of a Love Supreme
Hapa Concert at Merkin Hall
April 4, 2007
Reviewed by William S.
Sunny beaches, lush flora,
and welcoming Polynesians evoke images all too familiar
to American mainlanders. But, wrap these distinctive
images in a package of appealing fusion jazz, bass
and slack-key guitar acuity, and traditional Polynesian
rhythms and you have the musical group, Hapa. Hapa—which
in the Hawaiian language is idiomatic for mixed
ethnicity—is currently the Island’s
most popular Hawaiian-music group. Currently composed
of two Islanders, Charles Ka’upu and Nathan
Aweau, and local New Jersey boy, Barry Flanagan,
Hapa has taken Polynesian world music to new levels
of international acclaim and accessibility.
On April 4 at New York City’s
Merkin Concert Hall, Hapa excited and instilled
pride in a performance heavily attended by Hawaiian
transplants. Scattered through out Merkin Hall were
young ladies and a few men attired in leis and hula
skirts, humming and swaying soulfully to the well-known
One of the most successful instrumental
pieces of the evening was “Olinda Road,”
which is a mix of traditional Polynesian music,
pop and Pat Metheny?like stylings. Flanagan is obviously
influenced by fusion jazz artists of 70s and 80s,
and in “Olinda Road” has produced a
work that evokes images of seaside excursions and
In “Kaopuiki Aloha,”
Flanagan shows his versatility with slack-key guitar.
The slack-key guitar technique that is used in this
work was originally brought to Hawaii by Spanish
cowboy migrant workers (paniolo) of the mid-1800s.
Flanagan has taken this style of guitar playing—originally
played softly—into the 21st century by employing
more aggressive techniques, as well as adding elements
of bluegrass and steel drum.
“Lei Manoa,” a beautiful
love song by Flanagan, alludes to love found in
the misty, azure-colored mountainside. Aweau, singing
in a rich falsetto (leo ki’e ki’e),
serenades the audience with lyrics that suggest
tranquility and loving communion with nature. Aweau,
an Award-winning leo ki’e ki’e singer,
has one of the most beautiful male falsettos currently
heard on concert stages. His falsetto has a sensual,
creamy vibrato that that skillfully connects every
note and phrase.
Hula dancers interrupt the lyrics
and caress the space around them with simple, inviting
movements, enhancing this alluring song. This dance
idiom doesn’t use pyrotechnical feats or complicated
choreography to tell story or entertain, but relies
on clear, unadulterated movements that come from
a spiritual center, transporting the audience to
a welcoming place of tranquility and understanding.
“Kaulana Na Pua” (Famous
Are the Flowers) is an anthem composed in 1893 by
Queen Liliuokalani’s lady-in-waiting, Ellen
Pendergast, while the Queen was imprisoned. This
emanicapation song was written to empower generations
of Hawaiian children. The anthem tells Hawaiian
that they should hold on to their culture and endure
U.S. annexation, reject American wealth and look
to the land for their strength.
Hapa does a more modern approach
to this liberation song by adding slack-key guitar
and modern-styled vocals. Charles Ka’upu who
humorously narrates through much of the evening’s
performance, respectfully retells the story of Queen
Liliuokalani’s dethroning and the struggle
for Hawaiian independence. In his retelling, the
pain and the pride of Hawaiians is made tangible
and connects vividly to this famous anthem.
Whether told through liberation
songs, instrumental works, romantic ballads, or
just plain, old feel-good jives, in essence, Hapa’s
message is love: a love that can be found through
redemption, freedom or being one with nature and
the universe. And a love supreme it is.