By Wayne Harada
Keola Beamer, a veteran in Hawaiian music, had a "gotcha" moment when Raiatea Helm sang his great-grandmother's music for their first-ever CD together, "Keola Beamer and Raiatea," in stores Tuesday.
"She has a voice that I can journey with, a voice that takes me places," said Beamer, 59, a prolific composer best known for "Honolulu City Lights" and a master of kí ho'alu.
Through his guitar and voice, plus her artistry, he discovered a mission and magic of collaboration.
"I felt if I could understand her gift, I could introduce her to material that would help define her own artistry," Beamer said.
Beamer, thrilled with the duo project, answered a few questions. Consider this the first of a two-part column. Next week, Helm shares her views.
You're the veteran here; what's the ingredient that makes this collaboration work?
Our mutual respect and love for one another. I love working with Raiatea's voice. To my ears, there is a quality of light in her voice, a sort of luminescence. I spent a lot of time studying her voice, her range and flexibility. I think there are two people in the world who really, really understand her voice. Me and her dad (Zachary Helm).
You wrote a couple of tunes and picked some of the Helen Desha Beamer catalog classics. Was the intent to introduce Raiatea to some of your family's mainstays?
Hearing Raiatea sing my great-grandmother's music was an "aha" moment for me. Here, I was looking at this young woman, yet when I heard her sing "Kimo Henderson Hula" with only her and her 'ukulele, I could feel an older soul present. This really intrigued me. How could this young woman express this kind of depth of nuance? Raiatea wanted to sing "Ke Ali'i Hulu Mamo" (another by great-grandmother Beamer), so I called my Uncle Mahi, our 'ohana's expert in sweetheart Gramma's music, and asked him if he would work with her on phrasing. She went over to his house and sat with him at his piano. I knew Raiatea had the chops for what might be considered technically difficult Beamer material and that her interpretation ultimately would make my great-grandmother very happy. This was important to me.
What was particularly special working with Raiatea?
I like that Raiatea has the courage to explore her own heart through the music we create.
Do you think there's something beneficial for a cooperative venture like this?
It's no secret that I lost my mom Winona Kapuailohia Desha Beamer about two years ago; losing my mom was the most difficult moment in my life. My mom meant a lot to me and I really, really loved her I was having real difficulty recovering from that loss. I felt as if a part of me had been ripped away. Somehow, being around Raiatea and her mischievous sense of humor made it all OK. I stopped being so sad. I went back to the studio with a new sense of determination.
Share a discovery, after hanging with Raiatea, and how might this influence what you might do in the future.
In her own sweet way, my beautiful hanai niece helped me find the love for my craft again. For that, I will always be grateful.
What's next for you?
I'm looking forward to touring in support of the record, as I still like to make music in exotic parts of the world. In the 16 months we've been in the studio working on this CD we've somehow still managed to perform concerts in China, Japan, New York, Philadelphia and the West Coast. You learn a lot about the people you travel with, but by mutual agreement and penalty of death, we keep that stuff secret!