Archive for February, 2009

A song of hope — for Obama times?

February 19th, 2009

What’s in a song?
For Joy Dawning, Island writer with roots in public relations and non-profit development, it’s all about hope, inspiration — and a possible Obama odyssey.
Dawning originally penned a poem, in 2004, that evolved last year into a melody she composed to accompany her lyrics. It’s called “Holding On,” and it’s performed by former Broadway singer Kristian Lei, in a video directed b Henry Mochida. It’s now posted on YouTube (

Dawning initially imagined a tune that spoke to mothers of challenged children, notably single moms like herself. But in its evolution and growth amid changing times, Dawning envisioned her song could bring comfort to  the wives and mothers of veterans returning from the war with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
But Dawning feels the tune has wider appeal, particularly in the downturn of the economy.
“I’ve learned that the song I wrote can be sung with equal effect in many styles, and that it is equally appreciated by men and women,” says Dawning in her blog ( “It appears to be a means of release for some deeply burdened people.”
That’s where the President Obama implication looms. With his daunting task to turn the country’s economy around, hanging in there is an underlying message. Does “Holding On” serve up some comfort in the rebuilding process, in an administration that has advocated a can-do mantra?
Coincidentally, HDology, a local video company (whose work for the Obama campaign was featured at the Democratic National Convention), created a pair of videos that speak to two demographics: a broader 30s-plus crowd and a more youthful teen-to-20s element.
The “older” video, with Kristian Lei, is  one; the other is due shortly.
Dawning and her backers and collaborators want to know: Does “Holding On” hold  a candle to Obama’s team and vision?
Have a look-see-listen... and help her decide.

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Countering the down economy

February 17th, 2009

What down economy, you ask?

Amid the financial doldrums, the job losses, and the foreclosures, there are bright spots in the economic and entertainment landscape.

Like ... The Counter, the high-end hamburgery at Kahala Mall, fueled by the behind-the-scenes stardom of restaurateur D.K. Kodama and “Lost” actor Daniel Dae Kim, who are principal owners. The new restaurant, across the way from Chili’s, has lines galore at peak lunch and dinner hours, despite its $9 price tag for a burger (way over the $1 double cheeseburger on McDonald’s dollar menu). But the create-your-own-burger format —a challenge for the fussy eater, a boon for those with invention and imagination —  is all about self-identity and individuality. Who doesn’t want a burger made to your check-list request, way beyond Burger King’s “have it your way” specs?   And there’s even a Loco Moco — rice in lieu of a bun, burger, egg, and yes, gravy — for a sense of place. Perhaps a dessert, too — an impromptu in-restaurant appearance by Kodama and/or Kim.

Like ... the “up” spending at the recent Pro Bowl, despite the dip in attendance and the lower visitor counts. When it comes to having a good time, the Pro Bowlers stayed longer, too, and obviously opened up the wallets. C'mon, a hana hou is a must! Miami is a bust!

Like ... the movies. When you’re down and need a boost, films provide the easiest and most accessible lift. You go with your significant other, or a gal/guy buddy, and have a laugh (“He’s Just Not Into You”), a scare (“Friday the 13th”),  a thrill (“Taken”) or a roller coaster ride of feel-goodness (“Slumdog Millionaire”). Or, maybe, take stock of your financial affairs and/or fetish (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”). Cinema can offer therapy.

Like ... the soaring popularity of the modest ‘ukulele. Konishiki’s uke picnic last weekend at Kaka‘aka Waterfront Park attracted 1,200 fans — both Japanese visitors and locals.  Also on the uke front, Alan Okami of KoAloha ‘Ukulele expects a banner year, helping grow the economy and expand the appeal of the four-stringed instrument.
“‘Ukulele is such an important part of Hawai‘i, its music and culture,” says Okami. “We hope to be able to share what we have on a greater scale. This year, KoAloha will take one of its ‘ukulele building projects out for the first time with the cooperation of Keoki Kahumoku and the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center.  This is so exciting for us to see the seed that we deposited on Moloka‘i to take root and blossom. It is critical for those of us who call ourselves Hawaiian, to invest ourselves into the lives of one another. It's the only way to a better future.”

Like ... Starbucks kicking off its instant coffee ($2.95 for a three-pack). Translates to a buck for a cuppajoe. May not be the cappuccino that fueled your daily drive-time, but this is a means for the Seattle coffee king to keep reins on its reign and appease the cost-conscious fans who still favor the brand. Don't forget the new meal-deals: coffee with a nibble. I'm lovin' it (er, that's the McDonald's  slogan, sorry).

