Jerry Santos says he feels most comfortable in his own skin when he is performing either solo or with his group mates of Olomana of which he has been part for more than 35 years. A softspoken, modest gentleman, Santos understands the importance of preserving contemporary as well as Hawaiian-language music for the sake and face of our island, which is changing so rapidly.
“I think we provide, for people who come here from elsewhere, a perspective about our families, our history and connection to the land,” says Santos, who was featured on MidWeek‘s cover Sept. 18, 1991. “For the local people, it gives a sense of connection, reminding us of who we are.”
Santos is the one who usually performs for those who are celebrating a birthday or special event, but Friday, June 17, his family surprised him with a 60th birthday celebration of his own at Hilton Hawaiian Village, where Olomana has been performing since the 1990s.
“They are so generous. The chef made a beautiful, gigantic cake with the Rainbow Tower on it, where I worked for so many years, and I also received a beautiful koa wood box,” Santos says. “The real gift was the acknowledgment of my efforts over the years. It is nice to have someone say you’ve done a good job.”
When Olomana, which includes Haunani Apoliona, Wally Suenaga and Willy Paikuli, isn’t playing at Hilton Hawaiian Village or at community events for instance, the Gabby Pahinui Music Festival you can catch Santos Monday evenings at Chai’s Island Bistro.
“It is a solo entity with just me and my dancer Nalani BaduaFernandez. It gives me a little outside perspective so I can play some of my own music and original compositions,” he says.
Regardless of where or with whom Santos is playing, he believes that music allows him to run the gamut of emotions, finding inner strength as well as examining his own weaknesses. One particular performance that still touches Santos was on the island of Kaho’olawe.
“I remember sitting at the campfire during the very first access that they had, and singing to the kupuna around the fire as they went to sleep,” he says. “That, for me, was a high moment in music.”
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