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Entertainment // Musical Notes
Bill Mossman

It’s Hawaiian Time

The last time we heard anything new from contemporary Hawaiian music hitmakers Hawaiian Style Band, Bill Clinton was in the middle of his impeachment trial, and the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears were still churning out pop ditties for their teenybopper fan bases.

In other words, yeah, it’s been that long.

But with the release of Hanau Hou (“new beginning”), HSB’s first album since the turn of the century, the group is suddenly experiencing a rebirth. Its latest incarnation, in fact, features group co-founder Wade Cambern on guitar, ukulele and vocals along with two newcomers: Garin Poliahu on drums, percussion and Tahitian ukulele; and Tani Lynn Fujimoto on vocals. The resulting collaboration has produced a memorable 11-track record that possesses many of the same qualities that made the band so beloved for so long: an abundance of ethereal vocals and island-theme music, and a revolving door formula that always welcomes fresh-faced, talented artists.

For Cambern, Hanau Hou represents the culmination of 15 years of hard work and perseverance. The period was filled with numerous recording delays and song rewrites, but the lengthy process was made manageable much through the efforts of Poliahu, an accomplished producer in his own right. “Garin’s probably the best drummer in Hawaii, in terms of going into a studio and giving a producer what’s wanted. But what a lot of people don’t know is audio-wise, he really knows how to carve out a sound in an old-school sort of way,” explains Cambern, who first met Poliahu after the two collaborated on Cambern’s 1997 solo album, A Blue Canoe.

“Life’s tough and I grew weary at times … moments when I didn’t think I was going to make it to the end of the project. And that’s where Garin came in and helped pull this project through,” Cambern continues. “But also, I just had to reflect at times and ask myself, ‘Where would you be without music?’ And that question would always brings me back by reminding me that it’s music that gives me so much joy and identity.”

That identity began in the early ’90s after Cambern and fellow group co-founder Bryan Kessler released a jingle for Local Motions founder Rob Burns, who quickly capitalized on the song’s success by encouraging the Cambern-Kessler duo to make more music. The result was the instant radio hit Live A Little — a composition Cambern and Kessler released before they even had an album or determined who the other band members would be. Eventually, the pair began adding local musicians such as Israel Kamakawiwoole, Robi Kahakalau and Fiji to the lineup, and released the Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning album Vanishing Treasures in 1992. Three other albums followed: Rhythm of the Ocean in ’94, Ohana in’95 and The Best of the Hawaiian Style Band compilation project in ’99.

“The first album had a lot of magic to it — with the music, of course, but also with the personalities that came together,” remembers Cambern. “And it felt natural for us going into the second album because we still had some carryover momentum. But by the third album, we were really starting to second-guess ourselves a bit.”

Cambern isn’t second-guessing anything about Hanau Hou, though. Aside from a new arrangement of Love and Honesty, the album boasts the catchy, radio-friendly tune Serious, and a couple of Cambern favorites in Julianne and I Don’t Know You At All. The result, Cambern hopes, is nearly 40 minutes of pure HSB delight.

“I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish with this album. I know I grew a lot chronologically during this period,” he tells me, pausing to chuckle for a moment. “But I also grew a lot as a musician.”

Here’s what else Cambern told Musical Notes:

MN: How much has the music landscape changed since you last put out an album?

WC: Quite a lot! It’s all new with the Internet, social media and all that stuff. There’s a certain amount of immediacy in feedback from listeners, with comments being posted on Facebook and the record label sites. It’s also different because there are no big CD release parties any longer. But it’s all still very exciting.

MN: The band always has made it a point to introduce new talent, and many of these artists have gone on to enjoy successful solo careers. Whose idea was it to create such a formula — yours or Bryan Kessler’s?

WC: Neither. It was the brainchild of Rob Burns. His idea was to have an evolving group with local people like Robi, Del Beazley and Teresa Bright always in the front position, and that would allow Bryan and I to sort of work under the radar. I think we’ve done quite well using that formula.

SMALL-KINE NOTES:

There’s still time to help local rockers Mantra raise enough funds to complete its first full-length album, due out later this summer, as well as cover costs for an upcoming tour of Asia. While still short of the goal of raising $5,000 through the funding platform Kickstarter, bandleader Jason Nomura remains hopeful that fans will come through with the necessary financial backing this week to help the band realize performance dates in Roppongi and Osaka, Japan, as well as Nomura’s hometown in Okinawa. “It has always been a dream of mine to be able to take my first real attempt at original music to the place where I really started learning to play music,” he says. To assist the band — made up of four music teachers with a particular bent for the musical stylings of the Foo Fighters, Incubus and Tool — visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/851876715/mantras-album-release-tour-bring-us-to-japan … This one is for all you uke lovers: Check out the just-released CD Island Style Ukulele 2, which features many of the Islands’ finest four-string wonders. Among the album’s noteworthy performances is Honoka & Azita‘s rendition of the Maroon 5 hit Pay Phone, and Jody Kamisato‘s cover of the Wade Cambern and Hawaiian Style Band classic Love and Honesty.

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