Some twelve years ago, I was a beginning ‘ukulele player at a Hawaiian music workshop on the Big Island. One rainy afternoon, I walked into the front foyer of the Pahala Plantation House, where the workshop was taking place, to find Dennis Kamakahi (on guitar) and his son, David (on ‘ukulele), playing “Kawika.”
Even then I knew this was a moment that would live with me for a long, long time. I just didn’t know how or when it would come back to me.
Why David and Dennis were playing “Kawika” that afternoon, I don’t know. Most of us think of Dennis, who passed away in 2014, in reference to the popular songs he wrote: “Wahine Ilikea,” “Koke‘e,” and “Pua Hone.” But Dennis was, among other things, a gifted scholar of Hawaiian history and culture. And “Kawika,” recorded by Sunday Manoa in 1969, is considered by many to be the spark that ushered in the second Hawaiian Renaissance—a revitalization of the traditions, culture, and language of the Hawaiian people. Maybe it was part of a story Dennis was telling about King David (Kawika) Kalakaua, whom the song was written about. Maybe he just really liked it. It is a powerful piece of music.
Looking around the room on that rainy day in Pahala, I also saw (a very young) Brad Bordessa sitting on the stairs, listening intently to Dennis and David and soaking it all in. This was where I first met Brad, who was thirteen at the time—a serious musician even then. (A few years later, Brad posted an excellent ‘ukulele tutorial for “Kawika” on his blog, Live ‘Ukulele.)
That rainy afternoon in Pahala, the Kamakahi’s playing “Kawika,” and Brad listening on the stairway. . . . .all that musical magic came rushing back a few weeks ago when Brad suggested creating and teaching an ‘ukulele ensemble for “Kawika” at the 2018 Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat, October 14 – 20. And with Kaliko Beamer Trapp also on the staff, to teach Hawaiian percussion, language, and pronunciation, there was no question in my mind that “Kawika” was simply meant to happen. And so it will.
Below is a link to “Kawika,” as recorded by Sunday Manoa. Enjoy. And while you do, imagine taking part in the musical ‘ukulele magic that happens each year in Hawi, at the northern end of the Kohala Coast. Registration is still open and the Kohala Village Inn still has a few rooms available.
If you can’t wait until October, you can get a quick lesson from Brad right here: