By BJ Soriano
After what one would consider more than a brief hiatus, this writer is back, definitely a bit more relaxed but undoubtedly more passionate about her writing. First, I am thankful to Big Island Chronicle Editor and Chief, Tiffany Edwards Hunt, for her willingness to share my written musical journey with you.
Having spent a little time in previous Ukulele Beat articles on well-known and gifted ukulele pioneers, I started to think about our present-day artists, song-writers, musicians, and the like, and thought about how we as human beings have become such creatures of habit, albeit a beautiful gesture, to laud those who have made contributions in various capacities AFTER they have left this earth rather than bring honor to their name and contribution while they are still alive. I am not criticizing anyone by any means; it’s only that I’ve come to realize how much more beautiful it would be to query those living with us today to learn exactly what is in their hearts and minds that might bestow a greater appreciation and knowledge for us.
So I begin my musical journey in this vein, and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate first subject, and that is of my long-time friend, Kenneth Makuakane. Ironically, as I began writing the article’s draft, what song should be playing across the airwaves, but ‘E Wai‘anae,’ a song written by Randy Ngum and music composed by Kenneth Makuakane. It was always one of my favorites, and I especially liked the last line of each verse when at the start of the line a sforzando (a sudden strong accent) leaped right into your heart and in my opinion made the song fun and easy to memorize!
Kenneth, aka Ken, Makuakane was born in Hilo in 1955. Hailing from Keaukaha, he attended Keaukaha Preschool, St. Joseph Elementary and graduated from Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama campus. He is a graduate of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo and currently is studying in the Masters of Divinity program with the Vancouver School of Theology. He currently resides on the island of O’ahu, is married and has two sons.
When asked when he thought his musical journey began, he replied, “Although it might sound funny, I think my journey began when I left the womb, because as far as I can recall, I had a passion for music, but perhaps in most people’s eyes, I think they consider the first time I picked up an instrument as the genesis.”
Ken plays a number of instruments including the guitar, ‘ukulele, bass, piano, some percussion and a little flute. He states, “ I had no true formal music training as in school work or course study, but rather learned in other various forms, including piano lessons, choirs, personal mentoring and a lot of performing.” Enjoying many different genres of music ranging from light to metal rock, easy listening, symphonic, island music, traditional and alternative Hawaiian music, a few that gave impetus to his early musical formation were the likes of Nat King Cole, Leinaala Haili and Bill Aliiloa Lincoln. Others who were pivotal as his musical career expanded were renowned musical artists like Gabby Pahinui, the Sunday Manoa, Cecilio and Kapono, Hall and Oates, Loggins and Messina and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ken stated that he gleaned as much as he could by immersing himself while listening to all the various forms of music. He remembers one occasion that he considers an epiphany to becoming a musical composer. “I remember listening to a country singer, Barbara Fairchild, singing a song on television, and the song she sang was such a major tear jerker just because of the way she sang the song. I went straight to the record store and bought her album. I wore out that LP trying to find out how she made that song jump into my heart. That’s when I decided I wanted to make albums that jumped into people.”
Ken has been writing music for a long time and estimates having written over 1,000 songs, but still considers himself a novice. I found it refreshing to witness his humbleness when he stated that, “Although I have written many songs, I never really write specifically for any one artist in mind.” Instead, he finds himself writing inspirations that beg an audience and it somehow finds the singer to attach itself to. Some of these artists include the Brothers Cazimero, Loyal Garner, Na Leo Pilimehana, Amy Hanaiali’i, Kapena, Obrian Eselu and Jeff Rasmussen. He quickly adds, “I am so blessed to have these artists embrace my songs.”
Ken is still a member of the famous music group Pandanus Club who recorded many albums. One of these albums, Ka Manawa ‘Elua, features the song which you may recall I introduced at the beginning of my article entitled, E Waianae.’ He also has been a member of other notable groups such as, Na Leo O Kamehameha, Mango and Ka’eo.
His current musical work includes being a record producer, having produced works by the Lim Family from Kohala, for one, and has most recently released his 5thsolo CD entitled “Malie” and a Christian CD entitled “Kupu Hou.”
Where do I humbly fit in the scheme of Ken’s life? I’m an old “friend and fan” from his early “Mango” days at Waiakea Village’s E Kipa Mai lounge where he was one half of a duet with then partner, Carl Villaverde. I remember thinking as I sat in the rattan-like chair a few years back (in the mid 70’s), how I marveled and relished the songs they both sang, and wondered just how does that guy play that guitar so smoothly and with so much ease left handed? Listening to him singing live and listening to his albums over and over, I can say indubitably that his songs “jumped into my heart.” Mahalo, Ken, for sharing your gift of music with us! I know without a doubt Ken will do this, but in closing I leave you all with a bit of music advice by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and that is, ‘Carry On.’