Having been involved in recording for the better part of four decades(almost thirty years in Hawaii) and in the production of hundreds of recordings, I have not, until now, even considered writing a liner note, let alone notes. But now I've been asked and will do my best.
Take a moment, while listening to this collection, to consider a common thread running through all this beautiful music: from the most traditional hula, to pop, Hapa Haole classics, contemporary Hawaiian, jazz voyages and tonal explorations. They are all joined into a new 'ohana through the craft and legacy of the Kamaka family's beautiful instruments. For one hundred years, Kamaka instruments made here in Hawaii, have been giving a defining and unique voice to all these and many more artists here in Hawaii and all over the world.
Just as the common thread of the Kamaka ukulele runs through the music, the Kamaka family's involvement in our Hawaii music community touches all of us. We all have stories of Chris, Casey, and the whole family taking part in little gig saving kindnesses or bigger picture involvements that make them a solid part of Hawaii's present community and of Hawaii's history.
Let's look forward to another hundred years of beautiful music featuring the instruments that, to many, define what an ukulele is: Kamaka!
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Review By John Berger
“Kamaka ʻUkulele Presents: Keep Strumming!“ Various Artists (Kamaka Hawaii, Inc.)
One of the few family-owned businesses in Hawaii that have reached the 100-year mark with the original family still at the helm is Kamaka Ukulele. Founded in 1916 by Sam Kamaka Sr., the company is celebrating its centennial year with a series of commemorative milestones. A limited-edition “Kamaka Ukulele 100 Years” aloha shirt was released in conjunction with Reyn Spooner in May, and a centennial concert will take place in the fall. In between those two big events comes this two-disc centennial album.
It opens with Sam Kamaka Jr. singing “Doxology” in Hawaiian. Several other members of the Kamaka family are heard elsewhere.
The list of other participants includes Benny Chong, Kuana Torres Kahele, Herb Ohta Jr., Jake Shimabukuro, Bryan Tolentino, Byron Yasui and Hoku Zuttermeister. Youth is represented most vividly by Aidan James. The international popularity of the ukulele is suggested by the contributions of Rio Saito and Apirak Sirinanthakul, representing Japan and Thailand, respectively.
This could have been a collection of solo performances — 24 virtuosos each playing their favorite melody. The producers wisely went for greater diversity. Some cuts are solos, others the work of duos or larger groups. Some are instrumentals, vocalists have the spotlight in others. Along with “Doxology,” and other Hawaiian classics such as those sung by Zuttermeister and Chad Takatsugi, there are pop and rock, “exotica” and Jawaiian. There’s a slice of the spacey New Age-ish work of Taimane Gardner and Kealoha, and there’s Raiatea Helm’s beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Most of the selections come from previous releases; several were recorded specifically for this project. Chong’s solo arrangement of “Yesterday” is one of the latter; it’s a great choice.
In terms of history, the most noteworthy contribution from outside the Kamaka family comes from another Hawaiian musical dynasty: “Ka Huila Wai,” performed by Genoa Keawe, her sons Gary Aiko and Eric Keawe, granddaughter Pōmaika‘i Keawe Lyman and great-granddaughter Malie Lyman.
Good documentation is an essential part of any Hawaiian album. This one has annotation by Sam Kamaka Jr., brother Fred Kamaka Sr. and their sons, Casey, Chris and Fred Jr. A small liner booklet hidden inside the cardboard case adds the composer and performer credits. It’s good to know who all the sidemen on the recordings are, and who deserves credit for engineering these historic recordings.
As for the success of the Kamaka company for the past 100 years, one key principle is found in the oft-quoted advice Sam Kamaka Sr. gave his sons: ”If you make instruments and use the family name, don’t make junk.”