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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Who's the next big star in Hawaiian music?

 •  The burning questions of 2006

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Raiatea Helm's rich voice has been compared to that of Auntie Genoa Keawe, who is among her biggest musical heroes.

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The accolades for vocalist Raiatea Helm have been piling up every year since she burst on the Island music scene with her 2002 debut album, "Far Away Heaven." But 2006 could be the biggest yet for the 21-year-old Moloka'i native.

The only musician in this year's crop of best Hawaiian music album Grammy nominees with an all-vocal recording, Helm is also the only female artist up for the award. Standing out from the other nominated albums might give Helm a chance of winning the golden gramophone in Los Angeles on Feb. 8.

Should her best-selling 2004 sophomore disc "Sweet & Lovely" fail to snag the Grammy, Helm can take comfort in winning four Na Hoku Hanohano music awards for it last spring. Her debut CD, 2002's "Far Away Heaven," received two Hoku. And Helm walked away with prestigious female vocalist of the year Hoku honors for both CDs.

"Sweet & Lovely" spent 12 weeks on Billboard magazine's world music chart last year, peaking at No. 7.

Helm's rich, crystalline leo ki'eki'e (falsetto voice) has been compared to that of one of her biggest musical heroes, Auntie Genoa Keawe. But she credits the recordings of another local music legend, vocalist Nina Keali'iwahamana, with inspiring her to try singing when she was 15.

Helm wants to see more talented young musicians pursue traditional Hawaiian music styles, but only if they're truly interested in doing so. Her hope is to be an inspiration for them, much as much Keali'iwahamana was for her.

"I want to continue perpetuating the music as much as I can," Helm said. "But it's my job, and I feel it's my responsibility to get (young musicians) motivated in a way that they can really understand what the true meaning of the music is. The rest is up to them.

"I wasn't forced to sing in the old style. I just fell in love with it."

Helm's plans for 2006 include recording her third CD for a summer release. She also hopes to finesse her Hawaiian and Japanese language skills, and continue business management courses at Maui Community College.

"Raiatea is certainly the future of traditional Hawaiian music," said musician/producer Charles Michael Brotman, whose multi-artist compilation "Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2" won the first best Hawaiian music album Grammy. Helm and Brotman got together a couple of times last year to perform and co-write music.

"She's just turned 21. Her voice is there. She has the whole technical and musical package already together. ... Where she goes from here will be up to her," Brotman said.

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.