You can imagine how it happened: the confluence of the islands’ long history of musical output with the nightlife of 1970s Honolulu—think tourists, cocaine, and clubs pumping disco. Hawaii had always been a very musical place, and Polynesian culture as a whole was very rich musically. Hawaii has historically bred great musicians. There are near-lost treasures of Polynesian folk music that were recorded to 78rpm as early as we were recording blues and jazz on the mainland. Modern musical styles, such as slack-key guitar, came out of Hawaii. Vibist and exotica pioneer Arthur Lyman, who was born on Oahu, recorded Taboo 2 on the island with producer David Axelrod in 1959. But in the 1970s, there was a new Renaissance of Hawaiian recording happening in various studios. Some of these bands and musicians broke out and made a name for themselves in the States, like Kalapana and Seawind. But most of the records stayed on the islands, or barely made their way to California. There were rock records, R&B, funk, smooth AOR/blue-eyed soul, and disco. Hawaiian musicians were blending traditional Polynesian sounds with modern music that was coming from the mainland, and as the 1970s wound down, and disco filled Honolulu’s clubs (and continued into the ’80s), Hawaii produced some rare disco gems, like 1978’s Lemuria, written and produced by Kalapana cofounder Kirk Thompson.
Another such holy grail record is Nohelani Cypriano’s self-titled album, released the following year in 1979. A multi-instrumentalist named Dennis Graue had his hands all over the album, playing piano, organ, Clavinet, and synths like Arp’s Odyssey Bass, the Omni, and the String Ensemble. But it was producer Mike Cord who really helped shape the sound and success of the album. Cord, who was born in New York and raised in Vegas, moved to Hawaii in 1968, played in some local bands, and later became an important Hawaiian-music archivist and reissuer.
Cord, who described Cypriano’s music as “nostalgic Polynesian funk,” released her first single, the amazing “Lihue,” on his own label, HanaOla Records. The song found its way to the mainland and beyond through the popular Hawaiian and San Diego, California, compilation series called Home Grown. It was because of this comp that DJs in England and elsewhere have been playing the track for decades, as the original LP was always very hard to come by.
“I really think that a lot of my opportunity in how I broke out on the music scene wasn’t just because of Home Grown and ‘Lihue’; it was really [Mike Cord],” Cypriano recently said after Cord’s death in May 2015. “Dennis and I were experimenting with the style, but it was also Michael’s suggestions of what he wanted to hear.”
In collaboration with our friends at Aloha Got Soul, London-based reissue label Be With Records has remastered and reissued Nohelani on vinyl. Be With has been on a roll lately. They recently released the impossible-to-find Prone as well as Hard Candy by Ned Dohney, and then they just killed it by reissuing the African disco/boogie holy grail by Letta Mbulu, In the Music… Don’t miss these releases.