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Isles Be Seeing You

Marlene Thomas
Robert Scheer

Lai Lady Lai: Marlene Thomas owns Capitola's Island Connection and books Hawaiian performers in the Bay Area as Island Connection Production.

The Central Coast is a hot lava bed of Hawaiian life and culture

By Randy Fishel

DJ "BRUDDAH" NELSON SAYS IN perfect pidgin, "Aloha no kakou, this is radio station KHDC, bringing you na mele o Hawai'i, the good-doing, good-listening music of Hawai'i." But Nelson isn't broadcasting from the islands. On this particular edge of the Pacific Rim, the redwoods outnumber palms by a long shot. The temperature is in the 60s, and the ocean averages 59 degrees. This is Northern California, and, for the tens of thousands of Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-at-heart that live here, a few hours of special programming once a week on two public radio stations and numerous concerts by Island performers help construct a displaced Hawaiian identity.

According to Kanaka Pono, a Greater Bay Area group studying Hawai'i-to-mainland migration, current census figures don't accurately reflect the growing numbers of former Hawaiian residents living on the Central Coast. Hawai'i's sagging economy and rampant unemployment is being blamed as the state moves rapidly toward a post-agricultural era. Gone is the sugar industry from the Big Island's Hamakua coast. There aren't many pineapples coming from Lana'i any longer, and there's no more sugar cane grown in Kahuku on O'ahu's north shore. And long-gone is that sickening-sweet smell of the Dole Cannery in Honolulu's old Kaka'ako-Ala Moana industrial district that spelled employment for locals and surfers from the mainland.

But one part of Hawai'i's economy is experiencing a boom not seen since the 1950s. It is having a ripple effect on tourism and travel, local business and Hawaiian self-esteem. Hawaiian culture is on the market, and it's selling like fresh manapua on Saturday morning.

Many visitors from Hawai'i, resident expatriates and those who are simply "Hawaiian at heart" all agree that here on the Central Coast, it is possible--at times--to forget where you are for a moment and imagine you are back in the Islands. The centerpiece of this "Hawai'i East" is the small honolulu, or sheltered bay, of Santa Cruz. Actually nestled near the northern tip of the larger Monterey Bay, we are nearly a sister city to O'ahu's Honolulu and have a direct connection with the Islands. Scores of area residents have Hawaiian friends and family who come regularly to visit and communicate via mail, phone and the Internet. The climate here, as in Hawai'i, promotes a beach-oriented lifestyle, with a major focus on surfing and related watersports, plus a growing number of Hawaiian-style canoe clubs.

But it is the availability of a new "commodity," Hawaiian culture, that is bringing the mainland Hawaiian community closer together.

Gordon Brickwood
Robert Scheer

Like Bruddah: KHDC DJ Gordon Brickwood transmits the soothing sounds of Hawaiian music to Central Coast listeners.

Sounds of Aloha

THE SUREST LINK to ka pono kahiko, the old traditions, is the music. Music is probably the most mobile and versatile of all cultural forms, and a renewed interest in Hawaiian music has had much impact on mainland Hawaiians. Not since the days of Alfred Apaka and Gabby Pahinui has the demand for Hawaiian music been so great. No matter how far away from the Islands you are, every time you hear it, you can't help but henoheno na mana'o o Hawai'i, cherish the thought and idea of the Hawaiian Islands.

In the Spring of 1991, some dedicated former Hawaiian "locals" approached Salinas Spanish/English public radio station KHDC-90.9 FM, with a proposal for a Hawaiian music slot. Station officials agreed, and so "Auntie Nora" Galiza and, later, "Bruddah Nelson" Afoa learned to operate the equipment. Bearing their own records, they started out with a trial run, a single hour of air time on a Sunday. As soon as the soothing sounds of slack-key guitar, lap-steel and beautiful falsetto vocal stylings of traditional Hawaiian mele hit the air waves, a permanent Central Coast contact with the islands was established.

Five years later, the Music of Hawai'i program spans a full nine hours on Sunday. With the exception of station IDs, public service announcements and a few DJs that "like talk story too much," the volunteer staff brings listeners uninterrupted music all day long, strictly kokua from the pu'uwai, help from the heart. There's no kala, no money here, bruddah.

"The music links people to Hawai'i," says Galiza, "people who have been there or people who dream about going there."

hula dancers
Robert Scheer

Gourd and Light Foot: Hawaiian hula dancers play this hollow gourd called an Ipu as they make their world-recognized movements.

The Aloha Spirit

Scotts Valley fireman John Stone, 32, agrees. "Hawaiian music is the only other thing besides surfing that makes me forget about my problems," he says. Stone and his wife, nurse Sue Stone, 30, are both avid surfers. When they're not working, surfing or taking care of a garden full of tropical plants at their Opal Cliffs beach house, they are lost in the Islands. They average three trips to Hawai'i per year. For the Stones, it is the Hawaiian music that keeps the aloha spirit in their hearts.

John Stone went to live in the Islands right after high school, but says he didn't fully realize the cultural impact it had on him until he returned to the mainland. "When I came back, I started to put it all together," he says. "The music tied in with the culture and the people and everything. Next time, I want to be born Hawaiian."

Hawaiian music has been catching on elsewhere. This year, Cupertino public station KKUP-91.5 FM added a Hawaiian show to its lineup. The Pau Hana show airs at 7am every Friday, providing a musical charge that gets listeners ready--Hawaiian-style--for the weekend. Both KKUP and KHDC offer Hawaiian events calendars announcing lu'aus, concerts, canoe races, hula competitions and Island school reunions. There also is a monthly calendar mailed out by Kapalakiko Productions, which the stations use as an information source. Kapalakiko, in turn, supports both stations and promotes Hawaiian cultural events. KHDC has also started a Hawaiian Islands news show based on information gleaned from the Internet.

As it grows, the mainland Hawaiian community funnels its energy and resources inward. Money from the Hawaiian events support local businesses, which, in turn, support local Hawaiian programming. With the increased interest in Hawaiian culture, local Island artists now can tour on the mainland and have it help their careers back home. The Na Hoku Hanohano awards--literally meaning "to exalt the star"--honor Hawaiian performers and entertainers and have risen to a stature worthy of the Grammies, Bammies, Country Music Awards and other music ceremonies. It appears the aloha spirit is not only alive, it's profitable.

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From the Dec. 26, 1996 to Jan. 1, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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