Got an example or experience to share  that counters the down-economy doldrums?

Critics are an endangered species. Really!

February 14th, 2009

Critics. You love ’em when you agree with ’em, loathe ’em when you don’t.
But do we need them?
Thanks to the growth and appeal of the Internet, critics — primarily print and broadcast types— are becoming an endangered species, facing extinction.
In an era when anyone with a computer can be a critic, do we need certified opinion-shapers and arts advisers to tell us what we should see, eat, hear, read and applaud?
I think yes.
You go to a movie, an opera,  a concert, a dance event, or a restaurant; over coffee or drinks after the outing, you say what you liked, what you didn’t like. Whether it was money well spent or not.
In these informal analyses, you don’t pass out two stars, three stars or four stars. Call it what you want; this is a form of  reviewing and critiqueing. Or perhaps aural blogging, provided by folks who aren’t traditional critics.
These days, the Internet  promotes this kind of unsolicited conversation and commiseration. Folks in the blogsphere  sound off, good or bad, about anything and everything. It’s like reviewing — from real-life perspective.
So a question aries: do magazines, newspapers, radio or TV sources need  to recruit, retain and pay reviewers ... while opinions and critiques are offered free on the Web?
A definite yes.
I speak from the critic’s perspective, having done my share of film, concert, nightclub, theater and music reviewing in my four decades with this newspaper. Disclosure: I took out a buyout in December and have retired two months; one less critic in the head count, since the position has not been filled.
But I value the integrity of criticism and the voices these reviews trigger.
Reviews are meant to provide guidance and direction — backed by savvy, laced with responsibility  — to help enlighten consumers on whether to go, to try, to cheer a movie, a play, a restaurant, a book. Or what to avoid.
But as traditional media slash expenses and staff to maintain the bottom line, critics are particularly vulnerable. Unless you’re in a show biz mainstream, like New York and Los Angeles, arts coverage has woefully low priority among mid-size and smaller media in not-so-centric cities.
Can you imagine the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times without a resident Broadway or film critic?
Few newspapers  have on-staff reviewers for the many aspects of the arts, like films, stage, or music. Most rely on  syndicated reviewers and local freelancers, simply because of economics. It’s easier and more economical to utilize seasoned writers who have the passion of the art form they cover for a broader, generic audience. A regular reviewer, over time, brings credentials to the table and standards for the readership or viewership. For the media, it’s a voice of  familiarity, with essential quality control.
Last year, and continuing this year, traditional media like print and  broadcast have started to eliminate or reduce reviewers, because of attrition, retirement, layoffs, and buyouts amid an unstable economy.
That’s the woe. With the cutbacks, there is a loss of institutional knowledge and history — and possible authority. Remaining staffers have to hustle harder and work faster, occasionally assigned to tasks they have no time for, or interest in. The ultimate result: the dissolution of quality control, the loss of reputable voices.
So  unsolicited  opinion — reviews not labeled as reviews — evolve as a yardstick of what’s hot, what’s not. A lot of this is happening on the Web. And such venues as the Rotten Tomatoes site ( doesn’t quite do the job for films; who’s posting these raves or barbs; how much integrity and value go into such posts?
On the other hand, online surfers love the fresh, irreverent, sometimes right-on candor of these anonymous voices, so the jury still is out on how valuable this is, how vulnerable the art of opinion-shaping is.
I grew up reading film reviews by Pauline Kael in the New Yorker;  also, folks like Rex Reed, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I trust the views of Richard Schickel in Time magazine. They made me want to go see a movie.  And they raised the flag on when not to go,
Their voices weren’t the final word in movie critique, but they helped shape the expectation with enlightened counsel, sharing wisdom and bringing value to the money you lay down to see a film.I also value the critics who cover theater for the New York Times. And so on.

This element of traditional reviewing is becoming a dinosaur as media struggle to survive.  And that’s sad.
What’s your take on critics?  Need, no need? Where or who are your ultimate sources for guidance and opinions?

