Reviews

Ledward Kaapana + Owana Salazar

Jamie O'Brien
Ledward Kaapana + Owana Salazar

Ledward Kaapana + Owana Salazar

City: Vienna, Virginia
Venue: The Barns of Wolf Trap
Date: 2002-10-24

Ledward Kaapana
Owana Salazar
It's not everyday you get the chance to see a princess perform. That's partly because of the lack of genuine princesses, and partly because the few around today are rarely talented. Owana Salazar is a princess all the way from Hawaii and she has talent: a fine singer and composer, a strong ki ho'alu (slack key) guitarist and one of the few female Hawaiian steel guitar players around. Dressed in shimmering blue with a simple haku lei of purple and white flowers, and holding her Taylor guitar, she commands attention. (How strange to see a slack key player standing. Perhaps her pizzicato style of picking comes from that.) From the opening chords, all eyes and ears are focused on her. Salazar's voice is wide-ranging, her vocal approach changing from song to song, indeed even within songs. From her full-bodied soprano on the first number, "Ali'ipoe", to the plaintive, almost childlike sound on the "Hula Blues" which followed, to the soaring leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) on "Pupukea", she presented a strong mix of styles: Hawaiian traditional and contemporary, and more besides. Mainly performing material from her two solo CDs, Owana and the brand-new Wahine Slack 'n Steel, she enthralled the audience for over an hour. Her repertoire is varied with family songs (musical talent seems inherited in the Islands), standards and new compositions nestling together comfortably, linked by fascinating introductions and explanations. Tantalizingly stationed to one side, her Frying Pan steel guitar patiently waited its turn, which came with two numbers toward the end of her performance. After explaining the evolution of the instrument and asking the audience to imagine a small accompanying combo, she proceeded to put it through its paces on an instrumental and then a vocal tune. There was a certain emptiness in the overall sound, but even so, she proved herself a more than capable interpreter of steel guitar. With most songs during the evening sung in Hawaiian, she would often break from the tune mid-song and offer a flowing English translation while continuing the instrumental accompaniment. Her melodic voice conjured images of ocean, shore, mountains, rivers and more, the flowers and wildlife, the people and the warmth of Hawaii. Yet she could also deliver a political message in stride, made all the more potent with her explanation for why she must speak out: "What else is a princess to do beside dressing up?" Owana Salazar does much more than dress up. She approaches her material with great sincerity, selecting songs and tunes from across the Hawaiian spectrum and performing them with depth and understanding. She takes you to the Islands. On a couple of pieces, she was joined on stage by dancers of the Washington-based Halau Ho'omau I Ka Wai Ola O Hawai'i (hula group), as well as by Wainani who is traveling with the tour as resident dancer. Owana (and in the second half, Ledward Ka'apana) sang while the dancers as a group, or Wainani alone, swayed and stepped in time, translating the lyrics with their hands. Ledward Ka'apana is a one-off character. From the guitar point of view, he ranks among the best in any genre currently performing. As a singer, he has a soulful, powerful baritone voice, and is also one of the finest exponents of falsetto. As a performer, he presents a complete show -- expressive music, absurd humor, and a deep knowledge of his culture. In effect, a one-man Marx Brothers. Returning from the break, the audience was greeted by Ka'apana sitting impishly on the edge of the stage, offering comments to passers by and chatting freely to all within earshot. He took his seat while the house lights were still up and people still shuffling along the rows. A few chords and a smooth voice -- a Nashville-Hawaiian parody all the way -- until he collapsed in laughter. There's a lot of laugher in his performances; as he said, "I really enjoy my own shows," before collapsing in another fit of giggles. Ka'apana has a strong accent and speaks quickly. Sometimes you need a rewind button to hear that last bit again; but don't worry, there's always something more coming up. A hilarious and poignant introduction, followed by a moving falsetto song from his days with Hui Ohana (a band featuring his twin brother Nedward and his cousin, the late Dennis Pavao); a convoluted story of misunderstandings, confusing Bob Dylan with Marshal Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke, followed by the paniola (Hawaiian cowboy) song, "Kaul'ili". There's hardly time to breathe when Led gets going. He featured many songs using falsetto (as with slack key playing, he is one of the finest exponents of the style). The falsetto of Hawaiian music has a primal effect, with Ka'apana, it's almost aggressively masculine. Similarly, his "real" voice -- perhaps the best example being his incredibly accurate Elvis impersonation on "Can't Help Falling in Love" -- is rich, deep and strong. Using six-string and 12-string guitars, he presented shining examples of all that is good with ki ho'alu: strong bass runs, melodic lead lines, heavenly harmonics. But more than that, he is also a fine exponent of the "showman" style of playing (bending of the neck of his guitar, muting the strings with his palm, or rubbing them with his finger picks, anything to create different sounds with the instrument). He is also adept on a number of other instruments. Tonight was the turn for "slack key" autoharp. Cradling the instrument over his left shoulder, he leans his chin into it and sways gently in time. While his right hand is busy picking strings, his left is almost stationary, hardly disturbing the bars -- he uses the open strings almost like a full-size harp. As an encore, he once again demonstrated his vocal talents with a homage to Ray Kane, one of the Legends of ki ho'alu. His ability to sound like others is uncanny, as he approached the song with his gruff baritone and just a hint of falsetto. With that, his performance of almost 80 minutes was over. A long evening of Hawaiian music had flown by and now all there is to do is wait for the next tour to pass through the area. Although this music has emerged from Hawaii, there is a universal sound to it. It's not the "Tiny Bubbles" of the tourist trade, but an elemental traditional music which like the Delta blues reaches deeper into the soul, even of those born oceans away. From the percussive approach of Owana Salazar to the multi-faceted style of Ledward Ka'apana, the humble guitar creates a flowing, unusual music. From full voice to falsetto, the songs convey poignant images and emotions. And as far as character goes, the Princess and the king of ki ho'alu provide entertaining contrasts, absorbing and satisfying.

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