Kapa Cafe

Dennis Kamakahi

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Ka‘ea: KAPA Hawaiian FM – 100.3, 99.1, and online at kaparadio.com, on this Throwback Thursday with Jaz and Ka‘ea.

Jaz: Rajah, now tonight is Kanikapila Night at Kahilu Theater, which I’ll be doing a live broadcast from, from 5-7. This features some, of course, some of our slack key virtuosos such as Cyril Pahinui, Led Ka’apana, and of course, Dennis Kamakahi. So, today is a special edition of a Thursday Throwback.

Ka‘ea: Oh yea.

Jaz: KAPA Cafe. Let’s get Uncle D on the phone.

Dennis: Hello?

Ka‘ea: Aloha and good morning Uncle Dennis!


Dennis: Oh, it’s Ka‘ea?

Ka‘ea: ‘Ae, and Jaz.

Jaz: Hi Uncle D, how you uncle?

Dennis: Eh, howzit buddy.

Jaz: We are good, we are good. We’re very excited to have you on Hawai‘i Island in just a few days as a matter of fact.


Dennis: Oh, yea yea.

Ka‘ea: So you’ve been quite busy with um, teaching, all over.

Dennis: Yea, ah well, just in Pahala, ah, for the last ah, 9 days…

Ka‘ea: wow!

Dennis: …and ah, I’m home just to wash clothes and ah…


Jaz: Bathe one fast one?

Dennis: and then, I’m off to ah, Wednesday, I fly into Kona and then stay ah, 3 days in Waimea.

Ka‘ea: Oh, beautiful.

Dennis: And then off-, Sunday, I gotta catch the early flight to Kauai, to do a concert in Kauai that day, but ah, yea, I not going be home to Honolulu ‘till Monday.

Jaz: Uncle, it’s been like that for kinda most of your music career yea? Just traveling everywhere?

Dennis: Ah yea, you know, I kinda like pacing it now, you know, I don’t do too much performing in restaurants like before, so I just ah, I’d rather do just concerts, and then um, good paying concerts, and then fly in fly out.

Ka‘ea: Yea. So you know, we were um-kinda used you a few weeks ago in one of our questions for our listeners here on KAPA Hawaiian FM, as to all the compositions you’ve actually composed, so I had a question for you Uncle. What, do you remember the first composition that you ever wrote?

Dennis: Ah, well, it was a joint thing. My good friend Larry Kimura at that time was teaching at the University of Hawai‘i ah, Manoa, and I used to hang around with the Ka Leo Hawai‘i gang, yea, and we used to do fundraising for the Hawaiian Language. And then one day, I was playing a tune, and I asked Larry to help me with the lyrics, that was my first song with him. It’s called “Kilihune O Nu’uanu.”

Ka‘ea: wow!

Dennis: And that ah, after that, I started writing, cause he was teaching ah about the poetry and stuff yea, so we had good conversations, and right after that, “Wahine Ilikea” was written.


[Wahine Ilikea]


Ka‘ea: It’s a throwback, special interview, with Uncle Kamakahi on KAPA Hawaiian FM. That is the second song- composition Uncle Dennis wrote, Wahine Ilikea.

Wow! So, because that was a time when ‘olelo was actually being heard over the radio with Ka Leo Hawaii.

Dennis: Yea yea, and you know, and what made it interesting was that ah, Larry would have the program and he would invite the native speakers on yea, and you could call him and talk Hawaiian to the-whoever was there, and he had a lot of Ni‘ihau people come. So, at that time, interest was just building, so, and we didn’t even know we were in our renaissance at the time, cause when you are participating in something and you’re having fun, you know, it takes people from the outside later on the years to say, wow, you fought for the renaissance. I said, gee, I was just…

Jaz: I was just jammin…

Ka‘ea: I was doing what I was feeling to do.

