It’s not often that you can go back and relive an experience. Life just doesn’t work out that way. Or does it? Ask Tony C. (Conjugacion) about his highly successful 1985 debut recording, Hawaiian Passion.
When Hawaiian Passion was originally released, it garnered accolades and awards and put the spotlight on this highly talented musician. As the years passed, he left the Islands, appeared on Broadway and in cabaret, did workshops and seminars for the Alvin Ailey Dance Center, and shared the stage with such musicians as Grace Slick before returning to his home.
When a musician goes into a studio to record an album, that’s it, really: a snapshot of the music he or she is making at that particular time. As a youth, Conjugacion had been taught and nurtured by some of the most influential hula teachers, chanters, and singers in Hawaii. When his experiences over nearly two decades on the mainland are added to this background, the potential inherent in re-recording an out-of-print album becomes apparent.
This is a snapshot of Tony C. in 2003. He returned to the studios with the musicians from the original sessions (Charles “Kealoha” Fukuba on steel guitar, Leika Hohu Ki’aha on piano and Jeff Rasmussen on guitar, ukulele, bass and vocals), now joined by Gabe Baltazar on sax on one track. He also added six bonus tracks to the original 11 songs to make an hour-long album.
Along with possibly more advanced recording techniques, what this album gains from the intervening years is a maturity and confidence in the performances. My old cassette of the original release has long since died, but hearing these reworked songs, the passion and drive are greater than I remember.
Falsetto singing like this, with its gymnastics, stretching, leaps, and vibrato, is not a world-wide tradition and therefore not always immediately accessible for outsiders. But once you’re used to it, Tony C. sweeps you along. His control and range are phenomenal, his jumping from normal register to falsetto startling, and his warmth and commitment to the songs all-encompassing. Within a few days, I found myself pressing the repeat button on the CD player. It’s that kind of recording.
From the hapa haole “When You’re Down in Honolulu”, to the more jazzy sounds of “Behave Hula Girl”, to the romantic “Keahi”, to the traditional “None Hula”, Tony C. presents many different facets of Hawaiian music. And he excels in each of these different approaches to create a flowing collection of 17 songs.
Going back is like a dream. Tony C. has gone back and created a dream of an album.