Take 5: Noho Paipai

Hello Dear Readers! Iʻm working on the song “Noho Paipai.” Itʻs one of the songs in my critical edition project. The lyrics were published in 1946 in a collection of John Almeidaʻs songs, with translations by Mary Kawena Pukui. Among the earliest vocal recordings, there are at least two different tunes, and one of them in two variant forms in the first phrase. The playlist assembled here includes early vocal recordings I could find on YouTube. The datings of these recordings are based on the incredible research of  Malcolm Rockwell and his award-winning discography Hawaiian & Hawaiian Guitar Records, 1891-1860 (Mahina Piha Press 2007) .

1938:  The earliest recording I could identify is this instrumental medley of “Noho Paipai” and “ʻAʻoia” by John Almeida. It appeared on the Hawaiian Transcriptions label, and Malcolm dated the recording session to 1938. The track was reissued on the 49th State Records Strum Your Ukulele (LP-3423) in the late 1950s. Given the fact that this is an instrumental that invites instrumentalists to take the spotlight, one would be hard-pressed to use this recording as the basis for declaring what Almeidaʻs composed melody is.


ca. 1950: Johnny Almeida with Julia Nuiʻs Kamaainas on 49th State Records (HRC-64). This is NOT the earliest vocal recording; it is simply the earliest vocal recording I could find on YouTube. It was preceded by a recording by Randy Oness in 1945, and Danny Kuaana in 1946. The cool thing is, here is the composer singing his own composition.


ca. 1951: Here is John Piilani Watkins, on 49th State Records, singing a different tune. This tune was also used on recordings by Tommy Blaisdell (1952), Pauline Kekahuna (1958), and the Brothers Cazimero (1998).


1965: Genoa Keawe!! Doing her thing with the final cadence at the end of each verse.


1974: Kawai Cockett. ʻUkulele strumming at warp speed. Pay attention to the tune in the 2nd line of each verse. Compare it with John Almeidaʻs ca. 1950 recording above, and also with Genoa Keaweʻs 1965 recording. See where Iʻm going?


Bonus Tracks

Nothing beats the fun of live performance. Here is Jake Shimabukuro playing with the Makaha Sons at the Songs of Aloha concert, Hawaiʻi Theater, 2000.



Still one of my favorites: hereʻs Manaʻo Company in a 2012 live Pau Hana Fridays performance in Hawaiian Airlines premier lounge. Featured guest performer is Hawaiian Air baggage handler Kaulana Pakele.

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Recording Studios from Honolulu’s past

An absorbing piece of research!!

Aloha Got Soul

From July 7 through July 9, 2017, the Smithsonian Asian American Pacific Center will host ʻAe Kai: A Culture Lab on Convergence at the former Foodland space in Ala Moana Center. The 3-day art exhibition features 50+ artists and practitioners from Hawaii and beyond. This is a markedly different project for us, and as participants we are honored to have this opportunity to find new ways of presenting Aloha Got Soul and the stories behind this music we’ve been digging over the years.

Learn more about ʻAe Kai at http://smithsonianapa.org/aekai.

We’ve entitled our ‘Ae Kai contribution “Sounds of Hawaii”, a photo series documenting recording studios that once existed in the Kaka’ako, Ward, and Ala Moana areas.

This is an ongoing project that Leimomi and I started working on after returning from Japan in late May. As a disclaimer, I must add that this project does not attempt to encompass all of the…

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E Mau Ke Ea o Ka ʻĀina

Jon Osorioʻs powerful 2010 commentary in Honolulu Civil Beat is making the rounds on social media once again. Speaking of Hawaiian conceptions of independence, Jon offers a powerful statement on ea:

Independence — ea — for us was a basic right that was enshrined by law. We may either give in to the cynicism of the age and in the face of such enormous power wielded by the United States, conclude that self-determination is a foolish delusion, or we can press Americans to live up to a better standard of behavior and perhaps, a better version of themselves. But in the end, it is more important that we Hawaiians refuse to surrender our own faith in ea.