Dennis: Yea, and we were having fun at the same time, but not knowing that the movement of Hawaiian music would be moving, ah you know, to-actually what it was, was in that beginning, that first renaissance when ah, Sunday Manoa, and Gabby, and Sons Of Hawai‘i, they turned all us-I was a hard Rock person, I love my Rock N Roll, and you know, cranking up the amp at 10. But, you know ah, it was groups like that, especially Sunday Manoa that ah- would be Peter Moon, and this was the second Sunday Manoa, with ah, Peter Moon, Bla, and … Kalima. They had a Folk-y sound, a Folk-y Rock sound, and that turned a lot of us hard rockers back to Hawaiian music, and slack key ah.

J&K: Wow!

Ka‘ea: That’s really pivotal, because back in those times, they didn’t really-that a very distinctive sound, and very away from the typical Hawaiian music sound.

Dennis: Yea, yea. You know, and to have someone come with an idea that was new at that time, blending like-ah Folk-Rock-Slack Key sound, really turned us on because… said, forget Rock, we going this way.

Jaz: Yea, yea!

Dennis: You know, this something new ah.

Ka‘ea: Yea.

Dennis: And so, we got involved in that. We started going into Waikiki, and wow, Hawaiian music was big, I mean, from one end of Waikiki to the other, you could walk down the Waikiki Beach, and just stop outside, listen to the groups, go to the next hotel, same thing you know. And so, it was exciting, and I’m so sorry that the generation today cannot experience that. It’s a whole new scene ah, and what you did was, you went into a room, small little bar, you had a group, you build up the reputation, and they put you in a bigger room. So, it was like a school ah.

Ka‘ea: Yea, yea! Hands on experience.

Dennis: Aw, had good fun, and we all started together, you know, Hui ‘Ohana, us, all the groups in Waikiki. And ah, what we would do is we go to each other’s show ah, the last-some guys pau early ah, so we take all the audience, eh you guys still in the mood for Hawaiian music? Maybe about 50-60 people, and you know, during the last set, kinda you know, slow yea. Everybody like go home…

Jaz: Uncle, as you were speaking of the younger generation not being able to experience that nowadays, what do you-how do you feel about at least, well you know, now we’re-I don’t know if we call this another renaissance, but we-there’s, you know-there’s more younger composers now, more manaleo now, um-how do you feel about that as far as it like it kinda coming back now.

Dennis: …like the first was music, second was hula, and I think this is like the third, the language; you know is coming, and the poetry. So, when the poetry comes back, then you have the composers. So this is like-we’re going through all this evolution… plenty more to come yet.

Ka‘ea: Well, you know what is really ironic is that’s it’s only been about 30 years, which is not much.

Dennis: I know, yea yea. It’s a young renaissance.

Ka‘ea: Yea, you know-to be, to look back at our history and see where Hawaiian music is and our language and actually being almost on the edge of extinction, then all of a sudden, it’s only been 30 years, and to see what you-you’re sharing with us-with the 70’s, and then coming to where we are, 2013, with Hawaiian music.

Dennis: You know ah-at that time I was ah, getting interested in the music, and doing research, and it was right the same time that I was asked to join the Sons of Hawai‘i. Now, through Eddie, I got to meet ah, my mentor and teacher, Tutu Mary Kawena Pukui, so, we would sit down in groups, and ah, we would ah, listen to how the poetry of the language was in their days and before during the… century. You know those old Greek schools with Socrates, but the same thing, so we learn from the source yea. And they always encourage us to write, so we would bring our, you know, material, and have [it] critiqued by the group and Tutu, and that’s how we learned, and then of course, when she passed, it was time for us to go out and you know, teach what she taught us.

Ka‘ea: What was it like to be mentored by Tutu Pukui? What was-I mean, I can’t even- and I’m a Kumu ‘olelo Hawai‘i now, but when I think back to, you know, I refer to her as a resource daily. What was it like to be sitting in the room, and it’s like normal for you? I just get chicken skin when I think about that-I envision that. What was it like?

