WAIPUNAʻs new CD E Ho‘i Mai arrived in my mailbox about a week ago, thanks to Lynn at Me Ke Aloha Online Hawaiian Store.
WAIPUNA is Kale Hannahs and Matt Sproat. E Ho‘i Mai is their 2nd CD. Visit Waipunaʻs website, then drop in on their blog waipunamusic on Facebook.
You must absolutely listen to the track “Kamehameha Trilogy.” This, dear readers, is the past brought fearlessly into the future. In the liner notes, Neil Hannahs (Kale’s father) writes, “it is doubtful that anyone ever anticipated this upbeat interpretation performed in collaboration with Kumu Hula Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu.” Clearly this is not your grandmotherʻs recollection of “Hole Waimea.” (For the classic rendition of the mele hula ‘āla‘apapa, Lokalia Montgomeryʻs 1960 recording on Waikiki Records was finally reissued by HanaOla Records / Cord International last year on the CD Ancient Hula Hawaiian Style.)
The track begins with a rainstorm soundtrack into which ipu rhythms enter, suggesting “Hole Waimea” the chant. A startling interruption by the bass ushers in rhythmic guitar strumming, and we are off instead into “Hole Waimea” the song. Just as Waipuna reaches the end of the first verse, Mark Ho‘omalu calls his dancers to attention, and they launch seamlessly into “Hole Waimea” the chant, offered in Markʻs signature melodic treatment. Waipuna returns with the chorus of “Hole Waimea” the song. Then, equally seamlessly, the track heads into “Waikā” in a give-and-take between Mark and Waipuna. Anyone who knows the mele “Hole Waimea” knows that the song “Waikā” is a 20th-century setting of the second paukū of “Hole Waimea” the chant. Waipuna acknowledges this genealogy of the mele “Waikā” by returning to the chorus of the song “Hole Waimea,” wrapping “Waikā” back into its roots. Then Mark and dancers return with “Hoe Puna,” followed, again, by Waipuna singing the chorus of the song “Hole Waimea.” The track ends with a triumphant kāhea of a phrase attributed to Kamehameha I that has become an ‘ōlelo no‘eau–“Imua e nā pōki‘i!!” The track clocks in at 5:03, but it blitzes by in a flash, grounded throughout by the steady driving combination of ipu and rhythm guitar.
Many hula students know that the two mele “Hole Waimea” and “Hoe Puna” both appear in Nathaniel Emerson’s 1909 study Unwritten Literature of Hawaii, in the same chapter on “Hula Alaapapa.” What is less well known is that both mele appeared in the newspaper Ka Nupepa Kuokoa in October, 1866, as part of the same set of mele inoa dedicated to Kamehameha II. “Hole Waimea” was the first mele hula, and “Hoe Puna” is the sixth mele hula in the very same set.
Waipuna’s treatment is historically respectful, poetically speaking. The distinct homage, from my perspective, is located in their rhythmic approach. The rhythmic element is what adds musical sparkle for 21st-century listeners now experienced in hip hop, techno, world music, jazz, and other varieties of music available on the internet for our discovery and pleasure. Far from taking old mele and simply dressing them up in new threads, the three artists have taken old mele and woven them into a new fabric that places four settings of two original mele in dialogue.
What I would have given to have seen Waipuna on their Northern California CD release tour just before the CD was released in Hawai‘i. What I would have given to see “Kamehameha Trilogy” performed live with Mark Ho‘omalu! But thanks to recording technology, I can at least listen to this remarkable track that brings the poetic past and the musical future alive in the present.