Kuana Torres Kahele at Blue Note Hawaii


It was the yodeling, ultimately, that set apart this show, filled with sparks, laughter, and Hawaiian culture rarely shared on a Waikiki stage these days.

And on Easter Sunday (April 4), nearly all the troupers were barefooted, except one, at Blue Note Hawaii. It is not uncommon among Hawaiian performers to take the stage sans shoes.

And as a spectator, peering and applauding from behind two layers of Plexiglas, this amounted to a first-rate attraction, but a challenge to review.

So apologies to Kuana Torres Kahele, the host and headliner of two performances at the Outrigger Waikiki venue, and his guest singer, Karen Keawehawaii.

I am not fully acclimated to nor qualified to, fully identify and share kudos to Kahele’s rich catalogue of tunes – several with hula performances, in exquisite and fashionable costumes – so I will dodge listing titles I may misidentify.

Since I did not possess, nor request, a set list, this recap fails to name names of songs. But as Kahele mentioned midway through the second show I attended, he alters his plans anyway. So…I will say this much: His four musicians and dancers are explicitly wired to songs new and old, with accent on rarely-performed melodies from the past, depicting places and stories stretching over the island chain.

Kahele is the showmeister of this tapestry of old-time Hawaii, adapting a few current-time tunes from behind a pandemic-reliant plastic separating his musicians from the audience. “We can see our own reflections,” he observed late in the show. It has to be a distraction to have the see-through barriers stretching nearly the entire course of the stage; from my perch on the showroom’s elevated tier in front of the light and sound booth, there was another veil of plastic protection, yielding more reflections.

Keawehawaii, stationed to the left of the performance zone, occasionally worked minus the plastic, too.

This environment brings out the best of these artists. She is the consummate vocalist, too, disciplined and delightful in both serious and comedic moments.

And she yodels. And she got Kahele to yodel, too.

In a Hawaiian show, this is not that unusual. A yodeling voice requires upper-register falsetto tones, and she’s got that and so does he.

She was outfitted with requisite blooms in her hair; he, too, had his traditional head lei.

Mutual trust is an unstated trait when local performers cultivate a show, knowingly or by instinct, and that is the thrust of this rare species. And Waikiki doesn’t regularly provide performance space for culture and heritage that might be enjoyed and applauded by residents and visitors alike like this event.

All the performers were barefooted, including the pair of Miss Aloha Hula, Tehani Gonzado and Mahealani Mike Solem. Perhaps it’s a trademark of the cultural past, perhaps shoelessness brings out the best jolt of talent.

Keawehawaii donned shoes; maybe it gives her power to yodel with more oomph. Or maybe she didn’t get the memo that it was a shoeless Sunday.

That’s today’s take on a special show on a special day.

PHOTOS: Kahele, left, and Keawehawaii, right.