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Mele Hula sings the praises of Hawaiian culture.

Byline: LEWIS TAYLOR The Register-Guard

The phrases "high energy" and "Hawaiian music" are not often used together, but that's just how guitarist Barry Flanagan describes Mele Hula, a showcase of music, dance and culture that will come to the Hult Center on Oct. 18.

"It's a good dose of contemporary Hawaiian music," Flanagan says, speaking by phone from his home in Honolulu. "I don't think anybody could say they've already seen this stuff, because it's such a great mix of so many different songs, it's such a great combination of so many different artists."

If you didn't even realize "contemporary Hawaiian" was a musical category, then Mele Hula is a good way to begin exploring the genre. The show features slack-key guitar, hula dancing and tunes that border on modern world music instead of hokey Hawaiian.

As Flanagan puts it, the days of "little grass shacks" are over.

"I think there's actually less and less stereotypical thinking about Hawaiian music because of the nature of the performances that are going on," Flanagan says. `PBS did a show last year called `Songs of Aloha' that featured a lot of the local music acts here. Slack-key guitar is getting more popular. Hawaiian music has taken so many different turns over the past few years.'

Slack-key guitar, or ki ho`alu, a Hawaiian style of playing with strings raised or lowered from the standard tuning, dates back to the 1830s, when Spanish and Mexican cowboys introduced the guitar to the island. Only recently has it come to light for mainland audiences. Some slack-key playing will be featured in the Mele Hula show.

Along with Flanagan, who co-founded the popular Hawaiian crossover act Hapa, the show features: Hapa chanter Charles Ka`upu; hula dancer Moea Sylva DeFries; vocalist, bassist and Don Ho Band member Nathan Aweau; singer-songwriter and recent Hoku Award-winner (the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy Award) Ernie Cruz Jr.; and special guest Jerry Santos, from the revered Hawaiian group Olomana.

Although Mele Hula features modern Hawaiian music, traditional songs and performances that reflect the Polynesian past figure prominently in the five-part show. Ka`upu will tell stories and offer chants. Flanagan will revive the songs of Hapa with vocal performances by Aweau and Cruz. DeFries will dance the hula and Santos will deliver his signature songs.

Flanagan, the driving force behind Mele Hula, is an appropriate figurehead for the show because he represents the marriage of island culture with mainland culture. A New Jersey native who found his way to Hawaii after falling in love with the guitar playing of Gabby Pahinui, Flanagan formed Hapa with Keli`i Kaneli`i after the two met at a Christmas party.

Hapa drew most of its inspiration from Hawaiian history and musical traditions, but also placed an emphasis on slick, virtuoso guitar playing and melodies that spoke to a wide audience. The duo's self-titled 1993 debut broke all sales records for Hawaiian recordings and gave the group international name recognition.

The pair's second album, "In the Name of Love," featured Hapa's version of the U2 song "Pride (In the Name of Love)." The album cover emphasized the group's cross-cultural pollination, with Kaneli`i in traditional Hawaiian garb and Flanagan in a kilt that reflected his family's heritage.

Hapa's songs include everything from Hawaiian love songs (`Ku`ulei Ku`uipo') to Flanagan instrumentals (`Anjuli') to unusual covers of songs by John Lennon and Carlos Santana. These songs are likely to figure heavily in the Mele Hula program.

Although his original partnership with Kaneli`i has dissolved, Flanagan hopes he will be able to revive the group. He also plans to release an album of solo instrumental guitar and do a series of concerts in Oahu with a 52-piece orchestra.

In the meantime though, his attention is focused on Mele Hula.

"It's really kind of a combination of everybody's talent, and there's definitely a lot of talent," Flanagan says. "I think for people who know the artists that are involved, it's just thrilling."


WITH: Barry Flanagan, Jerry Santos, Ernie Cruz Jr., Charles Ka`upu, Moea Sylva DeFries, Nathan Aweau

WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 18

WHERE: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette

TICKETS: $18 to $26 through the Hult Center, 682-5000


Clockwise from top left: Featured performers in the Hawaiian culture and music show Mele Hula include guitarist and Mele Hula organizer Barry Flanagan; chanter Charles Ka`up; and special guest Jerry Santos, former member of the popular Hawaiian band Olomana. MELE HULA: A CELEBRATION OF HAWAIIAN MUSIC AND DANCE WITH: Barry Flanagan, Jerry Santos, Ernie Cruz Jr., Charles Ka`upu, Moea Sylva DeFries, Nathan Aweau WHEN: 8 p.m. Oct. 18 WHERE: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette TICKETS: $18 to $26 through the Hult Center, 682-5000 Timely bubbles
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 11, 2002
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