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Hapa brings part of Hawaii here

This past Monday, Barry Flanagan left his Hawaiian hometown, where the temperature was a comfortable 80-plus degrees and the waves were the highest this time of year, to visit Washington, D.C., where temperatures were in the teens.

Even though Flanagan had to change his warm-weather apparel for heavy coats and sweaters, he wasn’t complaining; Flanagan voluntarily trades being in a great climate for a more challenging climate every year.

“What I love to do each February, I love to go out in the dead of winter and let Hawaiians at heart and transplanted Hawaiian people here know how much we love them,” Flanagan said Tuesday morning, as he watched the rain begin to freeze. A guitarist, Flanagan founded the contemporary Hawaiian music troupe Hapa (slang for “ethnically mixed”) in 1983, and in doing so, has become a Hawaiian culture ambassador.



“We like to go out and, shall we say, ‘warm them up.’ This time is the most freezing weather in Washington. We love going out here this time of year.”

At first glimpse, Flanagan might seem an unlikely ambassador. Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Flanagan is a second-generation Irish/American. Hawaii has been his home, though, since 1980, and Flanagan, 48, has spent exactly half his life there.




After listening to a record while living in Boulder, Colo. (his first time away from home), featuring renown slack key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, Flanagan decided to go directly to the source – Hawaii – to study slack-key guitar (Kiho Alu) and Hawaiian poetic song composing (Haku Mele).

“I loved the music and heard there was slack-key festivals there. So I delved into it 24/7 from 1980 to 1985,” Flanagan said.

He did his research well.

Flanagan received a prestigious “Haku Mele” award from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts in 1994 for “excellence of song composition in the Native Hawaiian language” for the love song, “Lei Pikake.” Produced, composed and arranged by Flanagan, Hapa’s self-titled debut release won six awards at the 1994 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards – the Hawaiian equivalent to the Grammys.

Awards and milestones have continued to pile up ever since for Hapa, the first Hawaiian act to perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1994.

Hapa’s debut release still holds the record as the No. 1 selling recording by a Hawaiian music group or duo in Hawaiian music. Its “In the Name of Love” (1997) won “The Year’s Best Album” from the Honolulu Advertiser and “Namahana” (1999) debuted in Billboard’s Top 10 World Music chart.

Four years ago, Flanagan and Kenny Loggins co-composed “Hana Aluna Lullaby,” featuring a chorus in the Hawaiian language, marking the first time a song using Hawaiian lyrics was ever nominated for a Grammy.

Two years ago, Flanagan released his first solo recording, “Instrumental Peace,” which reached the No. 1 spot on New York City’s world music cable station MP1. “Instrumental Peace” was used in a Borders Books and Music in-store promotional campaign across the country.

Then there is the favorable press that follows the troupe, including Billboard Magazine’s quote, “…Hawaii’s hottest group …” and Elle magazine’s quote, “…Hawaii’s super group ….”

In addition, Hapa tours every other month throughout the United States, Japan and Canada, most often playing at sold-out concerts. Of 13 HAPA shows booked between now and Feb. 15 from the East Coast to Irvine, five sold out weeks in advance. Appearing in Grass Valley this Wednesday, the troupe includes 15-year Hula dancer Jackie Booth and lead vocalist Nathan Aweau. Last year, Aweau, who was legendary Don Ho’s musical director for 15 years, won Na Hoku Hanohano awards for Male Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year.

Flanagan is exactly where he wants to be, which is playing his beloved Hawaiian music around the globe (an European tour is set for next year) and then returning home to “the greatest home base” or Hawaii.

As for Hapa’s sound, Flanagan calls it “a buffet of contemporary Hawaiian music.”

“It’s not too much of one thing. Everyone these days likes to have choices,” explained Flanagan, who writes two-thirds of the originals. “Hapa’s music includes the past, present and future of the respective genre known as contemporary Hawaiian music.”

“As long as this music adheres to its respect for the Hawaiian living language, making sure that the pronunciation of the words is correct in song composition,” Flanagan added, “Hawaiian music has the freedom to add all different forms of music from around the world.”

That’s why new listeners to this genre might be surprised with Hapa, Flanagan pointed out.

“Contemporary Hawaiian music brings a sense of calming and peace to a lot of people’s lives; there’s a lot of grounding, not that it puts you to sleep,” Flanagan said.

“When you get it, you really get it. There’s a lot of preconceived notions, that Hawaiian music is just guitar. Contemporary Hawaiian music is of a different ilk, going through different periods, including big band music, lots of folk music worldwide. It’s exciting, thought-provoking, culturally relevant and highly entertaining music, which never repeats the same thing.”


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