Ho‘okena’s Christmas residency at Blue Note Hawaii – the group did two shows Sunday (Dec. 17) at the club at the Outrigger Waikiki – was rich in values, robust in mele and hula, and radiant in lasting power.

I took in the 4 p.m. performance (vs. the 7:30 p.m. show) and was amazed and impressed with the content and command demonstrated by Horace Dudoit III (12-string guitar), Chris Kamaka (standup bass fiddle) and Glen Smith (slack key guitar). For added power, Aron Nelson guested on keyboards, and of course, Nani Dudoit’s (pictured below, right) hula contributions and Maila Gibson-Bandmann’s (pictured below, left) guest vocals provided substantial dance and vocal fireworks.

Few combos have the depth and skills to pull off a mixed repertoire of traditional Hawaiiana and familiar favorites from the yuletide repertoire. And impressively, all members of Ho‘okena have vocal  potency, as soloists as well as a trio. Their rendering of “Ku‘uipo I Ka He‘e Pu‘e One” – the rich harmonics, the high and low notes, the chemistry of togetherness– was a late-in-the-show keeper.

This time of the year, Ho‘okena and Maila  share the No. 1 holiday melody (“The Prayer,” the popular Celine Dion-Andrea Bocelli hit), but they wisley energized  and localized it with Hawaiian lyrics, elevating the appeal and octane. Smartly, “The Prayer” was the obvious save-the-best-for-last offering, before all left the stage, and exquisitely, Nani’s solo hula provided the grace and eloquence of the pseudo-religious ballad.

The Dudoits have learned well from mentor Robert Cazimero, over the decades. She was Robert’s and brother Roland’s hula soloist, in the era when the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room boasted an island attraction. Also, Horace’s earlier residency as one of the dancers in kumu hula Robert’s Halau Na Kamalei (now Lililehua) also has had deep-rooted impact.

The band, from left: Kamaka, Nelson, Dudoit, Smith.

Ho‘okena’s show is casual, but also retained the discipline and mission to deliver authentic and aspirational momentum. It’s alternately fun, consistently fabulous, thanks to the talent on view.

“Home for the Holidays,” the opening tune, was sort of the theme for the evening. The popular tune fronted a medley that instantly identified with Hawaii, featuring “Aloha and a Mele Kalikimaka” and the omnipresent “Mele Kalikimaka.” “Mele Kalikimaka Ei Nei” and “Mele Kalikimaka Ia Kakou” followed a bit later, but that’s not redundancy  —  these are mele that reflect the island yule experience.

Hula family, from left: Kaipo, Nalani and Horace Dudoit.

One of the sweetest segments was when Kaipo Dudoit – son of Nani and Horace – joinied his parents to hula on “Makee Ailana,” a song about the Waikiki region where the Honolulu Zoo parking lot sits today. This kind of spontaneous familial unity is reflective of performers here.

Ditto, the participation of Nani’s haumana (hula students) from her Halau Kaleilehuaikealoonalani on “Rose Lauli‘i, and the contingent of Halau Ka Lei Papahi o Kakuhihewa from Maui on the popular Kui Lee composition, “Lahainaluna.”

Maila, an infrequent guest artist with Ho‘okena, had a one-two wallop in a two-song segment, the first tune reflecting her Karen Carpenter stance on “Merry Christmas Darling,” which truly is a lady’s (not gent’s) solo number, with an enrapturing, silky glow. “Midnight Train to Georgia,” an unlike holiday tune, was dedicated to the memory of her late dad (his fave song), and she put a soulful, blues stamp on the tune, with Nani among the back-up singers, offering rousing Gladys Knight-and-the-Pips notes, and splendid “woo-woo” train vibes.

Finally, though we’ve annually heard Horace’s tale about “The Song of Christmas,” also penned by Kui Lee, it’s worth chuckling again about his early confusion about its lyrics, about Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), which was foreign to him years ago. It’s a genuine chortle to hear his story again and again…

And that’s Show Biz….

2 Replies to “THE THREE R’S OF HO‘OKENA”

  1. Hi Wayne.

    Sounds like you had a nice time at the Ho’okena show at the Bluenote. They were always one of my favorite groups.

    Aloha Dolores

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