I returned to a memorable recording to revisit one of the Kingdom of Hawaiiʻs national anthems, “He Mele Lahui Hawaii” by (then-) Princess Liliʻuokalani. Here it is again, with all three verses. The track is performed by the Rose Ensemble of St. Paul, Minnesota. Their hard work on the ʻōlelo paid off handsomely.

Click here to go to the Wikipedia page with all lyrics, translation, and a beautiful color photograph of the sheet music published in 1867.

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Take 5: Ka Ipo Lei Manu

Hello Dear Readers! I have “Ka Ipo Lei Manu” on my mind a lot these days. It is one of the songs to be included in a book project that has been many moons in the making. (Long story for another time.) Just blitzed through a marathon over the last 3 days of mapping 45 different recorded versions.

My top 5 favorites:

#5 Dennis Pavao. From the album Wale No (Pilialoha Records), 1996.

Boy, Uncle could sing! His voice was set in a lush resonant mix of guitar with ʻukulele notes sparkling atop the arrangement. This was my favorite version for a long time. It still is a go-to when I need to reconnect with things Hawaiian (like after a semester ends).

#4 Brothers Cazimero. From the album Live (Mountain Apple), 1993

Iʻm a child of the 1970s. These are the Brothers Cazimero still scaling the peaks of their career as one of the premier entertainment groups to ever grace Hawaiʻi stages. What can I say? When two voices blend so evenly and soar so effortlessly, what more need be said? [I canʻt find a video on YouTube.]

#3 Danny Carvalho, ft. Jamaica Osorio. From the album Ke Au Hou (Lava Rock Music), 2013

So much going on in this track. For starters, Danny sings! Then on this track, he and Jamaica Osorio trade off solos and duet together. The tune that they sing goes back to the original published tune from 1892–very plain, letting the mele speak. The mele — it is complete here, all thirteen verses. Then the arrangement — a cumulative entry of guitar, then bass and drum rim shots, and then bass and drum kit in full swing on the haʻina verse, then pulling back to guitar by the end. And the voices–two plaintive voices for a plaintive song about love that turned into loss.

#2 (tie)

I am a scholar of music. So I get excited when I hear original moves. This is when I know that artists are not merely replicating what theyʻve inherited, but they are bringing thoughtfulness

Jeff Peterson & Riley Lee. From the album Haleakalā (Peterson Productions), 2008

This particular recording is really cool. In hula kuʻi songs are usually symmetrical–where each line has the same even number of beats. In this arrangement, the first line is 8 beats, but the second line is 6 beats. The words still fit, even though this track is all instrumental. But the other thing that is happening is the interaction and exchange between the shakuhachi gradually adding ornamentation that is echoed in the guitar. You have to hear this track. Apparently you can do so in the free tier on Spotify. (There are YouTube videos of Jeff performing the song live, but itʻs not the same arrangement as on this particular recording with Riley Lee.)

Steven Espaniola. From the album Hoʻomaopopo (SheGo), 2013

Another really really thoughtful musicianly innovation here. The symmetrical hula rhythm got traded in for a waltz-time. But because of heavy accenting on the downbeats, thereʻs a strong feeling of the three beat sets coming in groups of two. Then sonically — Stevenʻs singing is interlaced with kumu hula Kawika Alfiche chanting the less-sung verses. Way cool.

#1 Howard Ai ft. Natalie Ai Kamauʻu. From the album Kaleihulumamo (Ginger Doggie Records), 2008

My current most favorite treatment of this poignant mele. It is wrapped between the first verse and chorus of “Aloha ʻOe. The mele begins with daughter Natalie Ai Kamauʻu trading verses with father Howard Ai. The two vocalists build up the texture by gradually extending their range higher and higher, while cumulatively expanding their vocal flourishes. The voices are propelled along with the distinctive piano stylings of Aaron Salā, who embodies a clear understanding of the pianoʻs role to support forward momentum.

