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August 3, 2006

Hawaiian Harmony

San Francisco Chronicle (CA):

Polynesians plan to take over the Presidio for the 12th year in a row this weekend, but as usual it's a welcome invasion. The Aloha Festival is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the parade grounds on Saturday and Sunday with free performances of island music and dance, recruited from the Bay Area's rich community of artists, and vendors of local-style food, crafts and aloha wear.

Hitting a distinctive note in the happy hubbub will be Na Leo Nahenahe, an a cappella choir in San Francisco that sings almost exclusively in Hawaiian. Since the group's profile ran in Datebook 15 months ago, director John Lehrack has decided to spread around its sound a lot more. "(This) has been a really ambitious year for us. Traditionally we perform only once a year in a big concert and at the Aloha Festival, but this year we have four major concerts," Lehrack said.

Na Leo Nahenahe (sweet voices), has already given concerts in San Francisco and Redwood City. "A couple of years ago, we tried to do two shows, and it seemed like it was too much, but people said, 'No, we want to get out there,' " Lehrack recalled. "We've performed mostly in San Francisco, but there are so many people that have some kind of connection to Hawaii, especially in the East Bay and the Peninsula, that we just want to share the music and the aloha spirit with other folks."

Dale Hopkins of Berkeley is typical of the 30 or so members of Na Leo Nahenahe in that she's not Hawaiian but loves the culture. "I was raised in Hawaii -- I went out there when I was 6 -- because my dad was in the Navy. We just totally fell in love with Hawaii, and my parents ended up living there, retiring there and eventually dying there. My mother worked for years with the (environmental group) Life of the Land, and fought the H-3 highway," Hopkins said. "Most people (in the choir) have a spiritual connection and a love for Hawaii."

The group rarely sings in English, as reflected in its choice of songs for the Aloha Festival: "Maliu Mai," "Kamalani O Keaukaha," "E Nihi Ka Hele," "Ku'u Pua I Paoakalani," "Makalapua" and "E Mau Ana Ka Ha'aheo." The latter, by Haunani Apoliona of Olomana, is one of the group's favorites, Lehrack said. "It's a song of Hawaiian pride, calling for endurance of the Hawaiian people and the legacy moving forward into the future."

Hopkins said she's one of three or four members of Na Leo Nahenahe who have studied Hawaiian formally, having taken lessons from Mahea Uchiyama when she was part of her hula halau. Hopkins no longer dances with Uchiyama's group, but she and two other women in Na Leo Nahenahe will perform hula to "Kipahulu" and "Kamali'i O Ka Po" at the Mill Valley concert, which also features guest artists Pulama and Fran Guidry.

Lehrack started Na Leo Nahenahe in 1999 after moving from Honolulu, where he sang in the University of Hawaii chorus and became familiar with the Kamehameha Schools' annual choral contest. "People were great resources for me when I started this group. Kamehameha Schools is one of the few groups that has a song competition anywhere. There aren't many a cappella groups out there, and not many that sing in Hawaiian," Lehrack said.

Posted by acapnews at August 3, 2006 10:20 PM