I didn’t know Hapa (www.hapa.com) before I saw them at The Aladdin Theater last night. A sudden invite landed me in a great seat near the stage for a wonderful night of music and hula, and a surprise Michael Jackson tribute from an unlikely source.
Hapa disciples might have been disappointed Charles Ka’Upu was on vacation, but the remaining duo Nathan Aweau and Barry Flanagan carried the evening handily through two eclectic sets and an encore lasting deep into the evening. The house was full, and the audience knew the material – singing along frequently and soaking in the beautiful harmonizing vocals and amazing musicianship Hapa brings to the table.
I just saw another Hawaiian community treasure a couple of weeks ago – Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele artist. At first the slack-key guitars and base instruments of Hapa seemed enormous to me! Again I was blown away by the range of sounds coaxed from stringed instruments. The tunes range from traditional, original Hawaiian ballads to pieces I can only describe as Polynesian Fusion – percussive and enchanting, melodies wandering in and out but always prevailing.
Nathan Aweau was awarded Male Vocalist of the Year for the third year at the Hoku Hanahano Awards Ceremony recently. He played back-up for many years for Don Ho, and his affable on-stage personality adds dimension to his artistry. Barry Flanagan grew up in New Jersey and fell in love with all things Hawaiian in 1980 when he went to Maui to study music at university. He would now be considered a cultural treasure for his support of Hawaiian music, hula dance and Polynesian culture. Flanagan commented on the amazing growing popularity of hula dance, which is taking off in both Japan and Mexico as its subtle grace and beauty is re-discovered.
Malia Peterson, the 2002 winner of the “Miss Aloha Hula” award at the Merrie Monarch Festival held annually in Hilo, HA tours with Hapa and adds graceful dimension to their music with her classic hula form. Flanagan made sure we all understood we were in the presence of greatness, but we all suspected that. There is a lot of local Portland hula talent as well, and they were represented throughout the evening.
HAPA reminded us their new un-released CD was available for sale in the lobby at The Aladdin. Gone are the days when you went to a music store to buy a CD when you wanted new music. Musicians rely increasingly on direct sales to make money. “Please buy our CD, and maybe we won’t be waiting tables in a year,” Flanagan commented. It’s not so far from the truth as big business internet models make it tough for artists to earn a living in the “new, improved days.” It saddens me to know groups like Hapa struggle to remain financially solid with their art.
Flanagan surprised us with some moving comments about the loss of Michael Jackson in 2009, but treated us to a special performance by his young nephew Logan, who was perhaps 4 years old and cute as a BUTTON. While Hapa riffed a Jackson tune Logan entertained with toe taps and spins, ending at last with a convincing moon walk. It was another intimate point in an intimate evening.
I am now a convert. Hapa performs in Kent, WA Saturday, April 3, 2010 and then heads for California for the next stops on their 22-city tour.
The New York Times described Hapa as “…the most successful Hawaiian music group in recent history.” What a treat to be transported by them for one lovely evening of music, dance, and inspiration. They’be been playing to 70-80% sold out houses during this recession, but Portlanders filled every seat with a warm body and 100% ohana spirit.