And there you have it. Six arrangements that soar. They carry me off on the winds and clouds of song. What about you, Dear Readers?

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Thinking about the term “hula kui”

Dear Readers, many of you know that my research has focused on historical aspects of the hula kuʻi tradition.

Many of you have asked me, over the years, why I use the term “hula kuʻi” even when Iʻm talking about songs, especially when it is not clear that some of those songs were actually danced as hula. Over the years Iʻve done the conventional scholarʻs tactic of formulating more precise yet cumbersome wordings like “mele in the format of hula kuʻi” and even “mele in the format of songs for hula kuʻi.”

And some have asked why I choose not to use the term “mele kuʻi” when Iʻm talking about mele but not necessarily about hula.

In cleaning out my email account last week, I came across email exchanges from twelve years ago, asking me these very questions. Hence I began to think about these questions again. Then I went back into my collection of sheet music, photographs, and notes. And the answer stared back at me.


This is the cover of sheet music published in 1892. (I had the extreme fortune to win this item on eBay many years ago.) Both songs are labelled “HULA KUI“. Do we know whether “Ipo Lei Manu” was actually danced then? Queen Kapiʻolani composed it while King Kalākaua was in San Francisco seeking medical care. He died in San Francisco without hearing it. This 1892 publication is months after his death and funeral. Was it actually danced at that time? Hard to imagine, isnʻt it? And yet, when the sheet music is published, it is identified as “HULA KUI“.

A very esteemed acquaintance is fond of saying “when da tʻing stay staring you in da face . . . “

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2017: Much of note (so far)

Hello Dear Readers! Iʻve been quiet here for awhile, as my “day job” kept me quite occupied, and this past year was especially intense for all kinds of reasons. So I thought Iʻd start up my return here with some random observations.

So much continues to happen in Hawaiian music. Kalani Peʻa was the first Hawaiian artist to win the Grammy Award in the vexed Best Regional Roots category since it was rolled out in 2012. Social media was abuzz over that milestone . . . for better and worse. It is undeniable, however, that the musicianship and the production are original in fresh and welcome ways. The trio Keauhou swept the Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards in May with their commitment to perpetuating cherished notions of excellence.

One of the most exciting projects of 2016 is surely the viral video “Hawaiʻi Aloha 2016.” It is a collaboration of Mana Maoliʻs The Mana Mele Project in collaboration with Playing for Change. The production is best described as:

Much to appreciate in the focus on empowering and educating youth for the future of the lāhui.



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Gifts of Support 2016

Our lives and the world we live in are blessed and enriched by the presence of artists. These are the folks who render all manner of human experiences into visions–of truth and authenticity, of terror and horror, of connection and alienation, of groundedness, of aloha; visions that challenge as well as affirm our shared humanity, visions that inspire us to see beauty in the world and in each other.

We live in a time when artists face challenges to their livelihood, and to their very ability to continue making art. Thus at this time of holiday merrymaking and gift-giving, I am moved to make these recommendations because they call attention to artists who are making art in spite of the obstacles. This is precisely why their  efforts as well as artistry deserve our support.

The Natives Are Restless: A San Francisco Dance Master Takes Hula into the 21st Century (naleihulu.org)


A lavishly illustrated account of Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakane and his San Francisco hālau, Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu.  Kumu Patrick has achieved what a generation ago was completely unthinkable: He has built a hula school of note in San Francisco into a 350-person non-profit arts powerhouse in the cityʻs artscape. His singular vision of hula mua (explained by author Constance Hale as “progressive hula”) walks that fine line between preservation, perpetuation, and innovation. Honoring heritage and legacy, but also honoring a deep artistic impulse to be creatively generative, he “radically upends tradition and brings hula raging into the twenty-first century” (p. 21). Extending himself technically and administratively as well as artistically, his full-length theatrical productions have garnered critical acclaim not only in California and Hawaiʻi, but nationally.

These remarkable accomplishments are related by Constance Hale, a journalist of national stature who is also a haumana in the hālau. Although you can order the book on Amazon.com, please support Kumu Patrickʻs artistry by ordering it direct from the hālau at naleihulu.org.

