Keali’i Reichel is an icon of both modern and traditional Hawaiian music and chant, and it’s no wonder he was asked to open the Kahilu Theatre’s 39th season of entertainment.
At the beginning of Sunday’s matinee show, Reichel casually talked story with the audience, noting it had been at least five years since he performed at the Kahilu. “Not much has happened,” joked Reichel. “I’ve turned 57, my waist size is catching up with my age, and I’ve got one or two thousand of these white hairs – not complaining, just reporting.” Reichel added that his favorite hashtag is “Old Man Still Can.”
His concert ran just a little over an hour and was filled with music about the ‘aina, with hula, a heartfelt chant, and regular light banter with the crowd in between songs. Surrounded by beautiful arrangements from Waimea floral artist Buzzy Histo, Reichel sat and sang on a middle riser with two band members on his right and two backup singers on his left.
Throughout the show, Reichel welcomed to the stage several female hula dancers from Halau Ke’alaokamaile. At times, there were up to six dancers on stage. The group featured Henohea Kane, Lia Uhrin, Chanel Souza, Shannon Bacos, Wahinehula Kaeo and Janiesse Palafox. Reichel said he preferred his dancers to be a little on the “fluffy” side. “You know that one thin girl in front? We gotta feed her more poi,” kidded Keali’i. Reichel’s band featured Moses Kane (bass), Shawn Pimental (guitar), Naomi Carreno (vocals), and Nalei Pokipala (vocals).
Reichel mentioned he was diagnosed with bronchitis and apologized that between the “galagala” (phlegm) and medicine given, his singing might be off. It sounded fine to me. “I feel a little bit like the cartoon cat Garfield with the half-opened eyelids,” said the singer. “If I don’t hit the note, make believe I hit the note.” Like the seasoned pro he is, he offered a spectacular show that will be remembered fondly.
Reichel remarked that he was celebrating the 25th-anniversary release of his first album titled Kawaipunahele. The 1994 album came out on his own Punahele Productions record label and began his career as a Hawaiian music superstar. So far, the Maui-born recording artist has become the founding director for Pünana Leo O Maui, a Hawaiian language immersion school, founded his own hula school, Halau Ke’alaokamaile, and has been awarded 19 Na Hoku Hanohano awards, as well as being recognized as an accomplished chanter. Reichel explained and demonstrated techniques he learned during chant training, such as holding your breath for a long time in order to do 50 lines of a chant in one breath. He said children would challenge themselves at sunset and attempt a continuous chant until the sun completely disappeared from the horizon.
About halfway through, Reichel asked that the house lights be turned up so he could see the audience. He then asked the packed house if anyone had questions or wanted to make a song request. Over many loud unintelligible shouts, Reichel heard and offered to do a chant for Maunakea, which drew applause.
For his final musical number, Reichel performed “Maunaleo,” which means “the mountain’s voice.” The song is about the two mountains that make up both sides of Iao Valley – Maunaleo and Maunakāne – and the strong imagery reminded him of his mother. Reichel got down on his knees, as did five of the dancers, to sing and hula.
The show concluded with a powerful chant for Maunakea that Reichel and his dancers performed. As the chant and claps grew louder, Reichel and crew moved closer to the stage’s edge. The entire crowd, now on their feet, joined in for this emotional finale. This was Hawaiian entertainment at its best.
Koali | Mele A Ka Puuwai | Kawaiokalena | Pua Milo | He Lei No ‘Aulani | Kananaka |Meleana | Hanohano Ka Lei Pikake | Don’t Cry ‘Oe | Ke Aloha | Kawaipunahele | Maunaleo | Chant |
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. 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