Keeping The Tradition Alive
Raiatea Helm and Aunty Genoa Keawe, who perform at Saturday’s Windward Ho‘olaulea, sit down to talk about the music they both love and help preserve
By Norise Jastillana
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It was hugs, kisses and ‘I love you’ when Raiatea
Helm, 21, and Aunty Genoa Keawe, 86, met for a
Hawaii’s legendary Lady of Song “Aunty Genoa” Keawe calls out, “Come, baby, you’re one of us,” beckoning falsetto phenomenon Raiatea Helm to join in a family photo. With a silver sky and sea as the backdrop, Keawe, son Eric, granddaughter Pomaika’i and Helm huddle together on a hotel lanai high above Waikiki.
“She’s so beautiful, this girl,” Keawe says a few minutes later, turning to Helm as the pair strum and sing. “I love you.”
“I love you,” offers Helm, 21, in return. Smiles broaden, eyes brighten as they launch into an impromptu performance of Alika, a song Keawe made famous with her signature high, sustained note. The two take turns on the verses, each deferring respectfully to the other. There is laughter, gentle joking, hugs and kisses.
They both recall the first time they sang Alika together, along with songstress Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom and Pomaika’i, at Maui’s Ka Leo Ohana Awards, where Keawe was being recognized in 2002.
When the high note came, Keawe recalls proudly, “Everybody stopped and I was the last one.”
Quite a feat of talent and control for a woman turning 87 on Oct. 31 - Halloween, she points out. “I tell people I’m a good witch,” she chuckles.
And who would think otherwise?
Keawe may be a great-great-grandmother, but her eyes are still as bright and blue as a china doll’s and each smile as fresh as the last.
The young generation of Hawaiian musicians like Raiatea Helm are ‘more
educated and aware of their culture,’ says Aunty Genoa Keawe
Music legends like Keawe will join with legends-in-the-making like Helm at the fifth annual Windward Ho’olaule’a from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 24) at Windward Community College in Kaneohe. The celebration - fittingly themed “Spanning the Generations” - will also feature performances by Grammy-nominated Ho’okena, Royal Hawaiian Band, Castle High School band, 3Ds and other popular island entertainers.
Expected to draw 25,000 people, the Windward Ho’olaule’a is a free community event that includes food booths, local crafts, keiki activities, wood-carving and raku demonstrations, community exhibits and special campus attractions, including the high-tech Imaginarium planetarium and Gallery ‘Iolani. The Ho’olaule’a also reflects Windward
Community College’s commitment to nurturing local musical talent through its new Hawaii Music Institute, offering non-credit courses on ukulele, hula, slack-key guitar and other Hawaiian-themed topics.
Keawe looks forward to performing with contemporaries like Helm, part of a generation that she feels has great respect for and increased knowledge of their Hawaiian heritage and language.
“They’re more educated and aware of their culture,” she asserts of young performers. “They just love it. I look at their faces, and they’re just beaming, smiling and enjoying. I feel so good inside when I see them do that.”
Keawe also describes today’s youth as “softer” now. “The spirit is there,” clarifies son Eric.
After nearly 50 years in the business, Keawe - who still performs Thursday evenings at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa - has earned an honored spot in the hearts of young singers. Her own career began in 1939, when she started singing for bandstand shows, and then shifted into radio, TV and the local nightclub circuit as well as national and international tours to Japan, Russia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Brazil and beyond. Keawe has recorded more than 20 albums and 150 singles.
“She’s inspired me,” says Helm simply. “She’s a great icon of Hawaiian music and, as a woman, a great role model.”
“I’m tutu of the clan,” explains Keawe, who’s garnered many awards over the years, including the Na Hoku Hanohano Sidney Grayson Award, Anthology Award and Female Vocalist Award. “Whenever I see there’s something I can help them with, I talk to them but I don’t try to push myself.”
Keawe repeats one such instance early in Helm’s career.
“I said, ‘Oh, if you want I’ll teach you how to hold that long note (in Alika),” Keawe recalls, adding with a chuckle. “And she turned around and said, ‘Oh no, that’s all right, my mom teach me. I said, ‘OK, OK.’ If it was someone else, maybe they would get upset, but I
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