinguishing notes: Bill Tapia, former Island resident, is 97 and still performing on a trusty uke in an evocative manner; you might (and boy, you'd be wrong) dismiss this as a novelty, considering his age. But Tapia is a master communicator with precision and his own brand of pizzazz. From a Latin-tinged "Black Orpheus" to a jaunty "Happy Hula," Tapia strums with energy and confidence. Two versions of "Little Grass Shack" (a studio entry, plus a "live" sing-out) demonstrate his old but endearing style; "Manuela Boy" revisits a time when he used to play in the 'A'ala Park area, and his vocal is honest and appealing. Three tracks are vintage —recorded in 1936 on primitive equipment — and demonstrate how he, as a uke stylist, and technology both have advanced.

The outlook: Tapia is a founding virtuoso, finally earning a place in the hall of fame of uke strummers.

Our take: Easygoing and mellow, this Tapia disc is a treasure box of memories. For those who don't know of him yet, get on the bandwagon.

"All The Things You Are" by Bill Tapia. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"HO'OMALIE" by Ray Sowders with Shawn Ishimoto; Ki ho'alu Dreams

Genre: Traditional and contemporary Hawaiian.

Distinguishing notes: The unlikely teaming of Ray Sowders ('ukulele, steel guitar) and Shawn Ishimoto (slack-key guitar) with a repertoire of familiar and popular Island melodies yields a fluid and expressive album. There are a couple of English-language tunes ("Hawaiian Roughriders/

I'm a Cowboy," "Try Again/Hide Your Fear," "The Water Is Wide") but the Hawaiian tunes paint a vivid landscape of Island beauty and emotions, about the wind ("Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha"), the 'aina ("Puna Ku'u Aloha," "He nani No Ka'ala," "Aloha Lahaina," "Hanohano Wailea," "He Aloha No 'O Honolulu") and romance ("Nani Wale," "Mahina 'O Hoku").

The outlook: With a stellar roster of songs old and new, exploration is a joy. The non-Hawaiian songs project a calming country spirit.

Our take: A new "act" is born — the twinning of Sowders with Ishimoto creates a viable sound and a veritable and beguiling feast for the ears.

"Kamakani Ka'ili Aloha" by Ray Sowders with Shawn Ishimoto. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

"ISLAND LOVE JAMS" by various artists; Quiet Storm Records

Genre: Reggae, world music.

Distinguishing notes: Sixteen cuts, by as many artists, suggest a whirlpool of nonstop Jawaiian and contemporary vibes. Well, it's partly true. This compilation of love-oriented tracks caters to Island rhythm radio and fans with the likes of Ho'onua, Sistah Robi, Koa'uka, Pati, B.E.T., Kai, Vika, AZ with Fiji, and Yasmeen with Justin. The label has made it a franchise to assemble and package like acts in a musical motif that is commercially viable; the flow is good, the balance of material on target. and label notes provide the source of each cut.

The outlook: One of the gems is the rhythmic ballad with a blues undercoat, "Pualena," by Vika.

Our take: In jukebox fashion, the parade of songs provide variety and choice.

"Passion Love" by Ho'onu'a. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

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