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.
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?