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Danny Kaopuiki's

Kama`aina Profile

November 2006

A Love Story


This is not a "romance" type love story.........but it is a story about love! It's about love for one's culture, about love for the music of one's culture, about man's love for others!

The 2006 Lokahi Ohana Ho`olaulea festivities began at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, October 7, 2006 when the opening group of musicians began playing the music they love so much. The Kiho`alu guitarists, definitely the best such group in the Pacific Northwest area, were dressed in their usual black paniolo style attire, with feather leis on their cowboy hats and around their necks! As always, their slack key melodies were sweet and nahenahe (gentle), reminiscent of the way generations of Hawaiian Kiho`alu musicians had played "back home" (on the beaches and ranches of old Hawaii).

Only this time, there was something different from past performances by this group as there were five chairs on the stage but one sat empty except for a lei bedecked cowboy hat on the seat and a guitar leaning against the chair. Seated in the other chairs, sadness reflecting in their eyes but smiles nonetheless on their handsome Hawaiian faces, Zeke Kala, Sam Awaa, Jay Bernobis and Harrom Kaili played their guitars and sang their hearts out in respect for the Hawaiian culture they love so much, for the unique slack key music they play so well but mostly, mostly as a tribute to Kaleo Smythe, their friend who would have been sitting in the empty chair except that he had died of a heart attack a few days earlier! Many groups would have cancelled their performance but these men felt that the best way to honor their fallen comrade was by playing the music they had shared with their friend for so many years.  It was a great moment in time, a magnificently fulfilling moment for all, sad but heartlifting at the same time!  The name of the group is Kaula Ili Kiho`alu......and this is their story!

Kaula Ili Kīho`alu at the 2006 Lōkahi `Ohana Ho`olaule`a (L-R): Sam Awaa, Harrom Kaili, an empty chair for David Kaleo Smythe, Zeke Dala & Jay Berinobis
Photo by NWHIT

All five men were born in Hawaii.  All five men spent many years of their lives as servicemen defending our country.  All five men were retired and actively engaged in Hawaiian community activities in the Pacific NW, donating their time and musical talents to numerous Polynesian themed events over the years!  There are hundreds of good guitar players in this area but only a handful, including our Profile guests, excel at playing Kiho`alu style music! Their Kiho`alu proficiency was gained through hours/days/ months/years of effort and practice, most of which was done as a group.......more than friends, more than fellow musicians, these men were more like brothers.

ZEKE KALA was born in Honolulu but spent most of his early years living in Kona with his grandparents though Zeke did return to Honolulu for high school (he is a Kaimuki HS guy). Zeke learned to play Kiho`alu by watching (and imitating) some of the "old" masters like Mark Kahikina and Fred Punahou play at the beach by the Waikiki Natatorium. Zeke served in the US Army from 1950-1971, with combat tours in Korea and Vietnam. Zeke and his wife Lavern and their Ohana reside in the Tacoma area.

SAMUEL KAMUELA AWAA III was born in Kawaihaeuka (South Kohala) on the Big Island and is a Kohala HS grad. Sam worked for the Parker Ranch after high school until he was drafted into the US Army from which he retired after a 24 year career in 1981.  He had tours in Korea and in Vietnam. Sam's love for music, especially traditional and Kiho`alu style, began almost from the moment he could walk and talk as his was a very musically talented family. Sam is the "golden voice" of the group and has developed his own unique singing and playing style. Sam and his wife Lulu celebrated their 45th anniversary this year and have lived in Washington State for the past 37 years.

JAY BERINOBIS is from Kaneohe, Oahu and has the distinction of being a member of the last graduating class from Benjamin Parker HS in Kaneohe. Jay had a 22 year career (1955-1977) in the US Army including tours in Vietnam and on the DMZ in Korea. Originally a bass player, Jay began playing slack key guitar (under mentor Zeke Kala) after he joined the group a few years ago. Jay and his family reside in the Tacoma, WA area. 

HARROM HOOKANO KAILI is the youngster of the group. He is from Waimea, Kauai (Waimea HS '65) and had a very distinguished twenty years (1968-1988) career in the US Army. Among his many awards are a Silver Star (third highest medal for valor) and three Broze Stars, all for heroic actions in combat conditions in Vietnam.  Harrom and his wife Haunani reside in the Puyallup, WA area.

DAVID KALEOLANI SMYTHE was born in Kona on the Big Island but grew up in Honolulu. Kaleo enlisted in the US Marines after graduating from McKinley HS in Honolulu. After his tour with the US Marines, Kaleo settled in California before moving to the Tacoma, WA area. Kaleo began playing slack key guitar sixteen years ago and it was one of his passions.  Kaleo was returning from a vacation trip to visit his California friends when he suffered his fatal heart attack. Per his wishes, David Kaleolani Smythe's ashes will be scattered in the seas off the Kona coast.

At 5:30 p.m. on October 7th, 2006, nearly seven hours after they had opened the Lokahi 2006 Fall Ho`olaulea festivities, our Kaula Ili Kiho`alu musicians were in the Dining Room, still playing and singing their songs of love and praise for Hawaii and for their fallen friend......Mahalo Zeke Kala, Sam Awaa, Jay Bernobis and Harrom Kaili for demonstrating the unique love you share for our culture, for our music and for each other.....and Aloha Oe Kaleo Smythe, we miss you!!!

Until next time, be kind to each other......me ke Aloha pumehana........Danny


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