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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 7, 2010

Two generations, one artistic odyssey


By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Raiatea Helm first found fame with her 2006 Grammy nomination.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Helm found working with Keola Beamer illuminating. "I learned from him that you can be serious about what you do, without being serious all the time. So we laughed a whole lot."

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When Raiatea Helm, now 25, met Keola Beamer for the first time two years ago at a religious music event at Ala Moana Park, something clicked.

They bonded like old pals.

So when they spent 16 months recording "Keola Beamer & Raiatea," their first-ever CD together released last week (See Island Sounds, Page 5), which she describes "as the second-longest relationship I've had," they became close buddies, in a mentor-and-student or uncle-and-niece sort of way.

Helm reflects:

You're the young-and-hip one here; what did you bring to the plate to make this teaming work?

You know, someone once told me that Picasso believed "it takes a long time to become young," and that is Uncle Keola. He is so funny and full of new ideas, you forget what a legend he is in the Hawaiian music community. I grew up with all kinds of music playing in the house, including Uncle Keola's classics, so when I met him, I felt as if I was with an old friend, like someone I had grown up with on Molokai.

We really hit it off right away and laughed and joked a lot. And because we were so at ease, I wasn't afraid to try new things when we were in the studio together.

Did you get to select some of the tunes on the album?

Before recording, we talked a lot about the songs we liked; the message, the arrangements, and the kind of feeling we wanted to create by blending the beauty of his slack-key tuning and my voice. We both chose "Hilo Hanakahi," because last year Uncle Keola invited me to participate in his music camp on the Big Island; we decided to make a musical journey around the island, and "Hilo Hanakahi" was our vehicle. "Ke Alii Hulu Mamo" (written by great-grandmother Helen Desha Beamer) was included (because) as Uncle Keola said, "This is really a hard song to sing but it is beautiful." And I wanted to showcase the old style of a Helen Desha Beamer classic.

What lasting joy resulted?

Uncle Keola taught me that nothing is acceptable short of perfection and that the process of achieving that perfection is long and hard. It is exhausting, too. But in the end, when you hear what you have done and see how your music affects people, it is so gratifying.

Were there differences in the collaboration?

You know, Uncle Keola is so special and wise and such a giving teacher that I could see myself working with him again. But the CD took us nearly 1 1/2 years to complete! That is like the second-longest relationshipI have ever had!

We talked about the project and decided to proceed, that we were both committed to it (the time in the recording studio).

We also love each other so much both he and I wanted to be sure that any differences that might arise would be embraced in a positive, creative way and not affect us negatively. We are closer now than ever.

Share a discovery, after hanging with Keola.

Uncle Keola is totally funny. When I first met him, I was, like, "You mean I get to sing with Keola Beamer the legend?" And then I learned from him that you can be serious about what you do, without being serious all the time. So we laughed a whole lot.

Being with him has definitely shaped the direction of my music to come. Uncle Keola has come into my life just at the time I needed someone like him; he showed me a way to express myself through my voice that I was never aware of until now. Instead of falling into the trap of doing the same thing over and over again, he showed me how to take what I already knew and make it more. He showed me not to be afraid, to take chances, to be courageous, and imagine our music out in the world.

What's next?

Touring with Uncle Keola on the East Coast, West Coast and Japan. We hope to share the new CD with the whole world.

I am also taking some new paths beyond music; I am the 2010 ambassador for Tahiti Pearl Market, based in Tahiti but recently in Waikk and downtown. And in negotiations for a clothing line in Japan.