Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mālama ko Aloha = Keep your Love

Mālama ko Aloha: Keola and Moanalani Beamer Concert Tour with jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Native American flautist R. Carlos Nakai

“Font row seats?” Jim asked. “Make sure you wear something to inspire him.”
“Oh he’ll know I’m from Hawai’i.” I chose a mu‘umu‘u hand-painted in taro leaf motif and a faux haku lei - a thick collar of yarn and ribbon imitating woven ferns and flowers.

Keolamaikalani (see why he goes by Keola?) and Kapono Beamer burst onto the Hawaiian music scene in 1978 with Honolulu City Lights, an award winning LP. They brought Hawaiian music to the lives and lips of my generation with singable songs, a fusion of Hawaiian and English, tradition and pop. 
From a long lineage of Hawaiian musicians, their family traces its roots to the 14th century House of Kamehameha, Princess Manono and the battle “waged for the principle of retaining the old ways of Hawaiian religion and culture.”
In more recent memory, their mother Winona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Desha Beamer (Auntie Nona), figured prominently in the revival of Hawaiian culture since the 1940s. Prolific composer, dancer and educator, she coined the term “Hawaiiana.”
I credit the Beamer Brothers and a handful of others (Brothers Cazimero, Makaha Sons, Olomana, Cecileo & Kapono to name a few) for their irresistible invitation to the Hawaiian Renaissance. Honolulu Magazine placed Honolulu City Lights first of the fifty most important Hawaiian albums for just that reason. They moved a generation, altering the course of our musical tastes and love of Hawaiiana for a lifetime.

I stumbled upon Keola’s Mālama Ko Aloha, western US tour while flipping through a local magazine. Keola and Moanalani Beamer in concert with jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Native American flautist R. Carlos Nakai. I purchased front row seats within minutes.
The audience was sprinkled with Hawaiian shirts, leis and few mu‘umu‘u. The gal behind me attended Pearl City High. The gentleman sitting next to her was stationed at Schofield Barracks in 1959. We talked-story and had good-fun before the lights dimmed and chanting echoed from the wings.

Keola, the once wiry, long-haired heart-throb walked on-stage, heavy-set and jowly beneath a shock of white hair. His Aloha shirt bore a brilliant green, lauae fern motif, his soft-soled shoes sported velcro closures. His impish grin and mischievous eyes however, were unchanged. For a split-second, I couldn’t help but be sad for his metamorphosis. And yet, there is no downside to a life in service of passing traditions forward and spreading Aloha in the world. 
He tapped the strings of his guitar, drumming its wires to life, his left hand moving effortlessly along the frets with a lifetime of knowing. Ki ho’alua - the harmonics of Hawaiian slack key guitar leapt to fill the hall.

Geoffrey Keezer hails from Wisconsin where the jazz pianist began pounding the keys at age three. A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, he has collaborated with Keola since 2005. R. Carlos Nakai is an award-winning, Native American flautist of Navajo-Ute heritage. His flutes brought an ethereal, haunting spirit to Keola’s music. As if... as if Fire Goddess Pele herself lingered like smoke in the rafters. Keola’s wife Moanalani, herself a Kumu Hula (master dancer/teacher) danced, sang, clowned, narrated, talked-story, and drummed the ipu (Hawaiian gourd).
Keola displayed an amazing array of talent, hammering-on, pulling-off, chiming, sometimes alternately drumming and strumming or clicking ìli ìli (smooth lava stones) like castanets between stroking the strings. He chanted, he sang - but he did not dance.
“My mother Nona Beamer, died five or six years ago,” he said. “She taught at Kamehameha school for forty-four years. When we were little, she tried to teach my brother and I to hula but it just wasn’t happening. Everyday we practiced, stomping around until one day a Buddhist priest came over and said, ‘STOP DANCING!’”
“Why?” we asked.
“‘Coz people in Hell complaining!’ So we became her band,” he said when our laughter subsided.

Moanalani brought out Keola's nose flute. “I’ll have you know that I am the world’s premiere nose flute player,” he said, holding up the flute for our inspection. “There are a few others,” he began again when the applause died, “But... they’re too old to leave the house now so... just me.” He is more polished than when I saw him last at the Territorial Tavern on Bishop Street in Honolulu. I was a teen then and he? A rising star.

Keola spoke repeatedly of finding compassion and softness for others. Then he told another Auntie Nona story. “Every morning when we left for school she would say, ‘Mālama ko Aloha boys.’ Keep your love.” Keola tapped his heart, “But its more than keeping; its cherishing your love, living your love, spreading your love, BEING your love. Its about being Aloha.” 