Dennis: You know, she was a very kind woman. Most of her lectures, I didn’t call them lectures, but conversations to be had, we would get a piece of material, and ah-by a composer that she knew when she was younger, and we would go through his or her work, and you know, they know the kaona yea, cause they come from that time. Every once in a while she would stop, and then she would pick up her folder and she said kala mai, and then she start writing, not knowing, for me what she was doing, but she wanted-she had a train of thought, so she had to write it down. But, through all those writings while I was there, turned into ‘olelo no’eau.

J&K: Wow, wow!

Dennis: You know, oh, I’m not like a computer, my mind sometimes forget, so when I remember stuff, I gotta write it down, and then we would take a break, and her types of teaching is so wonderful. It’s more like a story telling, she tells her personal…

Ka‘ea: Experience, observations. Do you think your teaching style Uncle, do you think your teaching style has something to do with what you were mentored by, Tutu Pukui?

Dennis: I think so, yup. I carry on the same thing, you know. This camp I was teaching, gee, about 8 or 9 years I think I’ve been there, but since the beginning, we see the children really get into it-it’s not only music, it’s a part of the culture, you grow up kalo, and kalua pig, you know, and the young kids learn all this. And we have one graduating class in class already, ah-from college came back, so those are the alaka’i, and they’re teaching the younger generation, and then pretty soon they going be kumu yea? So, it’s like a halau, same thing, but this is a living experience of everybody’s expertise, all come together, and the children get to see a wide variety, not only of the music, but also how our kupuna did everything so, it’s been-I think this year has been the best. So we have one class going graduate high school, and hopefully they continue, they going come back the alaka’i, and the alaka’i going move up yea? So, it’s like a school of knowledge, and that’s the way Hawaiian children, or people who born in Hawai‘i, they learn more.

Ka‘ea: Hands on, definitely.

Dennis: Yes, hands on. The kupuna are still available. We use them as a source because, you know, they have the expertise yea?

Jaz: One of the things we always talk about is-is mana’o behind music, and especially some of our love songs, so anytime we play “Pua Hone,” we always go on the air we say, you know what, you no need buy your wife, your fiancée, one ring, just one-compose one mele.

Ka‘ea: Or-or, sometimes we get these stories about how men will spend like $50,000 on just the wedding proposal, and we kinda giggle and laugh and go, well Uncle Dennis Kamakahi didn’t do that.

Jaz: You just compose one mele.

Ka‘ea: So, I just-we always joke around like, how can your wife be mad at you, I mean, really?

I always think, do you ever drop that line?

Dennis: We learn the heart of hiding a guitar. I don’t know if she count all the cases when she go work. She find out later, eh, you bought another guitar ah? Oh, how you knew?

Jaz: KAPA Hawaiian FM, with a special edition of a Thursday KAPA Cafe with Uncle Dennis Kamakahi, there’s that mele, “Pua Hone,”

Dennis: …Actually, how that song was written was, I was engaged already, and I went to Tacoma, Washington, to do a show in a federal penitentiary for the first time.  I said, of good, I going be like Johnny Cash. And we went in there, and-not only us, but had another Hawaiian group… first time graduate Kamehameha, Ed Parker.  He brought his school, so, we all went in there, and then, you know I wasn’t too sure when I was gonna get married. We were engaged, but gee I wanted to go Alaska first, cause that’s where I wanted to live, and get land and house and everything and move up there, but, we were in the prison, but at the end, we had so say goodbye to everybody, you know, when you hear that big iron door clang, oh it gives you a feeling of wow, we’re on the outside, but they’re on the inside, and one of the Native American prisoners there, they made me one ah-painting of Mount Rainier, and it was a long rectangular frame, so I asked gee, how come this frame is like long, so he told me, brother,  every day I wake up, that’s how I see the mountain, and so that painting is still hanging in my house. Yea, going make 36 years hanging in the same place.

Ka‘ea: Wow! And did you ever buy land in Alaska?

Dennis: Ah, you know, funny story… I going pack my stuff and go up there, and then Eddie Kamae approached me and said, can you play one concert, cause they needed one guitar player, I said okay, and then… Sons of Hawai‘i, would you like to be a part of the group, that’s a hard decision, go Alaska or play Hawaiian music? So, I glad I said okay, and then my wife said good because you would be living up there by yourself. Alaska’s beautiful.

