Kawaipunahele, a chart-topping album Hawaiian musician Keali`i Reichel originally recorded for friends, was released in 1994. But Kawaipunahele is truly timeless; its content and importance in promoting Hawaiian tradition is every bit as relevant today. Now, on the eve of the release of his concert HD-DVD (KUKAHI – Keali`i Reichel Live In Concert, due October 23rd), it’s particularly appropriate to return the spotlight to Kawaipunahele with an in-depth review.

It’s difficult to give any substantial basis of comparison for Keali`i Reichel’s style because it is completely dynamic. With songs ranging from Hawaiian traditional to R&B, Kawaipunahele presents all the wealth of several albums in one CD. However, three things remain constant throughout the album: rich, evocative lyrics; wholly memorable melodies; and incredibly beautiful vocal harmony.

Kawaipunahele consists of Reichel’s original material, Hawaiian folk, and uniquely covered rock n’ roll standards. Every song fits seamlessly into the overall feeling of the album—nostalgic and wistful, with a touch of optimism and a heaping dose of self-belief.

Most of the songs are in the Hawaiian language, but the liner notes include English translations. Whether you ponder them in English or Hawaiian, Reichel’s combination of words and melodies is masterful. He gives every word the perfect note and every note the perfect word. For those who may be unfamiliar with Hawaiian music and culture, the CD is a great lesson in their power.

The album begins with the title track, “Kawaipunahele”, which immediately highlights Reichel’s vocal talent. The song is gentle and relaxing, as are the majority of the tracks. Subdued guitar and superb harmonies complete the package, which is a great taste of what’s to come as the album unfolds.

The second track, The Beatles’ “In My Life”, begins with haunting Hawaiian chant–a style also featured in the album’s final song, “He Mele Inoa No Kawaipunahele”. It soon gives way to a borderline R&B cover of the rock classic. Musicians take risks when they rework Beatles standards, but Reichel definitely succeeds.

Two songs with deceptively lighthearted and distinctly Hawaiian quality are “Hanohano Ka Lei Pikake” and “Ku`u Wehi O Ke Aumoe”, which despite their toe-tapping outward appearance contain passionate, moving lyrics. Nevertheless they’re lively partners to opposing quiet ballads. Both feature the lovely melodies you’d expect in Hawaiian music, and “Hanohano Ka Lei Pikake” includes yet more fantastic harmonizing.

“If We Hold on Together”, the album’s fourth track, is a tender duet with fellow Hawaiian Lorna Lim. It’s an airy, soft tune in R&B style, filled with hopeful and encouraging lyrics. “If We Hold on Together” reminds me of all the songs I cherished as a young girl, when I was filled with fanciful dreams and romantic notions that needed such encouragement to grow. Of course, adults will find much to relate to in the song as well, but it has an especially innocent appeal.

“E Ho`i Ka Pili” returns firmly to Hawaiian roots and nearly understated guitar. It’s another uplifting song with stellar vocals. Although I run the risk of hammering the point too much, I cannot stress enough how amazing the vocal harmonies are throughout the album. It takes a fine ear and great orchestrating skill to create truly mesmerizing harmonies; Reichel clearly has both.

The album takes a trip back in time to the “doo-wop” of the 1950s with “Wanting Memories”. While the nod to 50s style is not exaggerated, the effect of the multiple voices a capella poised over a simple “doo-wop”esque base is undeniable. Yet another surprise on the Kawaipunahele journey.

The seventh track, “Kauanoeanuea”, could easily be a lullaby. It’s simple and relaxing, like a soundtrack to a lazy summer. Additional tracks to which those sentiments can be applied are “`Akaka Falls” and “Pua Mikinolia”. The lyrics of all three songs draw the listener to a time and place seemingly rooted in fantasy, and make me yearn to explore Hawaii’s grace and beauty.

Reichel’s version of “Come Sail Away” is in my opinion superior to the original. Styx’s lyrics work perfectly in the Hawaiian style, and unexpected breakaways to reggae beats at key moments are effective. It is an example of the might of the CD’s eclecticism; it holds your attention from start to finish.

If I had to select a favorite song from the album, “He Mele Inoa No Kawaipunahele” would likely be my choice. The Hawaiian chanting is so unusual and powerful that it sends shivers down my spine. Reichel’s formal training in Hawaiian chant is only part of what makes his chanting so gripping; the emotion with which he brings his heritage to life astounds me. In under two minutes this track manages to encapsulate everything that’s captivating about traditional Hawaiian music. Reichel’s vocals bring Hawaii to life as you listen.

This is a five-star album worthy of the many accolades it’s received in the thirteen years since its release. If I had any question why it was given multiple Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts awards, reigned for weeks in world music charts, and rose to the status of gold record, that question has been answered.

More information and previews of Kawaipunahele is can be found at MP3.com. Keali`i Reichel’s web site offers insight into the Grammy-nominated, four-time Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts “Favorite Entertainer of the Year” winner and his music. The album is available through Amazon and other music retailers.

Sources:
Keali`i Reichel
MP3.com
Music Industry News Network

Dina Ely is a journalist, poet, and author of short fiction. Readers can contact her at dely723@yahoo.com  

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