The 25 Greatest Hawaii Albums of the New Century
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2) Makani Oluolu
Na Palapalai, 2002
This Hilo falsetto group took its name from native ferns, one of the most prized adornments among hula dancers. “We thought if we took that name, people would favor our music,” says member Kuana Torres Kahele.
It worked, or at least it didn’t hurt. Na Palapalai had been performing together since 1995, but when the group released this debut album in 2002, it felt like an exciting new generation had just burst onto the Hawaiian music scene. “The energy level was just explosive,” says panelist Keola Donaghy. “They were breathing life into these old hula compositions. There was a race-to-the-finish feel to a lot of their songs.”
Most of the tracks were revived standards from composers such as Bill Lincoln and John Almeida, but the trio’s originals impressed as well. “Ke Anu O Waimea” quickly became a hula favorite, not only in Hawaii, but abroad; Kahele says it remains the most danced hula song in Japan.
Na Palapalai’s combination of youthful vigor and cultural expertise turned out to be part of a larger trend—they were soon joined by artists such as Raiatea Helm and Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole in releasing innovative Hawaiian-language albums—and by 2005, HONOLULU Magazine was referring to the movement as the New Traditionalists. Things would continue to evolve and grow, but Makani Oluolu was in many ways the turning point.
3) Alone In Iz World
Israel Kamakawiwoole, 2001
Bruddah Iz’s brilliant musical career was sadly cut short when he passed away in 1997, at the age of 38. Luckily, just about every studio minute he spent with producer Jon de Mello got recorded to tape—outtakes, banter, lighthearted covers. Jon de Mello says he waited a couple of years before digging into the mountain of archived studio recordings. “I had to give it a little bit of space,” he says. “There was a lot of vibrating heart stuff. I was there, so when I hear the audio track, I can picture the room, and what he was doing. I can picture him telling stories and cracking jokes. Listening to the tracks again, it felt like he was in the room sometimes.”
The result was this album, a mix of simple studio takes accompanied only by Iz’s uke, and reworked songs, embellished by newly recorded instrumentation. It was no replacement for having Iz still around, but for millions of fans, the unheard material was a revelation.
Kuana Torres Kahele, 2011
Kaunaloa, the first solo release by Na Palapalai member Kuana Torres Kahele, grew out of a promise Kahele made to his mother before she passed away, that he would make an album of his own. “My mom has always been my backbone,” he says. “Many times when I’m singing a song, I close my eyes and draw on a memory, and it’s usually a memory of my mother.” The result is, as Mountain Apple president Leah Bernstein says, “One of the most touching and complete Hawaiian albums released in the past 12 years.”
Hear more from Israel Kamakawiwoole, Raiatea Helm, Brothers Cazimero and Kealii Reichel in our web exclusive video.