Aloha kākou nā hoaloha! Welcome to my ongoing blog-series “Anatomy of a Mele”. Each month I will feature a different artist/producer pairing and go behind the scenes to closely examine one song off of one of their albums, giving the reader a tiny glimpse into the sometimes magical, sometimes arduous creative recording process. The ultimate goal is to give YOU, the fans and music lovers a little insight into what it’s like to be in the studio. Hopefully it will inspire, educate and encourage the next generation of music makers!
For this issue I am ecstatic to showcase multi Nā Hōkū Hanohano award winners Waipuna featuring Kale Hannahs, Matt Sproat, and David Kamakahi along with producer/engineer extraordinaire Kale Chang!
The mele is a track entitled ”Aloha E Kohala” penned by Kumu Hula Robert Uluwehi Cazimero and from Waipuna’s recently released EP Nāpili.
The mele: “Aloha E Kohala” from Waipuna’s new EP “’Nāpili”.
Steven Espaniola: Some might call “Aloha E Kohala” the quintessential Waipuna song as it highlights and accentuates all of the band’s strong-suits beautifully. Can you elaborate a bit on why you chose the song?
Waipuna: Aloha E Kohala is not only a beautiful song, composed by Kumu Hula and renowned musician Robert Cazimero, but directly relates to all of the members of Waipuna because we all have family ties to Kohala. The overall theme of ‘ohana and ku’u one hanau (sands of my birth) reminds us that we will always have a home there. As Robert eloquently put it, “Although I was not born there, I choose to believe I have been given the aloha and ‘ike through those before me”. When you are away from home as much as we are, being able to sing and connect with a mele such as this not only opens the connection to our kupuna, but allows us to take our “one hanau” wherever we go.
Where was “Aloha E Kohala” recorded?
[Kale Chang’s] SoulTree studios in Kalihi valley.
I love how the song progresses in layers, each verse peeling back a new sonic surprise. Who came up with this beautiful arrangement?
As with most of our songs, this was a Waipuna collaborative arrangement. The first thing we try and do is make the song unique by seeing how we can weave different themes into the instrumentation. In this case we really focused on the words of Robert Cazimero and tried to build each verse as a unique entity.
The mele opens with the voice of one of Kohala’s most renowned families, Matt Sproat. Simple and steadfast, similar to his ʻohana’s sentinel presence overlooking Pololū Valley, Matt’s vocal calmly and confidently re-introduces this familiar tune to the audience. The second verse features the unmistakable timber of David Kamakahi, while the background harmonies of Kale and Matt personify the ʻĀpaʻapaʻa wind swirling throughout the valley. The third verse evolves into a conversation as Kale, representing younger generations (nā kamalei), reflects the desire to push forward and Matt and David respond in the echo of traditions that are grounded in the sands of their ancestral birth. The last verse of Uluwehi`s brilliant composition bears Waipuna`s signature as each call of Matt is answered by Kale and transforms with David`s entry into full three part harmony paying tribute to the entire northern region of Hawai’i island (Kohala Nui & Kohala Iki).
How did you meet Kale Chang (engineer)? Describe your working relationship.
As with most guys named Kale (hahaha), Kale C is one of those super talented and multi-faceted individuals that you can’t help but be in awe of. Not only is he one of the best music arrangers of our generation, he’s a genuinely nice guy. As a Kamehameha schools graduate, we were all acquaintances but through interacting with him on the music scene, we decided to work with him. Because of our past relationship, respect for each other and easy going demeanor, he was the perfect person to work with. He has a way of making the artist feel very comfortable in the recording booth, a place that can sometimes be difficult to extract the very best of an artist’s potential.
Waipuna are listed as the producer on this project. Do you find it difficult to put on the “producer cap” while maintaining the role of an artist?
We always say that we know our music best. In that respect, our music is purely Waipuna. Because Kale Chang has been with us from the beginning, he assists us at times when we have problems putting into music what we have in our heads. For the most part, we have a clear idea what the end product will sound like. Weʻve always produced our albums and take pride in seeing our music born from an idea in our heads, to the many listening sessions, to the final mastered track on the album.
Do any of the band members have origins in Kohala?
One of the reasons we chose this song is because we all have ancestral ties to Kohala. The most prominent would be Matt as many of his ‘ohana still reside in Kohala, overlooking Pololū valley at the end of the road. Our next album, to be released in the Fall of 2014, will feature a song that celebrates the Sproat family connection to Kohala.
The song begins softly with a faint pahu drum in the background. Can you describe the importance of the pahu in this song?
The pahu represents the heartbeat of our ancestors who continue to support us, guide us, and have provided us with the musical talents that we are blessed to share with our audiences.
Is there a particular method or mindset that you like to be in when you are in the recording studio?
We love being in the studio. Our mindset is usually relaxed since we prepared as best we can. Kale Cʻs demeanor really helps all of us feel comfortable while either recording in the booth or listening to playback. When weʻre relaxed and comfortable, we do our best.
What was the technical difficulty level of this song versus the others on Nāpili? Any obstacles along the way?
