Review: Kahulanui in Kona


Kahulanui’s Big Band sound with a Hawaiian twist proved to be the perfect soundtrack for lovers who came out to get their Valentines’ Day swing on. The two-hour show took place on the luau grounds of Marriott’s King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. Part dance concert and part fundraiser for the Lions Club of Kona, the evening’s backdrop of tropical breezes and waves crashing on the nearby shore felt like it was lifted from a scene in a romantic movie.

Kahulanui, a nine-piece band, have revived the Hawaiian Swing genre, which is a combination of swing jazz and Hawaiian folk music, popular on the islands in the 1920’s and ’30’s. To set the mood, Kahulanui’s concert began with a short video explaining how popular Big Band orchestras from that era began playing Waikiki hotels like the Moana and the Royal Hawaiian, and how Hawaiian music then influenced mainland music in both film and recordings.

KAPA radio’s Jaz Kaiwiko’o and Ka’ea Lyons

The event’s MCs, Jaz Kaiwiko’o, and Ka’ea Lyons, are also the weekly morning personalities on KAPA-FM. During a brief intermission, Ka’ea spoke about growing up listening to her father’s collection of Glenn Miller recordings and why Kahulanui’s music is special to her. “When Kahulanui recorded “Ka Ua Loku,” it hit home because it was a song written by my great-grandfather Alfred Alohikea.” Jaz, who is also KAPA’s Program Director, added that the station proudly features Kahulanui’s “Eating of the Poi,” in their playlist.

The husband and wife team conducted a contest midway through the concert for a vintage-style movie theatre popcorn maker and an acoustic guitar signed by the members of Kahulanui. Contestants Jane and Grant won the popcorn maker and guitar, respectively.

Signed guitar winner, Grant

Kahulanui’s setlist spotlighted songs from their CDs Hula Ku’i, a 2014 Grammy nominee, and the new release Mele Ho’oilina. Some of the most touching moments in the concert included tributes to slack-key guitar legend Gabby “Pops” Pahinui, and the late Roland Cazimero. The band also featured traditional hula dancers throughout the show.

Jesse Snyder on tenor sax

The “core four” of the band are Patrick Eskildsen on electric bass, lead guitar and vocals; Duke Tatom on ‘ukulele and vocals; Tim Taylor on drums/percussion, and, Lena Naipo on lead vocals and guitar.

Kahulanui’s exciting horn section includes Jesse Snyder on tenor sax, clarinet and flute, Bill Noble on alto saxophone and flute, and Joshua Timmons and Eldred Ahlo on trumpet. Bringing back the classic sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar is the talented Dwight Tokumoto.

Concertgoers were given a limited edition three-track CD of Kahulanui music and could bid on many unique items in a silent auction offered by the Lions Club of Kona Community Foundation. The funds generated from the concert/fundraiser allow them to continue humanitarian projects in the Kona community.

In addition to Kona community projects, the Hawaii Lions Eye Bank and Makena Foundation have provided more than 4,300 corneal implants for Hawaii residents.

For the latest Kahulanui news and music, be sure to visit:

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