Moanalani had us join hands across the aisles for the grand finalé. “We’re going to sing and sway,” she instructed. “Practice now, sway back and forth.” We did. 
“Good, good. Hey you guys up there,” she shielded her eyes from the spotlights and pointed at the upper tier, “I can see you too. Let me see you holding hands.” They raised their joined hands with a hoot. 
“We’re going to sing Hawaii Aloha. How many of you know it?” I woo-hooed from the front row.
“Good, maybe a few of you,” she said looking at me. “The rest of you hum along and move your lips.”
The guitar strummed, the piano banged, the flute flew bird calls in the air and Moanalani lead us in singing Hawaii Aloha - in Hawaiian. Did I know all the words? Yes, learned em in school though they went unsung for many years. 
     I was astonished that the simple act of joining hands built Aloha, joining strangers in an experience of Aloha. Mālama ko Aloha - experience aloha, touch aloha in your neighbor, share aloha, spread aloha, exude aloha, impart aloha, be Aloha.

Post finalé, a long receiving line formed in the lobby. I turned and there he was - Keola Beamer, not fifteen feet away. iPhone in hand, I moved and waited for a break in the line and photo op. Momentarily, someone lagged to speak with Geoffrey K. I lifted my phone, Keola turned, CLICK. Lowering my phone, I raised my eyes to meet his - in gratitude, in love and awe. 
And then... then Keolamaikalani Beamer, the legend, the icon, teen heart-throb and Ki ho’alua master whom I have adored since high school, leaned across the autograph table and stopped the flow of fans, reached past the burgundy, chenille festooning that separated the line from the throng in the lobby, stretched to extend himself to me in every way... and took my hand. I expected calloused fingertips and rough skin; his hand was warm and soft and my own was swallowed in its fold.
“Love you,” was all I could muster. He jiggled his faux ‘ilima lei, “Love your lei,” he mouthed.
“Mahalo,” I grinned Cheshire, eyes flying wide.
“Keola loves my lei,” I said flipping my hair at my friends, “I’m stylin’ now!”

I was overcome by a wave of Hawai’i breaking over - through me - a tremendous sense of belonging, feeling sooo grounded in: these are my people, this is my music, here are my roots. And I must say, as a refugee from island life, their is comfort there. 
Days later I am haunted by Mālama ko Aloha - keeping aloha, cherishing aloha, living aloha, spreading aloha, being Aloha.” Keola points to something greater than saying, “I love you.” Rather, he challenges me to leave others with an experience of my love, touching my love, sharing my love, spreading my love, exuding love, imparting love. In short, being Aloha. 
Can I do it? Can I do it when they ask for more at work and when the plumbing overflows at home and when a stranger touches me and to the workmen in my house and when a car cuts me off and with the man on the street? Can we do it together? Friends, methinks it a worthy game.

I believe that Hawai'i's greatest gift to the world is ALOHA, and this tour is all about sharing this beautiful philosophy, through music. With Aloha - Keola Beamer


  1. Lorin, you have touched me with your Aloha for many years. Yes, you are "being Aloha" and I am grateful for the challenge to do it together. I will never forget flying away from Hawaii after our years there, with Honolulu City Lights shining below and that song in my mind, touching my heart. I still long for the beauty and spirit of Hawaii. There is some visceral connection there for me even though our time there was short. Thank you for sharing your concert experience. I love to hear you talk-story.

    1. Mahalo Trish for your friendship and bleadership (blog readership). Yes, Hawaii gave us a wonderful connection that has lasted our lifetimes. And together we have much aloha.

  2. Moved--verifiably, I welled up. Mahalo!

    1. Dats so awesome! I've gotten lots of agreement and enrollment in being Aloha!

    2. I was born in Hawaii and tho I have not lived there in over 50yrs, it is still home. It is my roots. My aloha stayed dormant till it emerged as loving kindness. I move thru the world practicing to be more in tune with it. You have given me one more connection to my roots. mahalo. (-:

  3. & you indeed do move in the world as acceptance and loving kindness. well done Grasshopper. you are inspiring!

  4. I have loved R. Carlos Nakai for years and loved this line from your blog: "His flutes brought an ethereal, haunting spirit to Keola’s music. As if... as if Fire Goddess Pele herself lingered like smoke in the rafters." Ahh...what a delicious evocation! I can feel the breath of aloha, loving kindness and the joy of life in your writing. I am so pleased to have met you and now have the connection of your writing in my life. May I also embody the beauty of aloha, even tho' I am Mestiza from California! Both you and Noel have inspired me.

  5. You are kind and generous in word Deborah. And your kind and gentle spirit is Aloha by another name - until now. Be Aloha and mahalo for making new friends!

  6. I am just now reading your blog and remembering what a magical night that was. The different yet so beautiful and spiritually similar sound blending together at times brought tears to my eyes. My heart was full of love, full of Aloha and that evening everything was peaceful. As always my friend, you are a gift. Aloha and Mahalo to you for an unforgettable concert.

  7. The evening touched my heart on many levels and stays with me still. Thank you for sharing part of my "home."