14 Ways to Woo Your Lover

February 13th, 2009

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day; if you’re one who’s romantically inclined, intend to woo your lover or main squeeze, and would like to dodge the doghouse if you forget the flowers, time’s a-running out.
The pressure’s on the guys this time of year; bouquets sent to the office should really have been ordered by now, for delivery today.
Reality check: if you’re low on funds, you may have to make do with simple but endearing options. Besides, reservations may be impossibly tight at high-end celebrations anyway (a good alibi, guys) and  if you hate crowds, something private at home or something intimate nighttime might be the solution. Or maybe think outside the box (gals, have the guys bake you a sweetheart cake), or opt for nibble-sized cupcakes on a stick, like lollipops.
What to do?

Help is on the way. Consider these 14 Ways to Woo Your Lover:

1 — Celebrate early — tonight. Or later— Sunday, maybe a work day next week. Not the same thing as The Day, but prices will be better, throngs slimmer, and you’ll still have time to hold hands and utter sweet thoughts. The idea is, get it on when it’s doable and convenient. But call for space; planning shows commitment and order in your relationship.

2 — Wine and dine options that’ll have you stomping with glee?  Chai’s Island Bistro has Willie K tonight, Ginai tomorrow, at Aloha Tower Marketplace. And hey, you can always pick any one of the special menu-deals out there. 585-0011.

3 — Still hooked on flowers? If so, roses are the rule, not orchids. Or stop by Le Flowers at 2567 S. King St. in Moili’ili, near  University Avenue. They do splendid topiaries that are fun, different and festive — and perhaps will make your lady forget red roses. 955-8884.

4 — Mix music with chocolates, with Raiatea Helm’s Valentine Macadamia Medley. OK, this is that Christmas season special from last year, from Hawaiian Host, reinvented for Valentine’s with a new wrap-around themed package, complete with Helm’s three-song CD disc. Hot for the holidays, still ono for Valentine’s.  At your neighborhood Longs Drugs, Don Quiote and Marukai stores.

5 — A single red velvet cupcake says I Love You very sweetly; one of the best is from Cake Couture, at ‘Aina Haina Shopping Center. Go early; they run out. 373-9750.

6 — Or  be brave and bake a Southern Red Velvet Cake; sumptuous to look at, satisfying for the palate; takes 30 minutes once you have the ingredients. This one takes patience, but you’ll get your sweet reward when it’s all done. For recipe, complete with cream cheese frosting, go to

7 — For a meaningful love song, performed live by its singer-composer, there’s nothing finer than kama‘aina artist Audy Kimura’s “Lovers & Friends.” He serenades at Hy’s Steak House, 2440 Kuhio Ave., from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Wednedays through Saturdays. 922-5555.

8 — For a bit of the Boyz — that’s Boyz II Men, the smooth R&B group of “I’ll Make Love to You” fame — check out their Valentine concert at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Blaisdell Arena. 877-745-3000.

9 — Cupcakes on a stick are a novelty but nifty alternative to a cake. Bite-sized morsels, on a stick; less guilt than a standard-issue cupcake or a wedge of cake; still provides  joy for the sweet tooth. Find them at Cupcake Boutique at Ward Warehouse or Carousel Candyland at Kahala Mall.  Cute Cakes Hawai‘i makes ‘em. 381-8881,

10 — Kenny Rankin, one of the smoothest voices in pop and jazz and revered for his Beatles’ remakes of  “Blackbird” and “Penny Lane,” has an Island tradition going with yet another Valentine’s concert here, at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Hawai‘i Theatre. 528-0506.

11 — For romance with a salsa flavor, go straight to Thai Sweet Basil Restaurant & Night Club, which holds its grand opening at 9 p.m. tomorrow at Manoa Marketplace, where Rolando Sanchez & Salsa Hawaii perform in an ongoing Saturday fixture. The site has a dance floor, where you can salsa, merengue and get into a Latino mood. And you know how sultry that can be? 988-8811.

12 — “Romeo and Juliet,” the ultimate love tragedy by The Bard, could be a youth-targeted buy-ahead Valentine’s gift. The Hawaii Theatre Center Education Program and the Hawaii Young Actors’ Ensemble will revive the timeless Shakespearean classic at 7 p.m. April 23 and 24 at the Hawai ‘iTheatre. 528-0506; student matinee reservations, 791-1310.

13 — Buy now, go later. Gift your sweetie (she’ll love it; he will, till, once he’s in his seat) to the May 12 to 24 run of the touring “Mamma Mia!” musical that plays Blaisdell Concert Hall. It’s been a hit everywhere on tour; might be kitschy to get roped into all that ABBA music, but trust me, its ’70s fun — particularly the get-off-your-feet “concert” finale. 800-745-3000.

