Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Music

July 17, 2015 by Jade Boren in

It’s finally here. Fans can put in their earphones and indulge in the sweet goodness of sound after an eight-year fast. The Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning group Maunalua returned from their almost decade-long hiatus from the studio to release He Inoa, their fourth album featuring 14 tracks of traditional Hawaiian melodies. So traditional that it even covers songs with lyrics that haven’t been sung in a recording studio for over a decade.

The Hawaiian musicians can strum a mean ukulele and pour breathtaking ballads into the mic. President Barack Obama would agree, seeing that he had Maunalua strut their vocal cords and fingers at an inaugural celebration of his in Washington, D.C. Years later, the group is ready to turn heads throughout the nation once again, albeit with some changes.

Maunalua’s CD isn’t the only new addition to their music. Richard Gideon now contributes his vocals and instrumental prowess alongside old group members Bobby Moderow Jr. and Kahi Kaonohi. The compatibility of the reinvented dream team is strong, as demonstrated through their perfect harmonizing of the tracks. Their combined voices produces a peaceful yet solid sound, a signature element of He Inoa. While the relaxed strumming of ukuleles and the group’s Ki ho‘alu guitar back many of the songs, the mingled voices of Maunalua are a powerful force.

This musical strength impacts the effect of songs like track 10, entitled “Ke Aloha,” in which the men croon about enticing a lover to come over. Sincerity trumps complexity here. Maunalua isn’t trying to “reinvent any wheel” as member Moderow once said in a Midweek (link here) interview back in 2008. While the lyrics and instrumentals are not industry-changing like new wave did for the 80s disco scene, Maunalua does make sure to instill a heartfelt nature into its tracks. The men really do seem to love the women their choruses pine after.

This essence continues into their most popular song, track 14, “He is the Only Reason.” What can be mistaken for an unwinding beach day song is saved as the musicians proclaim in a genuine tone that their existence is nothing without God. On the other hand, track six can be a tune to chill to as you swing in a hammock and bask in nature, since “Aloha ‘Ia ‘O Wai`anae” is about appreciating Wai‘anae’s beauty. It’s far from some dude plucking on a ukulele at the beach about how the water is cherry, though. Maunalua’s sound is straightforward yet profound. Even just lyrics about the wind are sung in a way that makes you feel all good inside.

Though Maunalua’s album is fresh, the sounds may not be. That doesn’t diminish the integrity of its tracks. While they’re what you’d expect to hear while eating dinner at a Waikiki restaurant, the passion can be felt. Maunalua preserves Hawaiian tradition. As the saying goes, new isn’t always good. People sometimes just want to hear the tried and true.Check out for more info.


By John Berger, Honolulu Star Advertiser, July 19, 2015

"He Inoa"

Orson Welles became famous late in life for the advertising slogan, "We will sell no wine before its time." That same principle can be said to apply to Mau­na­lua. "He Inoa" is the first album released by the trio — Uncle Bobby Mode­row Jr., Kahi Kao­nohi and Richard Gideon — in eight years, but it lives up to the expectations set by Mau­na­lua's three previous albums in all respects.

"He Inoa" is the group's first album with Gideon on board, and he fits in perfectly. Anyone who hasn't seen Mau­na­lua perform in recent years need only hear the first song on the album, "Mau­na­lua He Inoa," to rest assured on that.

A medley of "Hilo One" and "Hula o Makee" is the first of several fine showcase numbers for Mode­row's falsetto, and "‘Ohai Kea­loha" is a third instant favorite. The trio does a beautiful job with it, vocally and instrumentally. Their falsetto vocalizing is spotlighted in "Ku‘u Pua Mae­‘ole," and "He Puna­hele No ‘Oe" shows the guys can harmonize beautifully in their lower-register voices as well.

Moderow's ki hoalu (slack key) is as crisp and clean as ever, Kao­nohi has a short but well-deserved bass solo on "Nani" and Gideon gets a moment to jam on ukulele. Steel guitarist Casey Olsen is a studio guest on several numbers, heightening the old-time ambience of each of them.

Although Maunalua is rightly known for its arrangements of Hawaiian standards, the trio introduces a hapa haole song written by Mode­row. "Spirit of Hawai‘i" expresses his love of the islands in terms everyone can relate to.

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