Internationally renowned singer-guitarist Makana has a strong following on the Hawaii Island — and audiences here will have four opportunities to see him over the next couple of weekends.
He’ll be playing a benefit concert for Kua O Ka La Charter School at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Palace Theater in Hilo, and will appear in Kahilu Theatre’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” with shows at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, with a 4 p.m. matinee on Sept. 2 in the Waimea theater.
Kua O Ka La was originally located in lower Puna, on the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village, replete with archaeological sites, ancient fishponds, and lowland rain forest. It was forced by the recent volcanic activity to relocate. The school campus was evacuated in early May, and covered by lava on July 11.
“Makana and Friends” at the Palace will include students of Kua O Ka La opening the evening and Halau Hula Ka Makani Hali ‘Ala O Puna under the direction of kumu Ehulani Stephany. Images captured of the recent eruption in the Lower East Rift Zone will be presented by volcanographer Mick Kalber and photographer Bruce Omori. Together they will share an on screen perspective of what they have documented over the past three months.
All proceeds will go directly to Kua O Ka La.
“We don’t have the power to alter the course of the lava flow, but we do have the power to direct the flow of our aloha. I accept and respect the creation of land anew by Pele, and I also feel compassion for those residents and especially haumana (students) of Puna who have been displaced. This benefit concert is our small way of showing the community our aloha,” Makana said.
“It just feels pono. It feels right. This is going to help operations as they are in satellite locations and this is also going to help build a kitty fund to help build a new campus at a new location.”
“This support concert from Makana and the Palace Theater is a giant first step in our long term recovery,” added Susie Osborne, Kua O Ka La’s founder and director. “Our schools are a critical piece in stabilizing our community from this disaster and we truly need and appreciate this support. Mahalo nui e Makana, we love you!”
Stepping into the role of U.S. Marine Lt. Joe Cable in “South Pacific” is a new venture for Makana, who’ll sing the hit tune “Younger than Springtime” and the iconic message song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”
“It’s a genius song. It’s still to this day is the best argument against any kind of prejudice, ever,” he said. :It basically says, ‘It’s not your thoughts. Someone implanted that in you. Don’t even try to defend that. You were ingrained by someone. You were a vulnerable little child.’”
Makana said he was persuaded to take the role by Chuck Gessert, Kahilu’s creative director, who’s directing the musical, after Makana told him he was in the process of writing his own musical with a partner.
“He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you be in the musical? I think it would be a good experience for you,’” Makana said. “I was, like, ‘Ooh, that would be a really big commitment, two weeks of time in rehearsals. But you know what, I really want to expand my palette and I think this would help me on the other side of it, being on stage and performance. And it would give me key insight in terms of being a librettist.’ So I accepted. And last night we had our first rehearsal and it was awesome. I was having a blast.”
As always, Makana has a number of projects in the works. He’ll be going to Russia in October with friends he made on Kauai, Bruce Allyn and Cynthia Lazaroff.
“Bruce is a Harvard fellow and Cynthia is a very well-known traveling lecturer and authority on the threat of nuclearization and proliferation. They’ve been going to Russia since the early 80s and are good friends with (former Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Russian-American journalist) Vladimir Pozner,” he said. “They’re bringing me to Russia on as cultural envoy of peace, just sharing the music and culture and values of Hawaii. I’m going as a cultural ambassador for Hawaii. They’ve arranged the trip and I’ll be having wonderful opportunities to share our music with many dignitaries. I’m going to be going to schools and playing music for children. The whole trip is out-of-pocket. I’m not getting paid for anything. It’s all about bringing about positive relations between peoples.”
In addition, he’s in pre-production of his first film, which he said will “tell the story of Hawaiian slack-key guitar in a very different way than has been done by some of my heroes like Eddie Kamae.”
“The film’s going to focus on my journey as an artist and my search for a protégé. I’m actively seeking a young protégé to share what the kupuna have shared for me. That’s a part of this story,” Makana said.
He’s been busy in the recording studio as well, recording “over 40 songs this summer.”
“I’m producing in almost every genre. But I’m also doing a ton of old, public domain Hawaiian music,” he said. “I’ve really gone back into the archives. I’ve actually hired a research team, and we’re just digging. One of the things I’ve done, I’m in the process of creating music for Facebook. … Facebook has what’s called ‘Facebook Sound Collection.’ It’s really cool. Basically, anybody who uses Facebook or Instagram … can download music that’s in this sound collection … for free and sync it to videos that they’re going to post to Facebook and Instagram. So basically, it’s a royalty clear music library that I’ve been contributing a lot of music to.”
Noted for his traditional slack-key learned from masters such as Sonny Chillingworth and Bobby Moderow, Makana’s ability to cross genres has garnered fans of all stripes worldwide.
“I’m creating a new genre of music that I’m calling ‘Hawaiian downtempo,’” he said. “If you walk into a lounge that’s modern and sleek and well-appointed, there’s usually an ambient kind of music playing that’s atmospheric. It’s sexy and it’s got beats and modern sounds — not like heavy electronica or anything, very atmospheric. But I’m incorporating a lot of hula implements and string instruments from the Hawaiian oeuvre, and bringing all of that into a sound that I can only describe as at once, deeply ancient and very modern, very contemporary.”
Advance tickets for the Palace show are $30 general, $40 side reserved and $50 center reserved, available at box office today between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. or by phone at 934-7010. Friday admission is $5 extra and the box office will open during its regular daytime hours and again at 6 p.m.
Tickets for “South Pacific” are $28, $38 and $68, available at the Kahilu box office, by calling 885-6868 and online at kahilutheatre.org.
“I’m just so happy to be here. I get to spend two weeks here and do a little bit for the community. It’s awesome,” Makana said.