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George Kahumoku's Unexpected Grammy Nomination

December 5, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Recently, my spouse C. and I visited the Edward Bailey House Museum in Wailuku for a Maui Historical Society fund-raising event. It was a Christmas seasonal affair, so many people were searching for gifts among tables filled with pottery, books, leis, jewelry

Slack-key musician George Kahumoku Jr. was playing and singing, and we took seats under Wailuku’s ever-changing strong sunlight, sudden swift clouds, soothing cool winds from green Iao Valley. He spoke about his life and all the colorful incidents that led to his musical career (including a stint working for Honolulu car salesman Lippy Espinda – I recall his television commercials where the old-timer promoted used cars next to a ventriloquist’s dummy).

C. and I stayed for a hula halau and enjoyed the keiki dancing very much. Later during a windy and rainy afternoon we ate croissant sandwiches at the Maui Bakery along Wailuku’s Vineyard Street, and C. bought some cookies and we were pleasantly surprised how buttery and light the cookies tasted.

A few days later I met George carrying his 12-string guitar (along with his ubiquitous box of organic bananas) in a parking lot, and he told me the good news: he had been nominated for his fifth Grammy award. His face and voice expressed much surprise, as he said that although Hawaii's musicians are no longer eligible for a Hawaii Grammy Award, they can compete in the new, umbrella “Regional Roots” category. George’s album "Wao Akua: The Forest of the Gods*," was nominated along with other albums highlighting polka, zydeco, and Cajun (yes, all with American musical roots).

In a newspaper interview George asserted that he found inspiration for his album "Wao Akua: The Forest of the Gods" while teaching an ethnobotany class on Maui (on the other hand, it’s rare to find a botanist teaching guitar, but that’s George). George explained: “The idea was to present music that if you went into the forest you would like to listen to. . .”

In other words, Hawaiian trees, shrubs, flowers gave him insights to develop musical compositions that he integrated into an album. George derived inspiration from Nature – that’s a simple analysis, yet he has a multi-disciplinary approach, combining technical abilities with spirituality and personal recollections, emotions in the 24 melodies — several George originals, two compositions by Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku Kalaho'olewa (Kaua i ka Huahua'i and Moanike'ala) and one by Queen Lili’uokalani (Pauahi 'O Kalani), plus 11 “traditional” Hawaiian songs whose authorship is either disputed or unknown.

In George’s words: “(The album) includes some family classics as well as newly composed melodies inspired from my recent trek through a Hawaiian forest. Just as there are different layers in the forest: the ground cover, ferns and bushes, understory, and canopy; these songs, too, are representative of the various layers of my musical life. Whenever I play an instrumental “background music” gig, I often drift into a zone of reflection that flows into a spiritual realm where I hope the listener can follow. This CD is meant to delight and to instill a sense of peace, harmony, and lokahi (unity) for the sounds and the silence found within the Wao Akua, the Forest of the Gods.”

Much congratulations to you, George, a fellow Fern Elementary keiki, and best of luck in Los Angeles next spring.

* Four songs from the album are featured in the George Clooney movie "The Descendants," and another was used in an episode of "Hawaii Five-0." Spouse C. is still waiting patiently for the movie to come to Maui. Note: The “Regional Roots” winner will be announced at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards Show, held in the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 12 2012.

See a review on an album by Stephen Inglis and Dennis Kamakahi on Moloka’i: The Falling Teardrops of Kalaupapa

See the legacy of Richard Ho’opi’i and Hawaiian falsetto: Richard Ho’opi’i, Leo Ki’e Ki’e and Memories of Kahakuloa Village

See a review on George Kahamoku’s contributions in various fields, and the Hawaiian music renaissance: My New Friend George Kahumoku Jr.

 
 

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