Keali‘I Reichel, the Maui-based superstar of Hawaiian mele, chant and hula, made a triumphant return to the Blue Note Hawaii stage Thursday night (Nov. 16).
He’s doing five shows over four nights through Sunday (Nov. 19) at the Outrigger Waikiki resort venue, in whatr constitutes his annual Honolulu residency.
Reichel, who admits he is in the midst of being 61, is eager to hit 62, so he can start collecting Social Security. Or not. He likely will continue concertizing, if the opportunity is there.
His debut album, “Kawaipunahele,” is nearly 30 years old now, and it made him a prime force in island music and dance. As a concert act, he’s still very much in his prime, too, though the venues in Honolulu have become disturbingly scarce. Thus, the Blue Note is red hot for local and visiting acts.
His casual, conversational, and cordial “act” is Reichel at his best. Who else can admit he has hairy toes (he’s always barefooted on stage), and he drops local-style references periodically in his 90-minute show. From gala-gala and hanabata (to non-locals, he says it’s phlegm…and spells out the word), and he’s unashamedly honest to confess and admit he was a “bad boy” at Lahainaluna High School and couldn’t graduate in 1980 until he completed work on one credit during the summer.
This kind of patter reflects his local-boy demeanor. He is clearly a proud Mauian and his cache of songs and dances depict his life, likes and artistry.
He started off his serenades with “Ode to a House,” an homage to his earlier Valley Isle home, as he weaves name songs with place songs in his repertoire to share the joys of his life.
Most tunes are in the Hawaiian language, with a few with inserts in English, but he wisely provides brief descriptions of what he’ll perform, so he’s savvy about engaging his listeners who may not speak or understand the Hawaiian language.
And because he is kumu hula of Halau Ke’alaokamaile, his wahine dancers are joyful with precision galore, providing motion and mana’o to his compositions.
For instance, “Maunaleo,” with dancers in light blue costumes, was about a beloved mountain on Maui depicted as a source of inspiration with its majestic currents. Reichel wrote the tune for his mother, Lei.
“Kawaiokalena,” another place song, assembled his corps of dancers — clad in black and blue gowns this time — who provided a poetic painting of Piiholo, a secluded area above Makawao on Maui where Reichel and his husband Fred Krauss, now live. Its elevation and wilderness are home to grazing wild boars, cows and deer, and clouds hug the forestry. “You have to have fur BVDs,” Reichel commented about the temps, adding “You have to have big dogs you can put your feet on (presumably, when seated), not chihuahua.”
“Maile’s Song” was a sentimental moment – a tribute to Doris Maile Krauss, the late mother of Fred Krauss – and it reflected the affection he had for her. It’s also a rare instance when English lyrics were lovingly woven into the precious Olelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language).
Of course, being a ‘Luna, he delivered a splendid rendering of “Lahainaluna,” tossing in a footnote about supporting and devoting kokua to the effort to restore normalcy and restoration of Lahaina, the historic beachfront community ravished by the wildfires.
Reichel’s last tune, on a roster of 15 titles, was “E Ku‘u Home O Kahaluu,” the trademark song composed by Jerry Santos whose career with Olomana soared with this lovely, nostalgic tune engineered by the late Jim Linkner, an award-winning veteran sound engineer who championed Reichel’s career with his engineering savvy. Reichel’s entire discography was engineered by Linkner, so the tribute was genuine and real.
At last year’s Blue Note residency, Reichel played to sold-out houses but left the stage without programming his signature hit, “Kawaipunahele.”
At last night’s show, the audience howled “hana hou, hana hou,” and he returned to the stage to dutifully respond to the request. If you no ask, you no get “Kawaipunahele.”
Lest you don’t know, Reichel’s appeal and following continue to astound; at the table I sat, a visiting Los Angeles couple flew to Honolulu expressly to see Reichel in action and they used airline and hotel points to make the overnight visit. That’s loyalty, for sure – and an indication that Reichel still is in his prime.
And that’s Show Biz…
Where: Blue Note Hawaii, at the Outrigger Waikiki resort
When: Opened last night (Nov. 16); remaining shows:
- Nov. 17, 6:30 p.m.
- Nov. 18, 6:30 and 9 p.m.
- Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m
Tickets: $125 for premium seating, $85 for loge seating and the bar zone; available at www.bluenotehawaii.com. Doors open at 5 p.m. all nights and 8:30 p.m. for Saturday’s second show.