The 25 Greatest Hawaii Albums of the New Century
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21) E Apo Mai
Nathan Aweau, 2008
For 16 years, Aweau played bass for Don Ho, and, for eight years, he performed beside Barry Flanagan as the Hawaiian half of the group Hapa. In between, he set up a recording studio in his bathroom and produced this album, singing his own backup vocals and playing all the instruments on every track but one. It was his first attempt at writing songs in Hawaiian, and he feels he butchered the language, but he didn’t do enough damage to prevent him from winning Hoku awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year and Contemporary Album of the Year. He also set the standard for what a talented musician with a 16-track recorder can do in a bathroom studio.
"People come to see us live,” says Bobby Moderow Jr., Maunalua’s lead vocalist, “and they always say, ‘You sound just like the album!’” They don’t mean the second, third or fourth albums, they mean this eponymous first one, exquisitely recorded on analog tape. It’s a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get production—a Hawaiian trio jamming on slack key guitars, singing harmonies and falsetto, and pouring heart and soul into every song. “What shows through the most is the innocence of the music itself,” Moderow says. “It’s just three guys playing Hawaiian music.”
23) Ke Ala Beauty
Na Palapalai, 2004
It can be tough to follow up your first album, especially one as explosive as Makani Oluolu. But Na Palapalai created another classic, tweaking their sound only slightly. Kuana Torres Kahele says, “The second album was more melodic, more on the slower side. It catered more to the hula people. We continued to innovate from there on out, but our heart, our mission plan, it never changes.”
24) Local Girls
Nobody expected much for this album when it came out, including the artists, Lei Melket and Mailani Makainai. At the time, hip hoppers, Jawaiian gangstas and the like dominated local radio, which seemed to be no place for former Catholic schoolgirls singing bouncy, original, pop love songs. But Local Girls hit big, touching Hawaii’s soft spot for homegrown talent with creative voices and a light, accessible, Island sound. Up to this point, Melket and Makainai’s greatest success had been winning the talent show at Maryknoll School. As UH students, they were playing at a cyber café in Puck’s Alley when local musician Jon Yamasato persuaded them to record. “We just went for it,” says Melket. “We thought if we didn’t do it, we’re going to regret it. And that’s all we really had in mind.”
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