The concept for Three Maui Divas came forward in 2011 when Nāpua Greig’s sister suggested that Nāpua join forces with fellow vocalists Amy Hanaiali’I and Raiatea Helm for a concert at the MACC on Maui. After a seven-year hiatus, the singers returned to the stage in 2018. Each artist is a multiple Nā Hõkū Hanohano Award-winner, and comes from different generations, Helm being the youngest of the three. As Helm explained during the concert, they don’t really consider themselves true divas, but instead, strong women with a purpose. The Three Maui Divas made their Big Island debut with two exceptional performances this past weekend at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea.
For the first half of Sunday’s matinee show, each singer shared her exceptional artistry by focusing on her own music in individual short sets. In the second half, the powerful performers sang together in a series of different medleys – disco, country, and Hawaiian. Highlighting each set, the women wore different costumes for each musical genre.
Raiatea Helm has the distinction of being the first solo female vocalist in Hawaii to receive a Grammy nomination for her 2004 CD, Sweet and Lovely. At the age of 18, she became the youngest artist to receive a Na Hoku Hanohano award for “Female Vocalist of the Year.” Helm made her Kahilu Theatre debut performance back in 2002 – it was only her second public performance.
During her Sunday set, Helm admitted she’s been taking a break from recording and is in her third year of studying music at UH Manoa. She talked about how jazz music was prominent in the islands during the 1940s and ‘50s, and then launched into “Maile Swing.” Molokai-born Helm is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian and plans to go to graduate school for her masters degree.
Nāpua Greig is not only a talented vocalist, but also the kumu hula of Halau Lei Kaumaka O Uka. She received 10 Na Hoke Hanohano nominations for her 2017 album Makawalu (meaning “eight eyes”), including Album of the Year, Best Female Vocalist, Best Hawaiian Music Album, and Haku Mele. Her halau won the overall award in the 2018 Merrie Monarch competition. In her set on Sunday, Greig stepped away from the microphone to dance hulu on the stage’s apron.
Amy Hānaialiʻi has received 18 Hoku awards including Female Vocalist of the Year four times, Album of the Year twice and Hawaiian Album of the Year three times. She’s also a five-time Grammy nominee. Hānaialiʻi is currently celebrating the release of her 15th album titled Kalawaiʻanui. The self-produced recording honors her lineage by offering a variety of vocal styles and moods to connect with her ancestors.
The Three Maui Divas were backed by Zanuck Lindsey (guitar), Michael Grande (piano), Grain Poliahi (drums), Mark Johnson (bass), and Wailau Ryder (guitar/ukulele).
The second half of the show was filled with high energy songs and numerous costume changes including giant 1975 Diana Ross-style Afro wigs during their Disco tribute set. Raiatea’s blonde wig was so large you could barely see her face. The Divas returned to the stage with an homage to the 1970s Hawaiian Pop Trio Kaleo O Kalani. For their third segment, the trio came out in plaid shirts and cowboy hats and performed songs by Dolly Parton, Gretchen Wilson, and Bonnie Raitt. For their finale, Amy, Nāpua, and Raiatea finished with a set of Hawaiian tunes they dubbed The Queen’s Medley. With loud shouts for a Hana Ho, The Three Divas sang Hānaialiʻi’s “I Ali’I No ‘Oe.”
Raiatea’s set: Kauoha Mai |Pua Mae’ole | Maile Swing | Kalama’ula | Alika |
Nāpua ’s set: Oli | Lei Kalaunu | Good As I Was To You | Ku’u Hoa | Ka Makani Ka’ili |
Amy’s set: Hanaiali’I Nui La | Kalawai’anui | Mana O Ku | Nauna Kea Ku’u |
Disco Medley: Emotion (Raiatea lead) | I Will Survive (Nāpua lead) | Best of My Love (Amy lead)
Band interlude: Brick House |
Kaleo O Kalani Medley: Goodbye Dad (Nāpua lead) | Never, Never, Never, (Raiatea lead) | Teach Me Tonight (Amy lead)
Band interlude: Pride and Joy |
Country Medley: Islands in The Stream (Raiatea lead) | Redneck Woman (Nāpua lead) | Something To Talk About (Amy lead) |
Band interlude: Hula O Makee |
Queen’s Medley: Ku’u Pua/Paokalani (Nāpua lead) | ‘O makalaoua (Raiatea lead) | Aloha ‘Oe (Amy lead) |
I Ali’I No ‘Oe
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and 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