Celebrating his 30th year of sharing hula and music on Maui, kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero will present a spectacular show in the Castle Theater on Saturday, featuring a number of special guests and many dancers from Halau Kauluokala.
"I'm calling it Celebration of the Heart, it's Uluwehi celebrates 30 years, faith, hope and aloha," the revered kumu and entertainer explains. "Those three words are part of my foundation. I'm having my kumu come, Peter Pekelo Day from Keanae, and kumu Keali'i Reichel and Onuffre Eleccion, who was part of a group that Keali'i and I started called Maui O Kama.
"At the concert we will be doing the foundation of all these chants that we have been doing for the past for 30 years taught to us by kumu Pekelo from his kumus before him," Uluwehi continues.
Uluwehi Guerrero plays piano at his Kahului home.
JON WOODHOUSE photo
Born in Wailuku, Uluwehi began studying hula in the late 1970s with Peter Pekelo Day. "The halau was called Halau O Ka La, School of the Sun, to be reflective of Haleakala," he says. "We answered an ad in The Maui News that was seeking men and women who are interested in doing the ancient dances of Hawaii. With the renaissance of Hawaiian music, hula and language in the late '70s there was a lot of movement going on as far as people wanting to find their identity, what it is to be Hawaiian, what sets me apart from the rest of the cultures that are here as truly a Hawaiian person?
"The classroom was filled and it was all young Hawaiians, all there for the same purpose. As far as we knew growing up with hula it was not traditional then, it was hula studios. They did Waikiki hulas and a mixture of Maori and of course Tahitian. It was pretty much what you find in the luau shows, the whole plethora of Polynesian culture, but not exclusively Hawaiian.
"Keali'i and I met through joining Pekelo's halau in 1978. We were there seven days a week, five hours a day and it was so intense, and he kept us so hungry that we didn't care about anything else. It was what started the flame in us, the torch of knowledge which eventually became a passion. We still had to work and eat and make money, but everything else became consumed in hula."
After a couple of years of intense study, when Pekelo decided to move to Hawaii island, the two students wondered about their next step.
"We decided to take this foundation, this fire, this desire and we were going to feed it and we would do whatever we could to learn from different masters and try to continue the foundation that was set up for us," he remembers.
"We founded Hula O Ka Makani Wili Makaha O Kaua'ula, the hula school of the fierce winds of Kaua'ula Valley, which is the valley to the side of Lahainaluna, where Keali'i went to school. It was an exciting time. We worked together for 20 years and dedicated our lives, and we were blessed to have guidance of kupunas who saw our drive and wanted us to do the right thing. So sometimes we stepped out of the box to take a chance and they would tell us, this is traditional and that's not traditional.
"Keali'i was more staunch with that, he was traditional. And because I taught auwana, which is more free in movement, I liked to push the envelope. Our relationship worked well because I kind of pushed in certain areas and he was the one who wanted to make sure that it was traditional, and we both did."
At first the two kumu only taught traditional hula.
"When we first started teaching Keali'i was kind of the head of it and we would only teach hula kahiko," he explains. "We were like hula snobs. It was like auwana, we don't do that, we do only traditional hula. Auwana is not the real hula. But Keali'i knew I always had a love for singing Hawaiian music and so I started singing."
From this desire came the formation of the music trio Maui O Kama.
"We needed to have music incorporated into our hula auwana," he recalls. "It was funny because Keali'i chanted, but he couldn't sing and he couldn't play any instrument. I sat down with him one day and said, you chant so well, you must be able to sing or hold a note. I said, why don't you take a small part singing and I started coaching him.
"We met Onoffre (Eleccion) through auntie Iola Balubar. We called him Kimo and Keali'i was Carlton and I was Rodney back then. So it was Carlton, Rodney and Kimo, the only non-Hawaiian with a Hawaiian name.
"Kimo was on ukulele and I was on ukulele and Keali'i was doing nothing. So I said, you just can't stand there, but he didn't know how to play the ukulele. So we got the easiest instrument for him to play, the autoharp, which is a strange mix to have, two ukuleles and autoharp.