14 — It’s the thought that counts, right? If a flowery, frilly Hallmark card won’t say I Love You like you want it said, make your own card. Acquire red paper, white paper, doily, bows — however you want to inventively decorate a card. Jot down your sentiments; make a promise you can keep. Deliver in person, the sooner the better. And oh, yeah, seal it with a kiss.

Tia and Daniel: They win but they lose, too

February 8th, 2009

Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho  made history by winning the Hawaiian Music Grammy Award; their "Ikena" CD is the first Island album not exclusively devoted to slack key guitar to break tradition and open the door a little wider for singers.

But Carrere, the Island-born singer-actress, and her high school-time chum Ho, who now counts four Grammys on his mantle but the first as a performer, also lose a little in their upset victory. Think Hawaiian music singer, and most folks envision artists steeped in the milieu of timeless tunes or fresh compositions with connections to the past. Sure, there were bona fide Hawaiin melodies in "Ikena," so the disc qualified for consideration.

So maybe it's all about perception. Apparently, the diva of the past, like Auntie Genoa Keawe, or the present, like Amy Hanaiali'i,  isn't what voters think, see or hear. The local music community tried for years to get national recognition of Our Sound and only five years ago, the National Academy of Recording Arts launched a category for Hawaiian music.

There still is a gap between widespread public acceptance and the trophy winners.

Longtime music industry folks and fans had been aching for a change in the Grammys that, till last year, all but snubbed the fiber and core of the local music industry. For the first four years, the producers of compilations earned the Grammys, not the performers.

Carrere and Ho aren't the first ones you'd expect to be agents of change. It might have been a shocker last year, if the pair won then; their win this year qualifies  as an upset, and a curious one at that.

Carrere, who graduated from Sacred Hearts Academy and was a Brown Bags to Stardom winner who went on to be a movie star and a TV voicer (Nani, on Disney's "Lilo and Stitch"), is the first singer to cop a Grammy with Ho, who graduated from Saint Louis School and won the past three Hawaiian Grammys as a Los Angeles-based record producer. Ho also is a guitarist and an 'ukulele trouper who several years ago brought his voice out of the closet and started doing some singing himself.

Their first collaboration last year was aced out by a Ho-produced ki ho'alu compilation. So cheers to Carrere and Ho, who are pals of mine, for finally turning a page on the Hawaiian Grammy notebook.

But with the winning will come the buzz, the discordant notes, the discussion. The issue is on the folk-music make-up of most voters that cast their ballots for the Hawaiian Grammy; they are still empowered with the say on who is our best. And while  they're turning their ears to vocals, finally, as well as the instrumentals that were dominant till now, they still don't get it.

Carrere and Ho grew up here, so they are ex-pats who have an appreciation and understanding of Island music. But she was a rock-pop singer, with an album or two out on national labels earlier; he was a jazz musician who evolved into a top producer of local music, expanding his horizons on the wave of slack key artistry in this decade.

She has never, and the regimen may change, made a living out of performing Hawaiian music in concerts here and aboard. He has done a lion's share in broadening the horizons of local music. They are at the starting gate now to become responsible and worthy winners, to carry out the preservation of Island music.

I figured wrong — that Amy Hanaiali'i — would be the one to squash the slack key dominance. In restrospect, did her inclusion of non-Hawaiian titles — in her career-best "'Aumakua" CD — along with some popular standards sung in Hawaiian, trip her chances of a win? I think not.

The Ledward Ka'apapa-Mike Kaawa album, also with Hawaiian vocals and the only other duo on the ballot, would have charmed a hometown crowd, if they won. They have a devoted following and have lived the lives of struggling Island music-makers here and elsewhere.

And I applaud Hanaiali'i, who was gracious in defeat, vowing to maintain a zeal to continue to record the best CDs she can, with the hope of one day earning a coveted Grammy. This was her third time at bat, but she doesn't see it as a strike out.
“I congratulate Daniel Ho, a wonderful musician, and the lovely Tia Carrere, who won the hearts of Grammy voters this year," she said. "I congratulate them on their ongoing success.  I promise I will keep singing and continue recording, and am thrilled that NARAS voters recognized not only the instrumental beauty of Hawai'i, but the vocals too!”

Nicely stated.

Now may the 2010 competition begin.




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