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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 22, 2006

O-Shen's earthy sounds, rhythms powerful mix

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

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O-Shen explodes with a powerful new CD that taps primal rhythms and dialects of Papua New Guinea. While you may need to be a linguist to fully understand the various tongues, it's easy to flow with the syncopated reggae, dancehall and hip-hop tempos.

Meanwhile, masters of steel guitar then and now provide historical perspective and genuine artistry in a new compilation.


  • Genre: Reggae, world music.

  • Distinguishing notes: O-Shen's latest is an eye-opener. Or ear-opener. Recorded in Papua New Guinea (Niugini), environment is a co-star since it has a pervasive impact on the material and performances. O-Shen is ablaze in familiar reggae, some hip-hop and even an element of Island soul. But because of the multitude of unfamiliar (to Westerners) languages embraced by O-Shen, the CD is a hypnotic, quixotic outing of rhythms that suggest vivid emotions, of tongues not customary placed within the modern (hip-hop) template. There are occasional English lyrics, but the journey is largely a tapestry of earthy, sometimes primitive words from unfamiliar languages: Niugini pidgin, Maoli, Nakanai, Arona, Kiwa, Rigo and Yabim.

    Add Hawaiian, since "Children of the World" is a Hawaiian song in a new dress. O-Shen's dialects are fascinating, complemented by the pulse of modernity; or are these primal beats rooted in South Seas history, only now emerging through O-Shen's artistry? Tunes such as "For You" sound more traditional, because of the English; but others, like "Geio Geio" and "Tiko" boast rhythms and structures that set the toe tapping, but are without valuable liner translations. "Move" has Hawaiian snippets via brief phrases like "aloha kakou." "Ektin Fensi" and "Tiko" are dancehall-oriented, with a form parallel to Samoan or Tahitian, though it may take a learned linguist to explain what's sung here. Despite such barriers, O-Shen's assured, natural delivery is powerful.

  • The outlook: This one-of-a-kind artist may get enough attention to bring him a wider audience.

  • Our take: O-Shen proves he's a master of dialect and diversity.

    "Legends of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar" by various artists; HanaOla Records

  • Genre: steel guitar instrumentals.

  • Distinguishing notes: Men of steel the current generation, the past and possibly leaders of the future perform 20 cuts in this compilation by Aloha Joe, an Internet pioneer of Island sounds.

    With vintage steel instruments depicted on the CD cover, the disc explores several generations of players, with historic entries by such deceased artists as Jerry Byrd, Barney Isaacs, Tau Moe, Jules Ah See, M.K. Moke and David Burrows, and current folks such as Alan Akaka, Ken Emerson, Bobby Ingano, Greg Sardinha, Casey Olsen, Duke Ching and Henry Allen.

    With brief bio capsules, the disc is a quickie intro to the Hawaiian steel tradition.

    Especially atmospheric: cuts such as "Aloha Oe Blues" (by Burrows) with a monophonic texture denoting its vintage.

  • The outlook: a companion for earlier steel collections on this label.

  • Our take: Because some vintage tracks are no longer available, "Legends" is worthy of your disc library.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.