For more than a decade now, award-winning musician Nathan Aweau has been a familiar figure at the Kahilu Theatre’s annual ‘Ukulele and Slack Key Guitar Festival. Holding down the bottom end with his enormous seven-string bass and occasionally given the spotlight for a song or two at the festival, Aweau finally got his due with his first solo performance at the Waimea venue last Friday and was accompanied by hula dancer Sarah Kamalei Kawakami.
The 90-minute show began with an intro by Ka’ea Alapa’i, the morning co-host at KAPA-FM, noting that Aweau is a true jack of all trades. From composing, playing every instrument, recording, engineering, mixing, and mastering it all in his Bathroom Studios on Oahu, Aweau handles it all.
Aweau entered the stage, masked, and pretended to be speaking without making a sound. It was April Fool’s Day, of course, and his light-hearted humor set the tone for the rest of the concert.
Opening with “E Apo Mai,” the first Hawaiian song he wrote twenty years ago, Aweau reflected on his 16-year stint with the legendary Don Ho, who doubted he could write a Hawaiian song for his debut album. Nevertheless, the tune went on to become Song of the Year.
Aweau then brought out hula dancer Sarah Kamalei Kawakami, and she was featured on six songs in the set with a new outfit each time. The two have been working together for over a decade, starting when Aweau was playing with Hapa. Her husband is musician Alx Kawakami who plays with the trio MānoaDNA.
Aweau played a six-string acoustic guitar throughout most of the concert and blessed us with his beautiful multi-octave range.
The singer shared a new song called “Road to Hana” from his upcoming CD. He told the crowd that some of his melodies come to him in dreams. “I’ll grab my guitar, or I’ll go on the piano and work out some chords, and then I’ll let it go,” explained Aweau in our backstage interview. “And then, in the next few days, if the melody comes right back, I say, ‘Okay, it’s worth working on it.’ Then I’ll get really into detail about the arrangement. I don’t get into the lyrics or the song’s story because I believe that, after a while, the melody will let me know what to write about.” (Listen to the full interview below.)
This successful songwriting process has earned the musician 18 awards throughout his career, and he remains remarkably humble about it. “If you ever walked into my house, you won’t see my awards lined up. Most of them I give away to my family as a gift. I’m delighted that my peers found my work worthy, but I don’t dwell on it.”
Toward the end of his set, Aweau grabbed his 7-string electric bass and gave us a heavily funk-influenced piece sounding as if Victor Wooten and Jaco Pastorius were battling it out in a barroom brawl. Aweau then brought it back home with that famous Paul McCartney bass line in “Come Together.” Returning it to its stand, this was the only time we got to hear that beast sing.
Aweau has completed a new album and plans on releasing it in late summer. “I want to promote it properly, and since most of my clientele is from Asia and Japan, where not everything is open yet, I want to go there and do a tour.” His current catalog can be found on his website and all streaming platforms.
Notes & Links
E Apo Mai |Me Ku’u One Hanau E | Latitu | Road to Hana | Kahana | Aina Hanau | Mo’i O Lili’u | Uhiwai | One More Road | Kamehameha | Kipona Aloha | Kane’ohe | Inori | He Nani No Ki’eki’e | bass improv/Come Together | Papa E |
Concert date: 01/April/2022
Photos: ©2022 Steve Roby. All rights reserved.
About the author: Steve Roby is the editor of Big Island Music Magazine