The level of difficulty of this song was unassumingly high. This is the first remake of this song (that we know of) and to redo a well-known song that was composed by a renowned Kumu Hula, the bar was set high. As with most of our arrangements, we not only task ourselves with making the song our own, but doing everything we can to make it “hit-worthy”. With this song, because of the hula popularity (Merrie Monarch’s Miss Aloha Hula 2005 won with this song), we had to make sure that we did not stray from the hula nature of the original version, however still provide a unique alternative that would set our version apart from the beautiful original.
You mentioned Maile Francisco won Miss Aloha Hula 2005 with this mele [watch her performance here]. Are there any other hula interpretations of “Aloha E Kohala”?
We’re very fortunate that some halau have enjoyed our re-make of the classic mele. We’ve enjoyed several halau’s interpretations of our version and look forward to seeing many more.
What type of instruments did you use to record on this track?
For Aloha E Kohala we used a Taylor 814, KoAloha ‘ukulele and a Kolstein upright bass.
Any anecdotal or blooper moments you wish to share that happened during the recording process?
We joke around a lot. It keeps the pressure of the recording at a minimum, especially since we usually work with tight timelines. Bloopers? We have millions of them! The real juicy ones are saved on a separate track. Kale C always talked about stringing them all together but that record would probably have an R rating.
Any lucky charms or superstitions when in the studio?
Kale C always jokes that whenever we come in for a recording he gets fat. For the most part, because weʻre all busy during the day, we bring dinner for KC every night weʻre in the studio. We get to enjoy dinner as well, unless weʻre recording vocals. Weʻve gotten to know quite a bit of Kalihiʻs finest eateries
Who is Waipuna’s biggest role model or influence in music?
We all have many different influences that have helped to shape our music tastes, preferences and styles. From Uncle Dennis Kamakahi and the Sons of Hawaiʻi, Peter Moon and Brothers Cazimero, the Makaha Sons and Kuana Torres Kahele, to Bon Jovi and the Eagles, James Taylor, and Billy Joel, and Bob Marley and Bruno Mars, we have always been and continue to be students of music. One thing that these groups all have in common is that they were all innovators of new styles of music and remained on the forefront of the music scene by keeping their music fresh and new. Although our albums may have the same feel and formula, weʻd like to think that the depth of the arrangements both instrumentally and vocal are evolving.
Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring musicians who want to “break into the biz”?
Iʻm not sure about wisdom, but hereʻs what has worked well for Waipuna so far: plain and simple, we love music! Our mantra is to enjoy what we do and work hard so that we can keep doing it. In order to continue making music, we understand that we need to approach it as a business. Not just any business, a successful business. In addition to always trying to better ourselves musically, we really had to become students of the music industry, promotion, recording, sound, and all other aspects that are related to and affect music. They are all related and affect each other. Another one of our philosophies is that our recording responsibility, as artists, is not finished when the album is packaged and completed. Our commitment to the album and our Executive Producer and Label is to promote, gig, and tour until the album is completely paid off and everyone is making money. Slightly different than your average artist mentality, but for us itʻs been successful and has earned us the trust of our Executive Producer to be able to create, record, and perform Waipuna music. Ultimately, as much as weʻd love to be the artist and sit back and just create, we donʻt have the luxury to do so and therefore must take control of our own destiny and work hard to do what we love.
Tell us a “betcha didn’t know” tidbit about Waipuna.
Steven Espaniola: What equipment do you use to record?
Kale Chang: I have a Mac / Pro Tools setup. My go to mics are usually a Neuman U87 and a pair of AKG 414’s.
Describe the dynamic between yourself and Waipuna?
Always a pleasure working with these gentlemen. Professionally, Waipuna is one of the most prepared and organized groups I’ve produced. They take pride in their craft and are always pushing themselves to be the best they can be. Personally, we’re all buddies from high school [Kamehameha], so we have a blast. Well except for David. I think he was in 4th grade when we were in high school and we still treat him as such.
Any roadblocks while recording Aloha E Kohala?
No matter how well things are planned, deadlines always have a way of sneaking up on you.
Any tricks you typically use to get the best out of artists?
I encourage artists in the booth to imagine themselves onstage in front of a live audience…and everyone’s naked (just kidding), to help them emulate that energy of a live performance. You don’t want anyone to know it’s 1am and you’re singing in a dark, small room. Waipuna is amazing on stage and I try to make sure they have that same mana in the studio.
Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring Engineers?
What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to “break into” professional recording?
Short of being hired by a multi-million record label/studio, you really need to prepare to be a one stop shop. The more hats you can wear with regards to the recording process, the better. Also, handle your business. Don’t be a talented fool. Learn how the industry works and learn how to be a responsible business owner. Finally, LIVE ALOHA. If this is really your passion, work hard, be kind and be humble.
What’s currently in your iPod? Five albums.
Mahalo nui to Waipuna, Kale Chang & Soul Tree Studios!
For more info on Waipuna, please visit:
Questions compiled by Steven Espaniola
Editing assistance by Lynn Piccoli
Stay tuned for next month’s artist/producer pairing!!! A hui hou!