Spotlight On Merrie Monarch Musicians

The wahine of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala dance in the kahiko portion of last year's Merrie Monarch Festival  DENNIS ODA / STAR-ADVERTISER PHOTO

The wahine of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala dance in the kahiko portion of last year’s Merrie Monarch Festival

HILO — It’s Merrie Monarch Festival week and I’m there.

Scored an affordable rental car and a Hilo Seaside hotel room — which ain’t easy!

Now, if only I could persuade the festival honchos to announce the musicians playing with each Miss Aloha Hula and auana contestant.

The music is as important to those performances as the chant is to the kahiko. We don’t know the musicians unless we recognize a popular singer’s voice — Robert Cazimero or Kealii Reichel.

Why no musical-accompaniment announcements? A former Merrie Monarch TV producer says he was told, “This is all about dance, not about the music,” and refused the OK to even call up a quick camera shot of the musicians.

The best are in high demand for the MMF. Some do it free for kumu hula friends. Some ask for payment.

Cazimero says, “We never got paid. We were friends and that’s what pals did. Is there competition to nab the best? Of course! The music can either make you or break you. The inspiration given dancers from the best is immeasurable.

“Now, as to announcing the musicians before the performances, I’m going out on a limb here to say it has never been about us! We did it for our own schools; we did it for our friends. Our recognition was knowing we did our best to make them do the same.”

Ethnomusicology professor Amy Stillman has collected comments on this issue. I quote a few here.

Eric Keawe: “Our kupuna who started this event did it for aloha without recognition because it was all about hula.”

Natalie Ai Kamau‘u: “It’s about the hula … no need say my name.”

Derek Ho‘okani Higa: “Yes, the musician plays a big role in the performance, but they/we are there to support the halau.”

Anne Blankenship: “The support of musicians should be acknowledged — it increases the viewers’ appreciation of the whole experience.”

Wanda Certo: “I would really like to know names of all of the musicians. There are voices we all know, but one never knows when other musicians support by playing bass or rhythm guitar or something like that.”

Karen Smith Cooper: “I understand hula is the focus, but honestly I would love written and/or videoed acknowledgement of the musicians.”

Lovena West: “It is truly the mele that inspires the dancer — at least some acknowledgement would be proper.”

I’m with the acknowledge-the-musicians folks. Without the music, hula would be just a mime.

I don’t see how a quick shot of the musicians and announcer Kimo Kahoano saying, “Now, accompanied by Manu Boyd, Roland Cazimero and Kale Hannahs, here’s Hula Halau O Kamuela,” would be a distraction from the dance.

What say, Merrie Monarch? • What makes up-and-coming politicians do incredibly stupid stuff?

The latest is Big Island mayor Billy Kenoi, who put an $892 booze tab on his county credit card at Club Evergreen on Kapiolani Boulevard.

The most recent Yelp comment says: “Pay 20 bucks per drink and get a decent-looking girl to sit with you and have a conversation. Some of the girls are Chinese, some Korean and some Japanese. Not really that fun if you go alone but better if you want to hang out with a buddy and have some juicy girl hanging off of you.”

What buddy were you hanging out with, Billy? Inquiring minds want to know!