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Tia Carrere grows from babelicious to lush Hawaiian

2 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Monday, June 15, 2009

You might remember Tia Carrere from “Wayne’s World,” as the babelicious rocker. Or you might know her from “Relic Hunter,” as the sexy Sydney Fox. You might even have seen her in Playboy, in the best-selling issue of 2003.

But these days, Tia Carrere is showing her softer side. She’s singing Hawaiian-style music.

The singer and actress performed at San Diego’s Birch North Park Theater this weekend, as part of a Hawaiian music concert. She performed with Daniel Ho, an accomplished slack-key guitarist and ukulele player, who produced three albums with her.

The show also featured Hawaiian legends The Makaha Sons, slack-key guitar master Willie K., comedian Augie T., San Diego’s Ohana Plus and three San Diego hula troupes.

“This is a wonderful night of Hawaiian music,” Carrere said, during a break at the concert. “I’m honored to be sharing the stage with these guys.”

Carrere and Ho

Carrere and Ho showcased songs from their two albums, “Hawaiiana” and “Ikena,” which won a 2009 Grammy. Dressed in a loose, aloha-print dress, Carrere took to the stage with ease, while Ho’s solo playing offered a beautiful accompaniment.

Carrere’s rich voice and Ho’s elegant compositions resonated with simple sophistication. For the haiku-like song, “Welo,” they were joined by the San Diego-based hula group, Halau o Pualani, creating a visual poetry.

Hawaiian albums

Hawaii-born Carrere started going back to her roots in 2002, as the voice of Lilo’s sister in Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch.”

In 2007, she released her first Hawaiian music album, “Hawaiiana,” produced and co-performed with Ho. Four-time Grammy Award winner Ho — who plays guitar, ukulele and piano — frequently performed in San Diego in the 1990s with the jazz band Kilauea.

Ho and Carrere have known each other since age 14, when they attended sister-brother private schools in Honolulu. Growing up, they played in a band together, with Carrere as the lead singer.

A few years ago, after reconnecting in Los Angeles where they both live, Ho and Carrere decided to create an album that recalled the songs of their youth. The critically-acclaimed “Hawaiiana” was nominated for a Grammy.

“It was born of wanting to work together… and playing songs that we loved as children,” Carrere said.

For their second album, Ho wanted to create original Hawaiian-language songs. He engaged Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman — a prominent Hawaiian music professor at the University of Michigan — to write song lyrics. To prepare for the album, Ho and Carrere studied the Hawaiian language with Stillman.

The songs from “Ikena” range from playful to soulful. One ditty celebrates Hawaii’s foods, such as Spam. An elegant hymn pays tribute to America. One chant honors “Earth Mother.” The album won a Grammy in February for Best Contemporary Hawaiian.

Their third album together, “Henani,” is due out in July.

“Each song is a poem,” Carrere said.

Recent films

Carrere returned to Hawaii to shoot her latest film, “You May Not Kiss the Bride,” starring Rob Schneider. The romantic comedy is due out in 2010.

“It’s a wacky film,” Carrere said. “It was so much fun being back in Hawaii and doing a project like this.”

She is also working on a film based on the life of Rell Sunn, the first professional Hawaiian woman surfer. Carrere wrote, directed and produced “Wave Dancer,” which begins shooting in January.

Carrere relates to Sunn. “She was of the land… the ocean,” said Carrere. “She was someone who was living an authentic life and found happiness there.”

A love letter

The singer’s return to Hawaiian music is a way to share with her daughter, she said. Carrere had her 3-1/2 year-old daughter Bianca with husband Simon Wakelin, a photojournalist.

“It seems I’ve come full circle, coming back to Hawaii, and cherishing all the things that aren’t as available to me now… the music, the people, the relationships — and Spam!

“It’s really great to document that on a record and share that with my daughter, so she knows where I come from and what’s important to me,” Carrere said. “‘Hawaiiana’ was a love letter to my daughter.”

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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