The Haumāna Hula Handbook for Students of Hawaiian Dance, by Māhealani Uchiyama (North Atlantic Books, www.northatlanticbooks.com)


For the hula student in your life! This is a well-written and well-presented compendium of basic information for those immersed in learning the dance. Because we all know that hula is not merely dance. It is much more than dance itself. It is protectively wrapped in ritual and protocol; it is saturated with culture and language; it is a vessel for the stories of  ancestral gods, warrior rulers, and kamaʻāina. Kumu Māhea is the founder and artistic director of the Māhea Uchiyama Center for International Dance as well as kumu hula of Hālau Ka Ua Tuahine in Berkeley, California. Her hula training includes years as a student in Hawaiʻi at Hālau Hula o Maiki as well as University of Hawaiʻi, culminating in study with renowned master Joseph Kahāʻulelio.

Hālau Ka Ua Tuahine has been featured in the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival many times. Her commitment to excellence also deserves our continued support.

Kalani Peʻa. E Walea (Kalani Peʻa Music LLC, 2016)


Singer/songwriter Kalani Peʻa brings new excellence to Hawaiian music in his debut album that invites us to “relax, enjoy, dance”– e walea. Kalani is of the generation immersed in ʻōlelo, having graduated from Ke Kula o Nāwahīokalaniʻōpu’u. Yet he is also a Hawaiian of the here and now, who brings soul and R&B into his singing. The album brings us eight new Hawaiian-language compositions, six of them by Kalani himself, as well as two English-language cover songs, translated into Hawaiian by–Kalani himself. Musically he surrounds himself with first-class expertise:  Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing co-producing as well as playing guitar and bass; steel guitarist Casey Olsen and pianist Iwalani Hoʻomanawanui Apo adding flourishes, and Dave Tucciarone co-producing and engineering.

E Walea has the exceptional distinction of receiving a 2016 GRAMMY nomination in the “Best Regional Roots Album” category.

Stellar production and a GRAMMY nomination are great. But this album and this artist deserve our support simply because of its excellence. He ʻoi aku, a he mea laha ʻole.

You can find this album on iTunes and Amazon, but please do consider supporting an independent Hawaiian business by ordering from  mele.com or Me Ke Aloha   (mkaloha.com), or stopping in at Nā Mea Hawaiʻi in Honolulu, Basically Books in Hilo, or Native Intelligence in Wailuku.

Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!

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Disneyʻs “Moana” — Musical Musings

The animated film “Moana,” Disneyʻs latest foray into the island Pacific, was released in the U.S. last Wednesday Nov. 23. In our present-day world saturated by social media, Moana sailed onto our horizons amidst swells of anticipation for Disneyʻs latest, but also tsunamis of criticism on issues of representation. Pacific Islander scholars and activists are legitimately concerned. On the one hand, we enjoy it when our little-known region has new spotlights thrown on our islands, our people, and our life ways. On the other hand, we are thrown into having to explain what is and isnʻt part of our islands, our people, and our life ways. Itʻs exciting when we get to say “yup, thatʻs how it is!” But historically our experiences have too often left us having to say “no, thatʻs not how it is!”

So what is there to say about the music of “Moana”? Well, for starters — It is NOT Hawaiian music, for a very fundamental set of reasons. The film is NOT set in Hawaiʻi. The story itself is NOT set in Hawaiʻi. The characters are NOT enacting an exclusively Hawaiian story. And therefore, there is no reason why the music should be Hawaiian music. So, guess what? The music in “Moana” is not Hawaiian music.

Disneyʻs story line draws upon legends associated with the superhero Maui, a character revered in island groups across the Pacific who now have distinctly separate cultures, languages, societies and histories. Maui is a “Hawaiian Suppaʻ Man.” But Maui is also a super hero known to Tahitians, Maori, Samoans. Tongans, Tuvaluans, and others. The legends of Maui date from epochs before many of our islands were even settled–before there were “Hawaiians” or “Tahitians”, for example. We can celebrate the fact that Hawaiians share Maui with our Pacific relatives. But Hawaiians do not have a monopoly on Maui, or how he should be depicted.

