Pam Brown/Contributing Writer
Keali’i Reichel, a multi-award-winning singer, composer, guitarist and kumu hula (hula instructor) from Maui, returned to Kaua’i Friday night for the first time in years to a standing room only crowd in the Jasmine Ballroom at the Kaua’i Beach Resort in a concert that felt like an intimate homecoming in someone’s living room.
As he sat barefoot on a chair on stage, singing, answering questions from the audience between songs, he spoke both playfully and from his heart, sharing aloha that joined all those in attendance in the warm embrace of Hawaiian culture.
A best-selling recording artist and member of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame who has performed around the world from the Carnegie Hall, to Hollywood Bowl and Japan, Reichel was modest and self-effacing, even teasing that he has no regular gig anywhere. “I’m kinda’ unemployed,” he said.
Clearly impressed by the large crowd, Reichel called the evening “just a small-kine gathering.” He joked about the covers of the first three of his six albums. “I call the first one the ‘naked album,’ the second one, ‘the Chip N Dales album,’ and the third one the ‘black album,’ ” he said.
After opening the show performing two traditional Hawaiian chants solo and in a kneeling position, Reichel was joined on stage by his cousin, Miss Aloha Hula Cherissa Kane, who danced to selected numbers, and guitarist Shawn Pimental. He sang favorites from all of his albums and took requests, all the songs beautiful in the simplicity of only his sweet voice, accompanied by his and Pimental’s guitars.
When asked when his next album will be released, his first in about 10 years, Reichel said, “I think in about nine months, baby-kine time,” he said, laughing at the comparison to childbirth. He said he hopes the new album will bring to light Pi’iholo, the mountain community on Maui where he now lives, a region that he feels he is still coming to know after living there only five years.
Calling his next album “probably my last because it took 10 years for this one to come,” he explained that he treats songs like a diary. “Every song I sing is a snapshot in time. Stuff had to happen to me for these songs to come. Maybe another album in another 10 years – you never know.”
Noting his beautiful guitar that appeared to be koa wood, an audience member asked him the story of the instrument. “Oh, no story,” Reichel said laughing. “I get ‘em in New York, it’s a Kenny Loggins edition. I got it because it’s pretty.”
Of all his vocations, Reichel said he favors his role of kumu hula the most, yet he enjoys concerts of this type because of the joy it brings to others and the opportunities for his dance students to take what they’ve learned from him in a classroom setting and perform on stage.
Reichel has taken his hula halau (school) to the Merrie Monarch festival, the most prestigious hula celebration, for a number of years, but is now going to take a break from competition and will serve as a judge this year for the event’s 50th anniversary.
In keeping with his mischievous mood of the evening, Reichel’s hana hou (encore) consisted of two mele mai, that are traditional Hawaiian chants about kings’ genitalia and their powerful qualities. He danced the two numbers alongside his cousin, Ms. Kane, complete with gestures and much giggling both onstage and in the audience.
Beyond all his teasing about album covers, guitar origins and mele mai, it was the sheer beauty of Reichel’s voice, songs and poetry of his lyrics that carried the evening, opening hearts and minds, letting us all feel Hawaiian for one night.