They called themselves Na Makamaka, and why not?

Makamaka refers to beloved friends, who effortlessly give and take, and share and demonstrate, unifying the gift and power of friendship.

For Jerry Santos, Kuuipo “Ipo” Kumukahi, Haunani Apoliona and Ryan Tang, last night ‘s (Aug.27) gig at the Hawaii Convention Center was a genuine evening of makamaka. It was all about fond memories, rich vocals and instrumentals, and contagious camaraderie. It was spontaneous and revealing, as if they assembled to have a great time, singing and strumming with sheer joy.

In short, this was a smooth, backyard or back-porch jam session, with generous servings of makamaka. Hence, the monicker for the event, “Na Kupuna Nights,” was fitting; it was a gathering of kupuna performing and kupuna listening and watching. OK, the crowd wasn’t comprised of all seniors, but grey and white hair were plentiful. Everyone was soaking up the aloha, called makamaka.

Santos, of course, is best known as the singer-composer-guitarist of Olomana, the legendary group he led through the rebirth of Hawaiian music in the 1970s, when he was a newbie who became one of the somebodies that helped shape and inspired a generation of entertainers who would become, over time, the emerging stars of the Hawaii over the past three decades.

Na Makamaka, from left: Kuuipo Kumukahi, Jerry Santos, Haunani Apoliona and Ryan Tang

She strums both ukulele and guitar with astounding ease.

Kumukahi, a Hilo native, is a versatile vocalist with a wealth of memories, shared through the songs she learned from her mom. She is one of the most underrated female singers of her generation, who performed with Santos and Olomana for the past two decades. Apoliona, best known for her work with Alu Like and OHA, Hawaiian non-profits, when she wasn’t alternate or fulltime singer with Olomana. She brings a rare touch in local combos, because she is a master of 12-string guitar.

Jerry Santos\

Tang, who also used to be a part of Olomana, has become an intermittent semi-regular. But Olomana, the group, has not had a regular Waikiki gig since the pandemic shuttered all venues and sentenced bands to the unemployment line. And clearly, this Na Kupuna event was not an Olomana show; imagine, this was a rare instance when Santos did not render “E Kuu Home O Kahaluu,” his signature since he and the band became household names, because this was all about makamaka.

Kuuipo Kumukahi

This all-star combo put their voices and instruments out there to share the remembrances of hearty music and life moments past,  beginning their journey with Santos’ “Come to Me Gently,” a warm, retroactive ballad that beckons give-and-take aloha, with its inclusive “Hawaii Is Calling” lyric.

Haunani Apoliona

A gigantic medley of familiar songs – weaving one song after another, like sewing a lei of gentle blossoms – including “Na Ali‘i,” “Wahine Ilikea,” and “Pearly Shells” (well, the Hawaiian version, “Pupu A ‘O ‘’Ewa”). The end product was the abundant esprit of commonality and community, with individuals bonding in oneness. Surely, many in the audience were lip-synching quietly, which is OK and part of this sharing experience.

Not surprising, this generous medley – which ran for perhaps 20 to 25 minutes – also included wonderful visual and aural snapshots of each vocalist and instrumentalist. That is, Santos got some guitar licks in, besides his sweet upper-register tones; Kumukahi, switched from guitar to ukulele, pouring out small-kid-time recollections as well as a song bag of Hilo-related tunes; Apoliona, who has not been part of this kind of musicianship during the pandemic, shared her from-the-gut vocals while doing her 12-string thing; and Tang did harmonies as well as a splendid bass solo, even putting his elbow to work on his electric bass. And his hula-dancing wife, Rae Tang, also shared her talent.

Ray Tang

Kumukahi, often labeled the Sweetheart of Hawaiian Music, shared a song, “Bumbye,” composed by Puakea Nogelmeier for his foster mother, Ululani Kumukahi, who is Ipo’s mom. As she tells it, the Hawaiian scholar-composer wrote the tune when visiting mama Kumukahi when she was in the hospital, and based the hilarious melody and lyrics, in Hawaiian, which was a 2014 Na Hoku Hanohano winner. Daughter Kumukahi “owns” the song, and she delivered with wonderful  gestures whenever she came to the title, a pidgin word for later, not now, bumbye. Got it?

“He Ono,” the tongue-twisting ditty about eating all kinds of food, was another of Kumukahi’s gift for the evening; in Hawaiian, it’s lively stuff; in English, she delivers the lyrics (mentioning the likes of manapua and half moons) which is funny as hell.

Santos made an early declaration, about kupunahood. The evening, sponsored by the Hawaiian Music Perpetuation Society, is all about kokua for kupuna. Santos, with a straight face, said “We are kupuna, too,” admitting the years that all of his musical partners have spent, shaping the face of island music and becoming the face of makamaka.

Thanks for the fellowship and sharing, guys…

And that’s Show Biz. …

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