Monday, March 26, 2012
HAPA - Hawaii Comes to The Barns
Twenty-four years ago today I took my first breath of life. It was far from here, in a hospital in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the island of Oahu. My mother Karen, a Caucasian woman born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and my father Raymond, a first generation Japanese American island boy born and raised in Hawaii. Chance was pulling at the tides the day these two people found each other. But such is the story of Hawaii.
I am what people in Hawaii call hapa. Hapa is the Hawaiian slang term for mixed ethnicity. I am half Caucasian and half Japanese. Hawaii has been the home now to many generations of different cultures subsequently creating a whole population of Hawaiian hapas. Ancient Hawaii was an era in which only Native Hawaiians lived and worked the land, but today hapa is the face of Hawaii.
Now let’s talk about HAPA the band. Cue Barry Flanagan and Ron Kuala‘au! Flanagan, born in New York and raised in New Jersey, moved to Maui in the ’80s to study and practice Kiho Alu or slack-key guitar. (Slack-key is a style of guitar playing that is unique to Hawaii trademarked for its finger playing style and open tuning.) Co-member Ron Kuala‘au grew up in Hawaii and joined HAPA when founding member Keli‘i Kaneali‘i left to pursue his solo career. Kuala‘au was one of Flanagan’s first slack-key teachers in Hawaii which made this new HAPA combination a meaningful one.
The name HAPA as you may already have gathered is a representation of the duo’s mixed ethnic background, Irish and Hawaiian. But the name penetrates the ethnic surfaces of this pair to reflect the rich blending of their music. Just as Hawaii has become more diverse culturally so has its music thanks to people like Flanagan and Kuala‘au. HAPA remains loyal to the art of slack-key guitar but they’ve challenged the genre of Hawaiian music by weaving in threads of folk, rock, and jazz.
If you haven’t already noticed, HAPA is a group that I hold very dear to my heart. You don’t need to understand the Hawaiian language or be familiar with Hawaiian music to be swept away by the warmth of HAPA’s heavenly sound. If you’ve never heard them play now is your chance! HAPA will be performing this Wednesday and Thursday at The Barns. It’s the second best thing to visiting the Hawaiian Islands themselves.