BEST HAWAIIAN MUSIC ALBUM GRAMMY NOMINEES
Old-timers grace Helm's 'Sweet'
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By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
Here's a helpful life lesson from Raiatea Helm:
You're a musician. You're recording an album. You want Auntie Genoa Keawe to do what she does best on it, but you don't know her all that well.
What to do?
"You know what? It doesn't hurt to just ask," said Helm, chuckling at the memory of asking one of her musical idols to contribute guest vocals to "Hu'i E," a track on her second CD, "Sweet & Lovely." "I thought it would be really special to have her be a part of one of my recordings. At least one. But I was really nervous when I called her house."
Helm asked in the most respectfully humble voice she could muster. Keawe replied sweetly, "Oh, OK, OK." (Helm does a great Auntie Genoa-talking-on-the-phone voice, by the way.) Keali'i Reichel answered similarly when asked to guest on "Haole Hula."
And sure, it didn't hurt Helm's case that she's a Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning vocalist who was putting together the highly anticipated follow-up to a surprise best-selling debut.
"Sweet & Lovely," which won Helm four Hoku last year, also has won the 21-year-old Moloka'i-raised vocalist her first Grammy nomination. And this year at least, hers is the only all-vocal recording in a strong collection of ki ho'alu-based nominees.
A 14-song disc boasting works from some of Hawai'i's most lauded composers (Lena Machado, Tony Conjugacion and Johnny Almeida, among them), graced by Helm's stunning traditional-style leo ki'eki'e voice (Hawaiian falsetto singing), "Sweet & Lovely" is the work of a young artist with years of surprises ahead. It was one of the best-selling locally produced recordings of 2005, climbing as high as No. 7 on Billboard's world music chart.
It also took an excruciatingly long time to record — seven months starting in February 2004. It took just two days of studio work to finish Helm's 2002 debut "Far Away Heaven."
"I would fly over from Maui on Tuesdays and Thursdays," Helm said. "And what happened is I would come in, and if I didn't sound on par (producer Dave Tucciarone) would tell me to go home."
Helm laughed hard at the memory of learning to be patient for "take after take after take" on O'ahu between college classes, shows and tours.
"Dave was great. He has an awesome ear when it comes to music," she said. "But for a little girl, that was a lot of stress."
Helm asked parents Zachary and Henrietta (who also share co-executive producer credits with her) to select the songs for "Sweet & Lovely," trusting their music smarts and knowledge of their daughter's voice.
"It's songs they wanted to listen to," Helm said of "Sweet & Lovely." "My dad is a musician (and) he knows what songs are perfectly matched with my range and singing.
"Maybe down the road, I'll decide whether I want this or that on the albums. But right now, this makes it fun. And I get to have my parents involved."
At the Grammys, she'll be scoping the crowd for Mariah Carey and Queen Latifah, and crossing her fingers for Jack Johnson, whom she confessed to voting for. Win or not, she's already all but guaranteed herself a souvenir.
"I'm actually going to cut a little piece of the red carpet and bring it home to all of y'all," said Helm, cracking up. "I'm gonna be, like, 'Hey, I got some of the red carpet in my hand!' "
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com.