Last Friday’s Hawaiian Style Band’s concert at the Kahilu Theatre was a mix of nostalgia, talking story, ‘ohana, and sovereignty.
HSB began in the early ‘90s when struggling Oahu musicians Wade Cambern and Bryan Kessler came up with a catchy radio jingle for Local Motions, a surfwear company. It took some time before the guitarists formed a band or had any idea where their career was headed. Singer Sistah Robi Kahakalau liked their commercial so much she called up her favorite station and requested it like it was a current single. “That’s how much fun that song was!” Kahakalau told the audience. With a little encouragement, the Cambern-Kessler duo reworked and retitled it. The result was the radio hit “Live a Little.”
The talented pair added Kahakalau along with a revolving band for its first three albums. Their signature harmonies and special brand of contemporary Hawaiian music resulted in multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, but the band went on a hiatus after recording a studio album in 1995. As Kessler described it, “The rest was sort of history, with a big break in between.” Now, they admit to doing more gigs in the past 25 years, especially with Henry Kapono’s Artist2Arist series concerts.
HSB also actively pursue solo projects. You may even recall that Kahakalau was a special guest at Brother Noland’s Kahilu concert last March. Friday’s show included core members Cambern, Kessler, and Kahakalau, along with a top-notch backing band featuring Alex Morrison (bass), Shawn Pimental (drums), and Michael Grande (keyboards). Grande, as you may know, was in the original HSB line-up 25 years ago. In the second half of the show, hula dancer Malia Mahi joined the six-piece band on two songs – “Wahine ʻIlikea” and “Love and Honesty.”
The two-hour show featured HSB originals and tributes to musicians like Dennis Kamakahi, The Pahinui Bros, and The Mavericks. The date of the concert also coincided with the 127th anniversary (January 17, 1893) of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On Oahu, 2,000 demonstrators marched to the Hawaii State Capitol for a rally. In recognition, Kahakalau asked if there were any Kū Kiaʻi Mauna people in the house. An overwhelming amount of response showed support of the sacred mountain. Kahakalau then led the audience in an a cappela version of Kū Haʻaheo E Kuʻu Hawaiʻi — a modern mele that recognizes the resurgence of Hawaiian pride and identity. HSB appropriately followed with “Living in a Sovereign Land,” which closed out the first set.
Kahakalau did most of the song intros throughout the evening and said she was trying to curtail her “talk story” for the Kahilu crowd because she tends to elaborate a bit. “When we played Maui,” Kahakalau recalled, “they put this big clock in front of me and pointed to it to let me know, ‘You talk too much, Robi.’ Here in Waimea, you get up with the chickens, so this is for all of you who probably stayed up past your bedtime.” With that, HSB wrapped things up with two closing numbers including “Helplessly Hoping.” The Crosby, Stills & Nash classic was a surprise crowd-pleaser filled with lovely harmonies.
The passionate audience of long-time fans stood and cheered for a hana hou. HSB closed with “Heiau,” their Hoku award-winning single from the album entitled Rhythm of the Ocean. Fans got to chat with the band in the lobby and have their CDs signed.
Kaimana Hila | Deeper in Love | Let’s Talk Story | No Ke Ano Aiahi | Old Style Way | The First Hawaiian | Maunaloa | Happy Just to Be with You | Kū Haʻaheo E Kuʻu Hawaiʻi |Living in a Sovereign Land |
Local Motions (radio commercial jingle) | Live a Little | Wahine ʻIlikea | Jealous Guy | Loving You | Love and Honesty | Helplessly Hoping | Rhythm of The Ocean |
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