Hawaiian trio highlights concert with hula and guest singer
Last Saturday at the Kahilu Theatre, the Oahu-based trio Ei Nei offered an enchanting evening filled with songs from their debut album Hui!, eight hula dancers, and a guest appearance from local singer Keana Bertelmann.
The trio features Dane Fujiwara (guitar), Grant Kono (guitar/ukulele), and ‘Ekolu Chang (upright electric bass), who are best known for their smooth falsetto harmonies, superb musicianship, and a repertoire of island standards that blends old-school Hawaiian music with a contemporary sound.
Their musical history together began in 2016 when a girlfriend suggested giving guitarist Dane Fujiwara a call to be the third member of the group. “That’s what we did, and never called anyone else,” remembered Kono. “It was kind of like a love triangle that worked out.”
When they were asked to play a Merrie Monarch fundraiser, it was time to create a band name. “They didn’t want something like ‘blah, blah, and friends,’” said Chang. “We wanted something simple like the title of Lena Machado’s classic song, ‘Ei Nei.’ It speaks about a personal connection; for us, it’s evolved into this unique connection between the audience and ourselves.”
The newly formed trio won a local talent search event, and their 2019 album debuted at #1 on the iTunes World Chart. The following year they received several Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award nominations and won the 2020 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Most Promising Artist.
With two weekly Waikiki gigs, they offer traditional mele and hula to locals and visitors. “We wear matching shirts and white pants; I think that brings back many memories for people at a time when music was that way. We want our music to be ‘hula-able,’” Fujiwara said.
And that was the case last Saturday at the Kahilu when they added Buzzy Histo, a local kumu hula, and eight of his dancers from his Kalikokalehua Hula Studio in Waimea. Histo is also a Waimea floral artist who provided beautiful stage arrangements for the two-hour performance.
Histo’s hula dancers brought the trio’s music to life and were featured on “Pua O Ka Makahala” and “Ei Nei.” Histo led his dancers on “He Hawaiʻi Au” in the show’s second half.
Waimea singer/songwriter Keana Bertelmann was given the spotlight in the first section of the concert with her original tune called “Nā Puʻu” and “Ho’onanea,” another Lena Machado song. Bertelsmann’s parents played music for lūʻau shows in the late 80s, and she felt it was a natural path for her to follow in their footsteps. Her debut album Ku’u Kulāiwi will be released on December 4.
Ei Nei returned to the stage for a well-deserved hana hou and performed the Beamer Brothers’ “Mr. Sun Cho Lee.”
Next year, Ei Nei is planning a follow-up album to Hui! “We’ve got a couple of singles here and there, and we’ll probably compile those on our second album,” Fujiwara said. “We’ll be a little more creative with this one and see what happens.”
Listen to an exclusive backstage interview with Ei Nei.
Notes & Links
Na Kuahii Kaulana | Pua O Kamakahala | Wailuku | Kaʻa Ahi Kahului | Hilo Hula | Molokai Sweet Home | Nā Puʻu | Ho’onanea |
Na ‘Ono o Ka ‘Aina | Crushed Flowers | Ei Nei | Koali | Keaukaha medley | Model T | He Hawaiʻi Au | Star of Gladness |
Mr. San Cho Lee
Concert date: 05/November/2022
Photos: ©2022 Steve Roby. Unless explicitly expressed otherwise, all images cannot be used, alone or in part, without expressed written permission.
About the author: Steven Roby is a music journalist, published author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.