With the final ballot nominations released for the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, it’s the perfect time to appreciate some of the Big Island’s great talent and listen to their latest releases. Winners in all categories will be announced at the 44th Annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in September. Here are 5 picks to check out now.
Waipunalei by Kainani Kahaunaele (Māhuahua Music LLC) – 10 nominations.
The artist with the most nominations this year is Kainani Kahaunaele. Four of those nominations are in musical categories including Song of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Hawaiian Music Album of the Year, and Album of the Year. Two other nominations are in Hawaiian Language Performance and Liner Notes awards. Kahaunaele also received three nominations in the same category, Haku Mele, otherwise known as the Hawaiian Language Composers Award.
Michael Grande is also nominated for the Hawaiian Engineering Award for Kahaunaele’s album, Waipunalei. Listen to Waipunalei on Apple Music.
Waipunalei represents fresh mele and grounded Hawaiian perspectives with familiar and contemporary musical flavors. It is important because it documents current events in, around, and beyond Hawaiʻi and serves Hawaiʻi, its people, and Hawaiian music enthusiasts around the world. Another important factor is that it involved many incredibly talented musicians and other industry professionals to create the magic. I loved the creative process and look forward to more live performances featuring mele of Waipunalei. – Kainani Kahaunaele
Your Refrain by Maggie Herron (Herron Song Records) – 3 nominations.
Hawaii’s Award-Winning Vocalist, Pianist, and Songwriter Maggie Herron’s Sixth Album, Your Refrain, is a gorgeous, witty, heart-bearing set of original songs written with her late daughter, Dawn Herron, to whom she dedicates the album. Recorded during the shelter in place order, the album features a dazzling cast of collaborators, including pianist Larry Goldings, guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, and arrangers Geoffrey Keezer, Gillian Margot, and Bill Cunliffe.
Listen to Your Refrain on Apple Music.
Your Refrain was recorded during the pandemic. I was in the beginning stages of recording the songs for the album, and my daughter, Dawn Herron, was the lyricist. She passed away suddenly in April of 2020. Continuing to finish the album was very difficult, but it kept me from completely breaking down. Your Refrain, the title track, was a song that Dawn and I wrote for her firstborn son, Nalu, who died shortly after his birth. I am honored beyond words to have our song nominated for a Nā Hōkū Hānohano Award for Song of The Year. – Maggie Herron
Big Island Soul Dennis & Christy Soares – 3 nominations.
John Berger of the Star-Advertiser writes: “Big Island Soul is this year’s fifth full-length album for Hilo residents, Dennis and Christy Soares. All 10 songs are originals. Several are expository slice-of-life vignettes. “My Extended Family” describes a long-ago hike to a pillbox. “Liliuokalani Gardens,” about a visit to a Hilo landmark, is delivered in a similar stream-of-consciousness style. “Watching My Pineapples Grow” is a step-by-step account of how to grow a pineapple at home.” Listen to Big Island Soul on Apple Music.
Big Island Soul was the 6th project produced in 2020. It was intended to be an Island Contemporary CD from the start. The tracks “Island Girl,” “My Extended Family,” “Watching My Pineapples Grow,” “On Hawaiian Time,” and “Beach Time” are all true to varying degrees. We were hopeful it would make the HOKU Finals and it did, along with 2 other projects.
– Dennies Soares
Play That Disco by Average Joes – Rock Album of the Year nomination.
During the pandemic, many bands and musicians found new ways to share their music, such as Facebook Live and Zoom shows. However, for the Hilo-based band the Average Joes, these unusual circumstances turned out to be a mixed blessing. Listen to Play That Disco on Spotify.
Recording an album was a bucket list item we had from the formation of the band in 2016, but our live show schedule didn’t allow us to have the time to work on it. When the pandemic hit, our performance schedule came to a halt, and so we ended up parting ways with some of the members and proceeded to write and record the album. Play That Disco is important because it kept us musically active, and our bassist Scott Sayers lost both parents in 2020 so it provided a much-needed distraction for him as well. We decided to submit the album to H.A.R.A. with zero expectations, so just making the final ballot is already a win for us. – Guitarist Ryan Sabate
“Nopu Ka Manaʻo” by Hāwane Rios – Hawaiian Single of The Year nomination.
Hāwane Rios is a Mauna Kea Protector and award-winning singer/songwriter from Puʻukapu, Waimea on the Island of Hawaiʻi. She was raised from an early age in the traditional art forms of chant and dance of her people which created a strong foundation for her passion for music and songwriting. She believes that music is a powerful catalyst for change and is moved to write and sing songs with a healing and unifying message. Listen to “Nopu Ka Manaʻo” on Spotify.
I am humbled and deeply moved to announce that “Nopu ka Mana‘o” has been nominated for Hawaiian Single of the Year for the 2021 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards! Mahalo piha to the HARA ‘Ohana for voting for our mele to be placed on the final ballot. Mahalo piha to Saddle Road Productions for inviting me to write to the hauntingly beautiful track that they created in honor of the Mauna. We dedicate this mele to the Goddesses of Mauna Kea and to all wāhine to stand to protect our sacred mountain. – Hāwane Rios
MUSE by Jesse Snyder – Jazz Album of the Year nomination.
Jesse Snyder is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, and vocalist and is one of the most sought-after musicians in Hawai’i for both live performances and recording sessions. Jesse plays tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute, drums, percussion and sings for a range of musical genres including jazz, neo-soul, R&B, reggae, hip hop, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and contemporary jazz. Listen to MUSE on Spotify.
My solo vocal album, MUSE, features Maggie Herron, Kimo Cornwell, Dwight Tokumoto, Curt Warren, Matt Spencer, Loren Wilken, Brian McCree, and Michael Surprenant. I sang and played the tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute, and drums on the album. I’ve put my best effort forward and feel that it is a world-class product. As the horn section arranger of the Hawaiian Swing band Kahulanui, recipients of the 2018 Jazz Album of the Year, I gained the inspiration to do a solo album. MUSE was the result.
– Jesse Snyder
Click here for the full list of finalists named for the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
Photo: Bruce Mars