"We sang for our halau and then we got our first gig out at the Kapalua Bay Hotel. Our pay was eating brunch and $25. Then we got our first night-time gig at Piero's (now Casanova). He hired us on Sundays to do a Hawaiian night. It was $25 and all the coke we could drink. But it really wasn't all about the money, it was the passion that we had and the love we had and I think that is missing (today). A lot of people are looking at what they learned in Hawaiian culture as a way to make money, which was not our motivation. We truly loved what we did and the more we learned the more strong it made us feel as Hawaiians."
After 20 years teaching together the two kumu went their separate ways and formed their own halau. In addition, Keali'i became a very successful entertainer releasing a number of superb, Na-Hoku-winning albums, while Uluwehi also captivated audiences with his angelic falsetto singing, most recently winning the Hoku for Best Traditional Hawaiian Album for his wonderful "Uluwehi Sings Na Mele Hula Aloha - Beloved Hula Songs."
Now he's about to present the latest in a string of extraordinary concerts dedicated to perpetuating Hawaiian culture.
"We have 300 students, but not all of them are in the show," he notes. "We have five schools in Japan, four in Hokkaido and one in Tokyo, and some of the students are coming. About seven are performing in the show and the rest will dance outside at the pre-show along with our children. We have about 80 children who will perform in the pre-show. So everybody has a part. It's really exciting for me. It's going to be magical.
"The celebration is not really about me," he concludes. "It's about being grateful for all that has come in our past. We're honoring our kumu and the ways of our ancestors. I know I'm here because of the love and support of those who have gone before us. When I honor them they continue to inspire me through dreams, the movement of the air, the whisper of the wind, through the gentleness of the rain. When I feel inspired to compose they are speaking to me. They bless me with inspiration."
* Kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero and Halau Kauluokala present "Celebration of the Heart" at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Pre-show entertainment begins at 6 p.m. in the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard. Tickets are $25, $35, and $45, plus applicable fees. Call 242-7469.
"Fleetwood's wouldn't be Fleetwood's without music," Mick Fleetwood emphasized introducing the first of four evenings of stellar music at his Lahaina restaurant last week. Kicking off on Aug. 23, the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band delivered their most riveting performance so far staged on Maui.
The group's phenomenal lead guitarist, Rick Vito, seemed especially energized roaring through Mac classics like "Rattlesnake Shake" and "World Turning," and teaming with blues rocker Jonny Lang for a few songs including a sizzling "Black Magic Woman." For a finale they closed with a sublime version of Peter Green's instrumental "Alabatross."
It was definitely rock star night with the addition of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to the festivities on Aug. 24. This benefit for the Childhelp organization packed the roof top and main restaurant floor, with entertainment starting on top and later gravitating downstairs. Willie K opened with bassist Jerry Byers, followed by a Barefoot Natives' reunion with Eric Gilliom. The master of the house then stepped up, adding percussion. And then it was Steven's time, dueting with Willie on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and enthralling all with Aero's classic "Dream On."
As the night moved on the action opened on the second floor with the MF Blues Band and soon expanded to embrace the rest of the Island Rumours Band with vocalist Gretchen Rhodes and Willie and Eric. From Mac gems like "The Chain" and "Go Your Own Way" to Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed," the Rumours mightily rocked. And then it was Jonny Lang's turn to ignite the evening with Muddy Water's "40 days and Nights." All this led up to Tyler stepping on stage to thunderous applause, kicking off with ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" and hitting Areosmith's hits "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way," with Maui guitarist Joe Caro ably filling in for Joe Perry. And they capped the night with a rousing Beatles' "Come Together" and "I'm Down."
Friday and Saturday saw the Island Rumours (plus Henry Kapono and Amy Gilliom) and King Paris complete the grand opening. The celebration left you feeling Lahaina's music scene is being revitalized. And it's all due to Mick Fleetwood's magnanimous spirit and his desire to contribute to our island. As a creative catalyst he's providing a perfect haven for other great musicians to play on Maui.