Moana–the princess, now thatʻs another story. Thatʻs where Disney steps in with a princess-able story that can sell movie tickets and merch. In time for  Christmas holiday shopping.

Polynesia — the setting. Moana is the daughter of a chief of a Polynesian tribe. DISCLAIMER: There is no traditional place named “Polynesia.” Polynesia is a region named by the French naval explorer Jules Dumont DʻUrville, who published his schema of Malaysia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia in an article in 1832 after circumnavigating the globe in the 1820s. There was no Polynesia before Dumont DʻUrville. Islanders recognize Polynesia as a region only because western scholars used Dumont DʻUrvilleʻs classifications, and we learned about Polynesia in school. Islanders use the name “Polynesia” nowadays, because it is often more recognizable to outsiders, so it becomes a point of reference for us to be legible. Get it?

Now letʻs get to the music in “Moana.”Disney needed two things, musically speaking: 1) a composed soundtrack to work in tandem with the plot; and 2) island-flavored music for a story set not in Hawaiʻi, but in “Polynesia.” So skipping Hawaiian music, Disney turned to the Pacific recording artist most well known on the world music touring circuit: the New Zealand-based band Te Vaka. Its founder and frontman is singer-songwriter Opetai Foaʻi. Opetaiʻs father is from Tokelau, and his mother is from Tuvalu. They met while attending school in Samoa, where Opetai was born. His early childhood was spent in Tokelau, where he was surrounded by traditional song forms, especially the fātele of Tokelau, but also the siva from Sāmoa, and the ubiquitous yet beloved ʻukulele-based pan-Pacific pop. The family moved to Auckland when he was aged 9. All these elements make their way into Te Vakaʻs music that is described as “south Pacific fusion.”


Two signature elements of Te Vakaʻs sound–strong choral harmonies and lively slit-log percussion rhythms–are the framework for the filmʻs title track, “We Know The Way.” The lyrics are credited to Opetai Foaʻi and Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is Disney; might as well get the hottest Broadway dramatist on board, right? (“Hamilton,” for those dear readers not immersed in musical theater.) So there is one verse in Tokelauan language, but the main lyrics are in English. The better so that fans can sing along.

The featured vocal talent in the film are Native Hawaiian teen Auliʻi Carvalho who voices Moana, and athlete and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of Samoan heritage who voices Maui. Their songs are in English. Auliʻi wails on Moanaʻs feature song, “How Far Iʻll Go,” and The Rock gets Mauiʻs song “Youʻre Welcome”–complete with Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping. These and other English-language songs on the soundtrack are delivered in the inimitable Broadway / musical theater style of singing. (Think “Let It Go.” Thatʻs the sound.)

This is all by way of noting that, aside from the Pacific sonic flavor from Te Vakaʻs drumming, the soundtrack is actually classic Disney musical. Nothing more, nothing less.

Dear Readers, I highly recommend visiting the Facebook page and archives of the community group named “Mana Moana: We are Moana, We are Maui.” The articles articulate the issues of representation and appropriation from a critical islander perspective.  They have kindly gathered key articles and commentaries in an archive.

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Aloha 2016!

Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Hereʻs wishing everyone the best in happiness and aloha for 2016.

Iʻm back. Resolution #2 for 2016 is to renew my commitment to Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure. (Resolution #1 relates to health & fitness, I journey I began in October and, I am thrilled to say, is sticking!!) After several months of figuring how to balance teaching and university obligations and have a life–while working on health & fitness, no less–Iʻve been observing all kinds of things happening in the worlds of Hawaiian music and hula. Iʻve also been observing all kinds of things that are not happening in the worlds of Hawaiian music and hula. And Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure has always been a place to set down some thoughts, and invite thoughts, reflections, contributions, corrections, amendments–anything to contribute positively to our collective listening and viewing pleasure.

grammy-awards-logo_20110621150950Above all, a HUGE shoutout to Kealiʻi Reichel and Natalie Ai Kamauʻu for the nomination of their CDS for the GRAMMY Award in the category “Best Regional Roots Music.” The awards will be announced on “musicʻs biggest night,” scheduled for February 16, 2016 on CBS.