Ka‘ea: Well Uncle, that was-definitely, definitely, but you know Uncle, I’m glad that you didn’t make that decision to go to Alaska because the foot prints that you’ve left for many of us to follow would not be here.

Jaz: Yea, you know, everybody- you know, we go through a lot of mele here, I work with a lot of artists, I gotta say, every artist that records an album, always does one of your mele.

Ka‘ea: Always.

Jaz: Always, there’s always a Dennis Kamakahi mele on somebody’s CD.

Dennis: I’m very honored, you know, for that, but I owe it all to my teachers. If they didn’t have the instinct of what I had, and to develop it, I wouldn’t be here today, so you know, like I tell my students, I say, someday you going have students, and they look back at you, you know, it’s like a genealogy chart, yea? Who you learn from, and you go all the way back to- so it’s whoever learn from me is like coming from Tutu.

Ka‘ea: Yea, absolutely.

Dennis: So, you know, the next generation, but you know, I gotta say this, I am so proud of the new composers, because what’s coming out now is truly beautiful. You know, Tutu told me, eh, Tutu Kawena told me, it’s the composer is the historian for his generation. Whatever you write, you write from your point of view of your generation. So each composer that comes is a voice for their generation. So you see all, from where I started, and ‘till now, it’s a big difference, so I tell the young ones, eh, you gotta write about today, you know, write about what’s happening in the world, because that’s part of the history, and once it becomes a song, better yet, once it becomes a dance… Tutu Kawena told me, once it becomes a dance, it lives forever. It lives far past you, and so-you know, we encourage the young ones to look around the world, not only in Hawai‘i, but around the world, cause that’s your generation, what you’re living.

Jaz: Well you know, as composers ourselves, we are honored to have you to refer to, like you had Tutu to refer to.

Ka‘ea: Absolutely.

Dennis: She’ll still living, she’s not gone. She’s still here, and ah, and every time, she always used to talk about when she was a little girl and she grew up in Ka‘u yea? Down in Waiohinu, so I’m gonna move there in a couple of years, hopefully, and um-I’m gonna start… my other hobby, well it’s not a hobby, that I really love is photography, so we like to go to the boondocks, and take all these historic places.

Ka‘ea: oOf wahi pana?

Dennis: ‘Ae.

Jaz: And we not talking about Instagram kine…

Ka‘ea: Aw Uncle, it’s such a pleasure talking with you today

Jaz: Yea, totally, totally. We use you as reference for so many things on the radio, and with music. You know, from production to-um just giving mana’o, there’s always an Uncle D reference somewhere.

Dennis: Well, I’m honored, and I thank-like I said, I thank my teachers before me, and their teachers before them.

Jaz: Awesome, well of course, we have to get to ah to the reason why we called, that you going be performing this weekend.

Ka‘ea: Yes, that’s right, he’s gonna actually be here on Hawai‘i Island, Kahilu Theater in Waimea for Kanikapila Night, you don’t wanna miss it, the ‘Ukulele and Slack Key Guitar Institute, and it’s absolutely free.

Dennis: ‘Ae.

Ka‘ea: Okay Uncle, so we’ll see you Kahilu Theater in Waimea this week.

Dennis: Yea, and before I leave, Ka‘ea, you know how I make gravy?

Ka‘ea: How you make gravy Uncle?

Jaz: Oh my god, we going have this recorded on Uncle D’s gravy.

Ka‘ea: Okay, go ahead. How you make gravy?

Dennis: When I make gravy, the secret is, if you married, you let the other half do ‘em, because they got more expertise, you know.

Ka‘ea: Okay, I will take that down deep in my na’au right now. I will be on the hunt. Thank you Uncle for that-the words of wisdom.

Dennis: We see you guys soon!

Ka‘ea: K, love you!

Jaz: See you then, aloha Uncle!

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