The Makaha Sons Lend A Hand

Hoku winner Raiatea Helm is just one of the young, up-and-coming talents the Makaha Sons have taken under their wings, and who will share their concert stage at the Shell on Saturday


Without the help and support of the legendary Makaha Sons, Raiatea Helm might not have been the star of the annual Hoku Awards this year, bringing home four awards from last week’s ceremony. Helm is just one of several young musical talents that the Makaha Sons — John and Jerome Koko and Louis “Moon” Kauakahi — are taking under their wings, helping to produce albums and giving them an opportunity to perform on big stages, such as Saturday’s “Take AWalk In The Country” concert at the Waikiki Shell. It’s the Makaha Sons’ show, but they’re sharing the stage with Helm and many others.

Born on Oahu, raised on Molokai and currently a student at Maui Community College, Helm, 21, says her love of oldstyle Hawaiian music started when she was 15.

“I was inspired by female artists (such as) Nina Kealiiwahamana. I watched the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest on TV and Nina performed. That was it. I fell in love (with traditional Hawaiian music). There are many more influences, but Nina’s was the most memorable.”


Raiatea Helm credits the Makaha Sons
for giving her an opportunity to record

She said she appreciates the fact that the Makaha Sons are recognizing the younger generation. “They gave me a lot of opportunity. I have great respect for what they’re doing.”

Gary “Kalehua” Krug, 28, of the group Pilioha, can’t express enough his gratitude and aloha to the Makaha Sons for mentoring up-and-coming local musicians like themselves. Glenn Mayeda Jr., 27, who’s the bassist for Pilioha, shares the same sentiment. “We grew up with their music and they’ve been a big (role model) for us. It’s such an honor for us,” says Mayeda. “We’re overwhelmed that we can sometime even share the same stage as them, let alone having them help us out as much as they do. We’re real happy that they would (even) consider (helping us out).”

Barry Kimokeo, 22, the third member of the dynamic trio, couldn’t agree more: “It’s great. (They’re) wonderful people. We’ve learned a lot from them, and they’re so talented and have been in the business so long. We’re fortunate.” When asked what makes these young musicians so special, not just Pilioha and Helm, but Na Kama, Hoku Zuttermeister and Natalie Kamauu, John Koko says when they’re watching a musical act, they can tell who has that certain magic. If they think the young musicians have the potential to make a career out of it, then they’ll help them.

But John, who plays the upright bass, and the rest of Makaha Sons are not only interested in helping them musically but in the business area as well.

“What we’re doing is putting up the money for the recording for them,” he says. “And then we’re giving them 100 percent of everything, so they will own everything. We don’t own any of our music, so what we’re trying to do is get them started now and make sure they own their CDs, records or whatever they’re doing. That’s our main concern. And make sure they perpetuate the Hawaiian music.”


The Makaha Sons: John Koko, Jerome
Koko and Moon Kauakahi

The Makaha Sons will be “putting up the money” to record CDs for Hoku Zuttermeister and Pilioha.

In tomorrow night’s concert, the young up-and-comers will be paired up, which John explains is why the theme is “Together.”

“We’re joining the groups together. Like Na Palapalai will have Aunty Genoa Keawe. Ho‘okena will have Raiatea Helm. Pilioha has Natalie (Kamauu). Hoku Zuttermeister will have Na Kama. We’re featuring all the acts in the beginning and then we have a two hour set just for us guys.”

Kauakahi, who plays six-string guitar, stresses that they want to preserve Hawaiian music through the younger generation.

“They are in the field that we are familiar with,” says Kauakahi. “And that’s the traditional Hawaiian music. So that’s why we want to help those musicians who want to play Hawaiian music. That’s what we’re familiar with and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years. As long as they play traditional Hawaiian music, we try to give them wide exposure — not only here in Hawaii, but in Japan as well as the Mainland.”


Pilioha: Glenn Mayeda Jr., Barry Kimokeo
and Gary Krug

Beyond helping young musicians, the band awards academic scholarships as well. This year, the Makaha Sons Scholarship Program, funded by the Makaha Sons Foundation, will award a grant to a high school senior majoring in music, dance, language, culture, history or the humanities of Hawaii.

They will acknowledge this year’s recipient at tomorrow’s “Take A Walk In The Country” concert.

This year marks the group’s 29th anniversary. Jerome “Boogie” Koko says, “The longevity is good, but as the years get up you know we’re getting older and older. Next year we’re planning a big one for our 30th anniversary.”

Jerome says he feels good when he sees young musicians playing traditional Hawaiian music. “At least we know that the Hawaiian music or the traditional Hawaiian music is on an upswing again. Because of the Grammys that just came out … in order to get the Grammys you have to have a CD that’s 51 percent Hawaiian language. So looking at the trend, it looks like people are getting back into the traditional Hawaiian music. So it makes us feel good. We’re good for at least another 20 years.”

Rhythm guitarist Krug of Pilioha is a 1994 graduate of Kamehameha Schools and is finishing up his Ph.D. in education. He has recently accepted a position in the University of Hawaii’s College of Education. He grew up listening to country and old Hawaiian music, and its influences can be heard in his music.

Mayeda is a 1996 graduate of Kamehameha Schools and earned a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. He currently teaches music for the DOE. His musical interest is everything Hawaiian, with an appreciation of all other types of music.

Kimokeo is a 2000 graduate of Kalani High School. His father loved to play slack-key, his mom played classical piano, his sister played the guitar, and his brother listened to pop music. But they all had one thing in common — they all listened to Hawaiian music.

Another up-and-coming band is Na Kama. It’s a trio of musicians with Brian Mersberg, vocalist who plays 12-string guitar, Danny Naipo, upright bass and vocals, and Eric Lee, vocalist and lead guitar.

As for their style of music, Lee elaborates: “We try to revitalize the old classics of Hawaiian music with the more contemporary style of today. You’ll hear a lot of oldies in the music that we play, but it’s got more of a catchy flair in the style of music that we play today. We bond yesterday with today.”

Not only does the group want to perpetuate Hawaiian music but also the Hawaiian language. “It’s been major points in our group to make sure that not only do we perform well, we also perform the language correctly. It’s important to make sure that we know what we’re singing, and we know what the song is about and the background to the song … Language is also a very important part of our group, too, to be language aware.”


Na Kama: Brian Mersberg, Eric Lee
and Danny Naipo

Lee’s first instrument was the ‘ukulele at age 9. He graduated with a music scholarship from Kamehameha Schools and continued his music education into college, along with taking Hawaiian language classes. He recorded his first studio album at the age of 19 with a group called The Kanile‘a Collection.

As for Saturday’s concert, Kauakahi is certain “the crowd is in for one heck of an evening.”

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