story by Liza Simon
photo by Jim Shea
At an Island party back in 1983, Kaua‘i’s dedicated arts promoter Carol Yotsuda just happened to let it slip that—even if she was from here—she really didn’t know any Hawaiian songs. She wanted to learn, she said, but the question was: where to get instruction in wrapping one’s pipes around those sweet vowel-laden lyrics? Fellow arts promoter- types at the party agreed that Yotsuda probably wasn’t alone in her dilemma. And so one year and a small grant later, they helped her to organize the first-ever E Kanikapila Kakou. Literally, “strike up the music,” it was a Hawaiian sing-along, “a true hidden gem,” remembers Yotsuda.
Two decades later, it’s not so hidden: Banner attendance sometimes numbers into the SRO hundreds. And what’s not to love about hanging loose and getting free tutoring from some of the biggest names in Hawaiian music? “They not only teach the lyrics and the chords, they also get across the good things that are wrapped up in the music,” says Yotsuda, launching into a list of illustrative anecdotes: Picture Hawai‘i’s grand dame composer Irmgard Aluli cracking people up by revealing that Boy from Laupahoehoe came to her while she was vacuuming, or contemporary songstress Robi Kahakalau holding everyone in mesmerized silence as she described the integral role of taro in Hawaiian culture.
In the beginning, visitors came and locals mostly stayed away—not sure if it was … well ... something on the far side of that invisible line marked “too touristy.” But among the first few loyal locals and the perennial returnee Mainlanders, the shared experience cemented friendships; and today the long list of people who know it’s the real thing include at least one Kauaian who has compiled the event’s lyric sheets into a phone book-sized compendium. “All those things you hear about music cutting across barriers, you see in action at E Kanikapila,” says Yotsuda.
E Kanikapila Kakou happens every Monday from February through April—mark your calendars.
E Kanikapila Kakou