There’s been a bit of a dry spell concert-wise in Honokaa since promoter Lazer Bear recently went into hibernation. Thanks to Hilo’s reggae station KWXX and Maui’s event production company HI Tide Nation, the normally silent streets of Honokaa were rejuvenated with hordes of concertgoers looking for parking and something to eat. Where were the food trucks?
Pomaika’I Bartolme, one-half of the KWXX-FM morning show, acted as MC for Saturday’s People’s Theatre concert. She took an informal poll with the crowd (mostly young women, 14-24) to see where people came from. Overwhelmingly, most of the applause and cheers came from Hilo residents. Kona – crickets. Bartolme kept the energy level high during set changes and engaged the crowd with a twerking contest. Mostly women participated, however, Billy Kervick, Senior account manager at KWXX, surprised us all with his skillful moves.
The husband and wife duo, Rabbitt & Kanoa, opened the concert with a very mellow set of music. L.A. born and Maui-based modern soul singer Rabbitt has a sultry voice much like Jill Scott. Her self-titled debut album was released last month and husband Kanoa (Kukaua) produced it.
With loops, pedals, and that finger-in-the-cheek pop sound we used to do as kids, Kanoa was a one-man-band for this show. He does have a five-man group called Kanoa of Gomega and an album called Makin Thru The Breakthru. After a 30-minute set, Rabbitt left the stage and let Kanoa solo for another twenty.
A torrent of teenage girls dropped anchor in front of the stage when hometown Honokaa boy Preston Lee began to perform. There was a delay in getting him set up, and he had to borrow an acoustic guitar from Anuhea’s band. Although billed as a family-friendly event, Lee started dropping F-bombs two minutes into his set. “Politically, I don’t give a f*ck who you like… I don’t give a sh*t if you like Trump, I just want you to be a good person,” ranted Lee in his intro for the song “Body English.” Moms and even the inflated rainbow unicorns that surround him on stage began to blush.
Lee said he lives in Los Angeles now, has been touring for the past seven years, and mentioned this was his first (paid) concert in Honokaa – he was on the bill for a July 19 block party bash that celebrated Honokaa High’s 130th anniversary.
When every musician hits the 10-year mile-marker in their career, it’s a momentous occasion, and 33-year-old Hawaiian reggae singer Anuhea is taking time to celebrate with a new greatest hits’ compilation album titled A10: Best of Anuhea and a multi-island tour to promote it.
The Maui-born performer Rylee Anuheake’alaokalokelani Jenkins goes by the much simpler mononym Anuhea, which roughly translates as a cool breeze of the Maui flower called heavenly rose. In 2008, she left her job as a waitress at Charley’s in Pāʻia, and temporarily called San Francisco her home. She started a band and played the coffee house circuit in the Bay Area.
When that didn’t work out, Anuhea headed back to Maui and began to develop her signature sound – a combo of island reggae, pop, R&B, and Jawaiian. She was thrilled when her first song, “Charismatic S.O.B.,” debuted on a local artist’s radio show, albeit in the middle of the night. At that point, she started to hustle her career on social media with videos on YouTube and updates on MySpace. (Yes, she’s still there.) Anuhea took music business guidance from her aunty, Nalani Jenkins, who was in the popular female Hawaiian music trio Na Leo Pili Nehana. Anuhea acted as her manager, promoter and booking agent until she met Warren Wyatt, who remains her business partner to this day. It’s been 10 years since Anuhea’s first album won a Na Hoku Hanohano Award, and this year she won another Na Hoku in the Female Vocalist of the Year category.
Her fanbase, known as “Anu-jammers,” was happy to see her come on stage around 9:30. They brought ukuleles to have signed and knew the lyrics to every song Anuhea sang. She brought out her soon-to-be 7-year-old son Ikena Jack and sang a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” The song has been translated to Hawaiian (“Kou ʻAno Kūʻiʻo”), and Anuhea’s just released a music video for the track. There’s a part at the end where the tempo picks up, and just like he did at the recent Hoʻolauleʻa concert, Ikena Jack broke out into some mad dance moves.
Toward the end, Anuhea brought up performers Kanoa & Rabbit, Pomaika’I, and Preston Lee to join her on a few songs. Lee seemed excited to be back on stage — when he opened a can of Vodka Mule it sprayed out like champagne and left a noticeable puddle in front of the guitar player’s effects pedals.
Much credit should be given to Anuhea’s talented band for keeping the groove going: Jason Tupuola Aiono – (bass), Caleb Shields (drums), Jaden Jumawan (guitar), and Duncan Bamsey (sax).
Anuhea’s set ended around 11, a late one for those who had the long drive home to Hilo. Some stayed for the post-show meet-and-greet in the theatre’s lobby. Downtown Honokaa soon returned to a normal quiet Saturday night where the only nightlife comes from the tiny Public House pub.
Only Man In The World | Crown Royal | Big Deal | True Colors (Kou ‘Ano Ku’i’o) | I Just | Come Over Love | Like The Way It Feels | Shoulders | Mr. Mellow | Simple Love Song | Higher Than The Clouds |
Is This Love
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby