Remembrance: Eddie Kamae

Legendary Hawaiian musician, composer and filmmaker, Eddie Kamae passes Jan 7, 2017, at age 89.

I first met Eddie and Myrna Kamae through my sister-in-law, Leona Kamoku. Leona was a waitress at Pineapple Grill in Kapalua on Maui where she befrended Myrna while Eddie was courting Myrna. We were all ‘connected’ by Myrna and Leonas friendship and shared many homemade meals of stew and rice, or chicken long rice with lomi salmon and poi at Leona and Pauline Kamoku‘s home on Manono Street in Hilo.

Eddie was born on Maui in Oluwalu and his great grandmother was a hula dancer and chanter for King David Kalakaua. It was his grandmother who taught Aunty Emma Farden Sharp how to hula.

I was going to art school at CCAC (California College of Arts and Crafts) in Oakland California in the late 60’s and into the early 70’s, Eddie and Myrna would send us copies of their latest music endeavors. I remember Christmas 1972, getting the boxed album LP and booklets of the Sons of Hawaii with illustrations and drawings by Herb Kawainui Kane. I’ll never forget how impressive the illustrations of Herb Kane were; especially the drawings on the red cover.  As an art student I was excited by the pairing of Herb Kane’s illustrations with the music of Eddie Kamae, Gabby Pahinui, Joe Marshall, David “Feet” Rogers, and Moe Keale. To me their sound on that album was the beginning of the Hawaiian Renaissance. It brought back memories of my childhood and of my Kupuna (Elders) and the music that I remember as a child growing up in South Kona, Kealia.

Later when I graduated from CCAC, I returned to the Big Island of Hawaii and started playing music with my brother Moses. This was the mid 70’s and we were still inspired by the music of Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawaii. Dennis Kamakahi had joined the Sons replacing Gabby Pahinui who started his own thing with his own sons and friends including Ry Cooder. Dennis brought with him original compositions that gave, us young musicians, “permission” to write and compose our own songs. We all followed Dennis’s example and began writing our own songs. Both Eddie and Dennis were mentored by Tutu Kawena Pukui who was my own grandmother Tutu Emily Lihue Ho’opale Dulay‘s cousin from Ka’u on the Island of Hawaii.

Eddie and Myrna’s song, “E Kuʻu Morning Dew,” (with Hawaiian lyrics by Larry Kimura) inspired me to write my first Hawaiian song with Kalani Meinecke called “Kai Malino” the “Peaceful Sea.” Along the way, many groups were inspired by Eddie Kamae and the music of the Sons of Hawaii, such as: Da Blalahs from Keaukaha in Hilo, and the Makaha Sons of Niihau from Waianae, and the Waiehu Sons from Maui, The Volcano Homestead Band, The Cazimero’s and Sunday Manoa and even ourselves, The Kahumoku Brothers. Eddie Kamae led us all into the heart of the Renaissance of Hawaiian music and culture.

In 1975, many other Hawaiian life changing events took place on several levels. Native Hawaiians got recognized by the US government as being Native Americans and we formed Alu Like – a Native Hawaiian non-profit to register and count our Hawaiian Natives and document a needs assessment.

The sailing of the Hokuleʻa canoe without modern navigation tools rekindled Native Hawaiian Pride as we began retracing our Native Roots back to Tahiti.

Being Hawaiian and dancing the Hula had an upsurge of interest with the creation of the Merry Monarch Hula Festivals in Hilo by Aunty Iolani Luahine, Uncle George Naope and managed by Hilo Parks & Recreation director at Kulana Nauao, Aunty Dottie Thompson.

There was a movement by the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, the grassroots organization dedicated to the healing of Kanaloa-Kahoʻolawe starting with the stopping of the bombing on Kahoʻolawe.

Eddie Kamae was researching old songs written by Queen Liliuokalani and bringing them to life again.

I continued to get mentoring from Eddie and Myrna Kamae into the early 80’s and 90’s; sharing meals and music and friendship. Eddie urged me to write my own songs and to take charge of my own music and music career. He urged me not to sign away my musical rights to my songs or to my music and to register them with the copyright office and do my own thing.

Eddie’s focus on Hawaiian music continued to evolve, changing from performing to documenting and telling Hawaii’s stories. He was looking beyond music. He began to focus on making films and movies about our Hawaiian musicians, our Hawaiian culture and oral telling of stories. He produced films on Sam Lia, and Luther Makekau– both legends in their own time! I helped Eddie and Myrna raise almost a half-million dollars through my connections in the legislature and he matched it with community grants from First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii to create his film “A Hawaiian Way” that featured many Hawaiian Slack Key guitarists including me and my brother Moses.

At the same time I was working on Ray Kane’s film called “That Slackkey Guitar” with producer/filmaker Susan Friedman. We filmed a segment at Hale O Hoʻoponopono for the film with Diane Aki and my young niece Kanani Enos.

Over a period of 10 years, I moved to Kohala to ranch cattle and farmed alfalfa hay, moved back to Kona where I farmed coffee and ti leaf and raised pigs, and I with all my moves, I lost touch with Eddie and Myrna for a while.

Then I reconnected with them in 2001 and played music with Eddie at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz California where they were showing their film about Aunty Edith Kanakaʻole.

Later in 2015, we again reconnected with Eddie and Myrna in Waikiki. We shared a meal and then interviewed Eddie for Dennis Kamakahi‘s film for The Masters of Hawaiian Music documentary film series that Dave Barry and I created.

The message I learned from Eddie and Myrna Kamae was the message they had both learned from Tutu Kawena Pukui. Her message was to:

share the music of our Kupuna or Elders, create the music of our time and places and to remember to always mentor, share and play for the children of Hawaiʻi Nei (“this [beloved] Hawaiʻi.”)

It is because of Eddie and Myrna Kamae, that I have become the musician, mentor and story teller on film, that I am today.