Waipunaʻs self-titled release (Poki SP-9089) celebrates the groupʻs 10th anniversary. Originally a duo of Kale Hannahs and Matt Sproat, David Kamakahi came on board by the time of the groupʻs EP, Nāpili, released in 2013. Their 2014 release, E Mau Ke Aloha, remains in rotation on my playlists. So it was a given that this new release—their first since 2014—would be welcome.
Iʻll admit it took a few playings for things to start to groove. Chalk it up not to anything on the CD itself, but to the disruptions of reality drenched in multitasking and social media. You know how it goes—press play, return to a memo, before you know it track 4 is on, then get lost in Facebook, resurface to catch a phrase of track 7, answer some texts, and suddenly the CD is over. Repeat, and maybe bits of tracks 3, 8 and 11 break through into consciousness. And so it goes.
But after a few such listenings, I found my attention span getting longer. Then I started reaching for the liner notes to read up on individual songs. Then I began to read around the song I was listening to, then reaching over to click on repeat or previous track, and even restarting from the beginning. After a few times of this routine, I found myself listening from start to finish, and thoughts began welling up about themes. So back to the liner notes, then back to the start of the CD with the liner notes in hand.
So, Dear Readers, this post is about Waipunaʻs CD, but it is also about the rewards of taking in an album in its entirety and not simply cherry-picking out the favorite tracks and leaving behind the rest. (If anything, there is no filler on this CD. None, zip, nada. Everything is intentional. Everything.)
In the liner notes, I noticed that the terms wai and waiwai (or both together) followed each of the song titles, somewhat cryptically. A Skype conversation with Kale Hannahs this past May helped to tease out many streams of thought about how wai, waiwai, and waipuna are the keys to appreciating the arc pulsing throughout the entire CD, and grasping what this album offers.
Wai. Waiwai. Waipuna. On this CD, the theme of water flows. In abundance. Water is wealth; hence the Hawaiian term for wealth is “waiwai”—got plenty water. And a waipuna is a wellspring where, in Puakea Nogelmeierʻs poetic musing, “fresh water pours forth …from mist and rain to aquifer, stream and river … each one fostering life. A waipuna is a portal of that whole cycle, embodying its pulse and surge.”
Now consider how the songs are grouped using wai and waiwai:
Wai (only): “Heha Waipiʻo” (tr. 7) and “He Aloha Waiau” (tr. 8). Songs about water at places famed for water. With both songs, the connections are genealogical – moʻokūʻauhau – to the singers or to the haku mele.
Waiwai (only): “Lei Hala Pono O Kailua” (tr. 2), Na Aliʻi Puolani (tr. 3), “Maunalani” (tr. 6), “Ka Pono O Ka Hana” (tr. 9), “Hanohano No Ke Kukui” (tr. 11), “Bodysurfing” (tr. 12), “He Mele No Pēpē” (tr. 13), “Majesty” (tr. 14), “Shimanchu No Takara “ (tr. 15). In Kaleʻs words, “a song could be waiwai (wealth, treasure) without being about wai. So these songs celebrate relationships with folks dear to Waipuna over the years. For example, kumu hula and recording artist Tony Conjugacion wrote “Lei Hala Pono O Kailua” with Waipuna in mind; and “Hanohano No Ke Kukui” was written by Kale for kumu hula Ed Collier and his Halau o Nā Pua Kukui. “Majesty” features Kawika Kahiapoʻs majestic baritone/low tenor voice on Mattʻs momʻs favorite song. “Shimanchu No Takara,” learned in a post-concert karaoke session, is offered as a makana mahalo to the groupʻs Japanese fans, a hana hou afterparty to the CD. Wealth flows in more than one direction, from Waipuna as well as to them.
Wai and waiwai: “E Hoʻi Nā Wai” (tr. 1), “Waipuna” (tr. 4), “Koʻolau Uʻi” (tr. 5), “Nā Wai Kaulana” (tr. 10). Here is the heart of the collection. How can anyone riff on water without “Na Wai Kaulana”? Yup. “Koʻolau Uʻi” – this CD debuts another treasure from beloved haku mele Rev. Dennis Kamakahi. As if that genealogical connection werenʻt enough, Waipuna ramps up the relationship of Nā Koʻolau with the Aweau family, by featuring the inimitable Nathan Aweau breaking out into some serious basswork (Bootsy Collins fans, check in!).
This brings us to “E Hoʻi Nā Wai” and “Waipuna” which, to me, are the mele that anchor the entire album. “E Hoʻi Nā Wai” is Pueo Pataʻs pule for the restoration of water and water rights. He accomplishes this through an enumeration of various manifestations of wai, delivered in a really really cool recitation that is part tongue-twister, part game, and pure genius. It is the perfect mele to open a collection of wai- and waiwai-themed mele. Thus returning us to “Waipuna”—Puakea Nogelmeierʻs gift of a mele inoa name song to the group. After 10 years of performing, and four stellar CDs, these musicians have established their roles in the cycle of mele that nurtures, revitalizes, and replenishes our spirit, just as wai gives us life, and enriches life with treasures, connections, relationships, memories–waiwai.
In our conversation this past May, Kale reflected on thematic linkages. He said “we try to focus on the flow of the music” instead of crafting a narrative. We talked a bit about the current state of the music industry, especially about the decline of CDs as project as well as product, and music fansʻ shift towards cherry-picking individual songs over time-consuming effort required to engage deeply with a narrative arc over a thoughtfully-arranged collection of songs. Be that as it may, musicians like Waipuna are still investing in crafting a collection for which the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. And of course listeners are always free to find the connections that speak to them—as I have done here with Waipunaʻs latest CD.
Waipuna – a wellspring of life and abundance. Indeed.
Mahalo, Kale, for pulling over to the side of the road to talk story. Mahalo, Waipuna, for the waiwai.