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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2007

Tia Carrere goes Hawaiian

 •  Two Isle expats bring it all back home

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"Hawaiiana" by Tia Carrere.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"Hawaiian Boy Kanikapila Live!" by Mike Kaawa.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

"On Maui" by Doug Baker.

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Genre: Traditional and contemporary Hawaiian.

Distinguishing notes: Most of the world knows Tia Carrere as an actress; she's been in blockbuster films such as "Wayne's World" and "True Lies." The younger folks know her as the voice of Nani, on Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" films, DVDs and TV show. Her school chums remember she was a previous Brown Bags to Stardom winner, and yes, she's had history as a pop-rock artist on a mainstream label (Warner Bros). "Hawaiiana," however, marks her debut as an Island singer of Hawaiian tunes and it's one of the most appealing, revelatory endeavors of her career.

The tone here is uniformly gentle, quiet almost like a mother's serenades to her baby as Carrere's sweet, personal mana'o is augmented by two-time Grammy-winning guitarist-'ukulele stylist Daniel Ho's plaintive arrangements and accompaniment to yield a sweet eloquence best exemplified in the uncluttered "I'll Remember You." With proper marketing, this could become this generation's discovery of that Kui Lee classic popularized by Don Ho.

From the syncopated " 'Ulili E" to the nostalgic "He Aloha Mele," this is a warm embrace of some favored tunes from an Islander whose yearnings for the Island experience resonates, through and through. "Aloha 'Oe" is sentimental and reflective, "Pupu Hinuhinu" recalls childhood memories. Many other riches are here: "Ku'u Lei 'Awapuni," "Hi'ilawe," "Pua 'Olena," "Ku'u Ipo I Ka He'e Pu'e One," even "Po La'i E," the Hawaiian version of "Silent Night." (Think of this as a very early Christmas present).

"Sing," The Carpenters' old hit, is the lone non-Island entity, yet it suits the mode of the CD. Come to think of it, with Ho's Israel Kamakawiwo'ole-inspired strumming and Carrere's incandescent reading, a hit here also looms.

Our take: A delightful re-discovery of some favorite songs and a reimagined Carrere in a bright new light.

Sample song: "He Aloha Mele" by Tia Carrere


Genre: Contemporary Hawaiian.

Distinguishing notes: Mike (or Michael) Kaawa is a seasoned Island music-maker, here caught "live" amid audience applause and impromptu chatter. It's his kanikapila skills, focusing on his vocals, and his stellar bandmates Ocean Kaowili (guitar), Analu 'Aina (electric bass) and Paul Kim (steel guitar) that linger and impress.

There are some solid classics revived with the Kaawa touch ("Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha," "Keawaiki," "Mauna Loa," "Green Rose Hula"), but medleys abound, and not the usual couplings. "Ka Ipo Lei Manu" is tagged to "Wahine 'Ilikea," "Hale'iwa Hula" is teamed with "Ka Moa'e," "Maui Girl" and "I'm Going to Maui Tomorrow" are united; this all makes for a fresh sampling of known tunes in a new perspective as Kaawa expands the boundaries of appeal with his chameleon styles, embracing blues, ki ho'alu, hapa-haole elements and bursts of yesteryear memories (listen to the steel work on "Kalena Kai").

The general effect here is backyard jam, 'ohana lu'au, informal party spirit.

Our take: Kaawa is an underrated but uncanny performer; plug into his vibe and you'll never forget him. It's never too late to be seduced by this "Hawaiian Boy."

Sample song: "Green Rose Hula" by Mike Kaawa


Genre: World music, hapa haole.

Distinguishing notes: Subtitled "A Baker's Dozen of Beautiful Hawaiian Songs," this release reflects Doug Baker's long-standing romance three decades and counting with the Islands. So "On Maui" is rather an aural postcard of romance, from the vantage point of a visitor who's been coming here and writing songs since the mid-1970s. He's written hundreds of tunes but selected 13 that speak of his fondness for the Islands.

"His Golden Stepping Stones" was inspired when he was in a NASA aircraft 41,000 feet above the Islands, which clearly represented stepping stones from space, the reaction told in a country-music motif. While Maui is the CD title, he shares his aloha for other islands, too, with Eddie Kamae as inspiration of his "Mr. 'Ukulele," whom Baker heard in a Nanakuli performance.

The tunes are of Hawai'i, not Hawaiian, but reflects earnest aloha from a repeat visitor who put his enthusiasm into song.

Our take: While "On Maui" may not have wide commercial appeal, it clearly depicts personal real-life aloha for Hawai'i and its spirit.

Sample song: "Where Love Is Everywhere" by Doug Baker

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.