Keko KR-1106     591992_1

Lots more to come. Stay tuned, dear readers. Iʻm back!!

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A mystery: “Nanea kō maka i ka leʻaleʻa”

A popular song of the “swipehouse” variety, about eyes sparkling mischievously. Recorded over the past 60 years by quite a few notable artists in the Hawaiian music firmament.

Tonight I went hunting for a source for the lyrics. And to my surprise, there was no clarity to be had, only questions and more questions.

I look in my index of published songbooks. “Nanea kou maka” appears only once, in a 1974 volume published in Japan. There are six verses, listed in the following order:

  1. Nanea kou maka
  2. Puliki kou lima
  3. Eia mai au
  4. I loko aku wau
  5. Ko ohinu aku wau
  6. Haʻina

Bishop Museum Archives has this mele in the collection of Vivienne Huapala Mader. Alas, I am not in Honolulu, so I cannot run up to Kalihi. The song is not published in Kimo Alama Keaulanaʻs two volumes of Puke Mele; it is not in He Mele Aloha, and it is not in Chikao Toriyamaʻs magisterial Hawaiian Mele 1001 tome.

I head online to Huapala Hawaiian Music and Hula Archive (huapala.org). I always caution everyone to use information from Huapala.org carefully. While the compilers labor mightily to provide a valuable service, the fact is that disparities appear from time to time between information on the site and information in other sources. So, caveat emptor! Huapala.org has “Nanea ko maka” — with five verses, as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

Furthermore, Huapala.org credits the source of this song as “Recorded by Charles Davis, Translation by Vicki ʻIʻi.” I have 13 albums by Charles K. L. Davis in my iTunes Library. “Nanea kō maka” is not on any of those albums. Perhaps I am missing the album that has “Nanea kō maka”?

So I go looking through my iTunes library to listen to how the song got recorded. And the mystery only deepened.

Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses (Waikiki 45-586) in the late 1950s or early 1960s, in the following order:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Koohinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Leinaʻala Haili recorded 5 verses on her album Leinaala (Makaha M-2022) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Puliki ko lima
  5. Haʻina

Sonny Chillingworth recorded 4 verses on the album Ka ʻAina o Hawaii (Lehua SL-2040):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

In the 1976, the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders, with Darrell Lupenui as the lead singer, recorded 6 verses on the album Hula Gems (Poki SP-9013) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Ko hinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Melveen Leed recorded 4 verses on her 1980 album Melveen Leed with the Best of Slack Key (Lehua SL-7046) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

Sometime in the 1980s, Tony Conjugacion recorded 5 verses on his second album Hawaiian Hope (Kahanu KHR-1011), as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

In 2000, Mike Kaʻawa recorded 4 verses on his CD Hwn Boy (HBR-9001):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Haʻina

And most recently, Nate Kanae recorded these 4 verses on his CD from the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

One thing is clear to me:  the fact that Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses before the Japanese songbook was published in 1974 is a compelling factoid for believing that the song has six verses, and not five or four.

The bigger mystery is what should the order of verses be? Puaʻs order is different from the Japanese songbook. But hey! Puaʻs order is identical to that of the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders. So maybe the Japanese songbook got it wrong? But Sonny Chillingworth and Melveen Leed both sang the “Puliki ko lima” verse second, which is where the songbook has it.

The “I loko aku au” verse also moves around on the recordings. It is variously the second, third, and fourth verse.

I suppose the next step is to compare and translate the text, and figure out what logic would place the “Puliki ko lima” verse second or fifth. Then figure out where “I loko aku au” should go. What a puzzle.

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