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Hawaii’s Makaha Sons play San Diego’s North Park

24 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Monday, June 8, 2009

It was in the late ‘80s, when a sandy-blonde haole boy from the mainland first introduced me to a traditional Hawaiian band, which would become a lion in island music.

The group was the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, and the album was Ho’ola. It featured four great singers, including a sweet-sounding lead named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

Brother “Iz,” as he was called, would eventually became famous worldwide for his simple ukulele-and-singing rendition of “Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World.”

My friend made a cassette-tape recording of that album and gave it to me. At the time, my Hawaiian music tastes were limited to contemporary island groups who mostly sang in English. They were popular singers I heard growing up in Honolulu – Cecilio & Kapono, Kalapana and Melveen Leed, to name a few.

Like many of my generation, I didn’t care for Hawaiian-language music, since it seemed kind of fuddy duddy.

But I fell in love with the Makaha Sons’ album. Their lush harmonies, strong strums, soft melodies and beautiful Hawaiian lyrics (translated into English in the crib notes of the CD I ended up buying) had me listening over and over again.

Fast-forward to the late 2000s. I have traveled the world, worked in foreign cities and settled in San Diego, which has a large Hawaiian community.

The Makaha Sons have grown as well. They became a trio — Louis “Moon” Kauakahi, John Koko and Jerome Koko – after Brother Iz went solo in 1993. They dropped “Niihau” from their name, since it was Iz’s parents who were from the island namesake. They held prime places at Iz’s 1997 funeral. And they are still playing together after 33 years.

They have produced 22 albums, won numerous Hoku Awards (equivalent to the Hawaiian Grammies), played in all 50 U.S. states and Japan, performed at Carnegie Hall three times, appeared on the “Today Show” and sung the national anthem for a New England Patriots’ game in 2007.

And they have performed in San Diego every Christmas for some 15 years.

They are known for their rich harmonies, deep baritones, tight instrumentals and, of course, classic Hawaiian songs. They also have great showmanship and audience rapport.

This Friday, June 12, the Makaha Sons will play in North Park with a few friends, who also happen to be stars in Hawaiian entertainment – slack key guitarist Willie K., ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho & singer Tia Carrere and comedian Augie T. It is their first time playing here in the summer, after the Makaha Sons’ usual June venue in Hawaii got bumped by Mamma Mia.

Lucky us.

“It’s gonna be different than how we do our Christmas stuff,” said Jerome Koko, by phone from Honolulu. “More luau style, more laid back, more kanikapila.” Like a jam session.

San Diego audiences — which consist of Hawaiian transplants, as well as mainlander fans, said Koko — are likely to welcome the new show.

“We’ve been blessed when we go the mainland,” said Koko. “A lot (of Hawaiian ex-pats) miss it, after they move to the mainland and have to drive two to four hours to go to a concert. In Hawaii, everything is here. They kinda go, ‘we’ll catch them later.’”

Yeah, that’s me.

In the 80s, I was grateful to my haole (white) friend from far away for introducing me to the Makaha Sons of Niihau, who were in my own backyard on Oahu.

Now, I am thrilled to be able to see the Makaha Sons perform in my town in San Diego.

Other performers:

Willie K.

Daniel Ho & Tia Carrere

Augie T.

San Diego hula halaus dancing at the show:

Healii’s Polynesian Revue

Na Pua Ilima o Kehaulani

Halau o Pualani

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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