Punahou Sessions: ‘Hanohano Ha’ikū’

Leo ki’eki’e (Hawaiian falsetto singing) evolved from a melting pot of cultures. In 1832, Kamehameha III brought three Mexican vaqueros to Hawai’i Island to teach Hawaiians how to ride horses and herd cattle. The cowboys brought along instruments and music, and the tuning of their guitars became the foundation for slack key playing. Their falsetto singing style along with influences from the Spanish and Portuguese created the lilting, signature sound of the Islands.

While attending Holokū last year, I heard what I initially thought was a recording. But when I looked over at the band, I saw Nick La’a ’19 playing guitar and singing leo ki’eki’e, and thought to myself that we had to film that guy!

Nick grew up playing and singing in kanikapila settings, which he credits with giving him a large interest in developing his own musical ideas, and has set up a small recording studio in his bedroom to do just that.

As much as I love a great musical performance, it’s hard to beat the combination of Hawaiian music with hula. And whenever I have hula on my brain, I always reach out to Leilehua Phillips ’95 Utu and Lauli’a Phillips ’98 Ah Wong. And even though I contacted them just a few days before we recorded, they pulled a crew of aunties together, rehearsed them and mirrored the choreography during the taping to help them remember the moves.

Susan Abe ’70 Oi entered Punahou as a sophomore, and traveled from Haleiwa every day for school. She’s a self-described introvert and credits Reunions and the Punahou Glee Club with opening her up. Many years ago, after a tough Alumni Luau season, Hattie Eldredge ’66 Phillips, classmate Haunani Dalton ’70 Abdul and Susan headed down to the Marriott to see Aunty Genoa Keawe sing. On cue, Aunty Genoa invite the ladies on stage, and Hattie coaxed Susan and Haunani to dance to ʻAlekoki while Aunty Genoa played. Susan retired from Punahou in December 2019, after 22 years in the Visual Production Center.

Haunani Dalton ’70 Abdul teaches third grade in the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community for Grades 2 – 5, and is the parent to two Punahou graduates. Haunani’s deep friendship with Hattie Phillips (“our amazing friend, whom we miss so much!!!”) is the bond that brought her out to dance. And like all the other Punahou faculty, she’s about to embark on an unknown journey into distance learning this week.

Monita Moepono ’66 Brown is a proud member of the 13+ club, and received an MEd from the University of Hawai‘i at the same time as classmate Myron Arakawa ’66, Punahou’s director of college counseling. She retired from the Hawai‘i Department of Education in 2009, after spending nine years as a teacher and 31 years as a counselor. She fondly recalls a Christmas Fun Run from the late 1990s, organized by Hattie, which included Pal Eldredge ’64 as Santa, Hattie as Mrs. Claus, Malia Ane ’72, Marilyn Blaisdell ’48 Ane, and several other alumni. Moni and Chickie Lee Guillame ’73 pranced along as the first two reindeer, and scored a second-place victory for their costumes.

Lauli’a Phillips ’98 Ah Wong, Susan Abe ’70 Oi, Haunani Dalton ’70 Abdul, Monita Moepono ’66 Brown, and Leilehua Phillips ’95 Utu.

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