Maunalua - Group of the year

Bruce Spencer, Bobby Moderow Jr. and Kahi Kaonohi take home a Hoku Award for their latest recording, but what really sets them apart are live performances

Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - June 25, 2008
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Maunalua - Bruce Spencer, Bobby Moderow Jr. and Kahi Kaonohi - jams in front of the mountains from which the band takes its name

The trio Maunalua is having quite a month, including being named Group of the Year at the Hoku Awards last week

June has been an amazing month for Maunalua. It started off with an all-out CD release celebration for their album Ho’okanaka at Gordon Biersch. And just last week they were honored as Group of the Year at the 2008 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

And now, their very first MidWeek cover story.

We all know which ranks No. 1, right?

On a serious note, there could-n’t be a more deserving bunch of guys.

Bobby Moderow Jr., Bruce Spencer and Kahi Kaonohi can feel good knowing that their continued efforts to stay true to their craft, their fans and themselves isn’t overlooked. In fact, it’s their commitment that has allowed them three successful albums and four Na Hoku Hanohano awards, including Best Hawaiian Album in 2001, and Favorite Entertainer and Group of the Year in 2004.

Maunalua live at Duke’s in Waikiki, where the band performs every Friday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.

But it’s not the awards and albums that top their list of accomplishments - it’s their 12-year run as a group that the guys can nod their heads about.

“A lot of groups last one or two years,” says Kaonohi, a University Lab School graduate. “We are very proud to have lasted this long together.”

In an industry that can make and break you, and where band members come and go - or just quit talking to each other - Maunalua has remained solid and grounded. And they have each other to thank for that.

“I like what we have so much - it’s a marriage,” says Moderow. “You have to listen to each other and know the idiosyncrasies within the band. There is a give and take, and we all work well together. There’s no one person that is going to say this is the way to go. We all confide in each other to know that the direction we are taking is the right one.”

Maunalua is actually a corporation, with Moderow, Spencer and Kaonohi handling all aspects of the business. There’s no manager and no producer - just the three of them and their fourth silent partner, Miles Nomura, who handles some of the responsibilities dealing with their record label, Lokahi Records. It’s a lot of work, but they say it’s essential to keep each person involved and knowing what’s going on with the band. With that said, they know that ultimately it’s not them calling the shots - it’s the fans who buy their music, who come to their shows and more importantly those who are touched by their music.

Maunalua live at Duke’s in Waikiki, where the band performs every Friday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.

“Our ability to reach other people in other countries is a real plus,” says Spencer. “Many times they don’t literally understand what the songs are about, but it’s the feel. The way they convey how they feel is really priceless.”

Providing quality Hawaiian music for the people is exactly what Maunalua is all about. They understand their place within Hawaii’s music scene and are comfortable exactly where they are.

“We are not here to reinvent any wheel,” says Moderow, a Kalani High grad. “We’ll evolve, but our music is evolutionary not revolutionary. When people come to see us, I know they want high quality orange juice, so we can’t give them the best quality milk. Even if it’s the absolute best quality milk, if they want orange juice, it won’t matter.”

Their latest release, Ho’okanaka, was conceived on this exact idea. A collection of fan requests and personal favorites, the album is a tribute to the people. A mix of old and new, the album includes originals such as Endless Miles, written by Moderow, to traditional standards such as E Maliu Mai, Nani Hanalei and Kalama’ula.

“We’ve been very sensitive to giving the people what they want to hear,” adds Moderow. “So for this album we decided to do songs for the people of Hawaii and give them what they asked for.”

The end result is a group with a focused commitment, producing music as diverse as each of our Islands that honors those musicians who have preceded them. All of this is polished off by their amazing talents in harmonizing and arranging.

Maunalua live at Duke’s in Waikiki, where the band performs every Friday afternoon from 4 to 6 p.m.

And this all began when chance met with destiny back in 1996.

Moderow and Spencer were gigging Saturdays at Roy’s in Hawaii Kai and ended up getting hired to play at Kaonohi’s wedding in 1995. But after committing they lost their bass player, so they figured that they had to cancel the gig.

Long story short, when Moderow called to cancel, Kaonohi inquired about playing bass with the group. Kaonohi had his wedding, then later met up


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