Hawaii claims birth-state status this year for The Man Who Would Be Prez, Democratic model. And Nevada claims home-state status for The Event That Will Be The 18th Annual Prince Jonah Kuhio Ho’olaule’a Pacific Islands Festival, desert model.
Yo, Barack, wanna drop by for some poi?
"Hawaiian people are completely welcoming as far as their culture, so inviting," says Charles Herring, president of the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club and an organizer of this weekend’s festival at the Henderson Events Plaza.
Vendors peddling regional delicacies — Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Hawaiian cuisines are among the palate-tempters — will join demonstration booths for lei-making, Hawaiian board games and other crafts, plus two stages of entertainment, Pacific Island-style.
"Looking at the people coming through our events, as far as non-Hawaiians, there’s as much as 30 percent. So many non-Hawaiians have the heart for Hawaiian goods and culture. And there’s so many people who love Hawaiian music, that brings everybody together."
On the double stages are a quartet of acts: The Brothers Kaloku & Keawe, who recount their world travels through their songs; Mikioi, a female duo with a wide-ranging repertoire of Hawaiian, country, oldies and R&B genres; Vaihi, a foursome of "local Hawaiian country boys" specializing in contemporary Hawaiian music with a high-energy kick; and Las Vegas-based Ho’omanawanui, sharing its gentle island tunes flavored by jazz and blues.
"We have an international feel with a Hawaiian swing to it," says bandleader/ukulele player Jonathan Ho’omanawanui. "It’s unique."
Quite catchy, too — and surprising. Consider "Love You, Lord," the title suggesting a fervent gospel declaration, but delivering the infectious bounce of a pretty pop song, its lyrics both prayerful and playful:
"I love you, Lord, and I praise your name. I love you Lord, and I hope you’re near. … Dancin’-dancin’ Lord, jumpin’ for you; rockin’-rockin’ Lord, fired up for you."
With a hummable hook that sways like palm trees in a breeze, it can unlock your hips and set them rotating to the languid, steel drumlike rhythm, its easygoing melody shining through the chords.
"I don’t have religion," Ho’omanawanui says. "I just have a relationship with God."
But religion recedes on the loping "Jammin’ Tonight," a strawberry daiquiri of a song, jaunty ukulele strumming beneath warm harmonies, cool harmonicas and words with a wink:
"I got the blues comin’ down on me, and I feel like jammin’ tonight; and the temperature’s rising, which tells me I’m stayin’ tonight."
This is seduction as soothing island whisper.
"Some songs we play a reggae beat or dance-hall or the katchi-katchi beat, which is more of a Latin feel, and when we put it together with the blues, we make it island swing," Ho’omanawanui says.
"Though we don’t have the steel drums, we have the tendency to make it sound like the high pitch of the steel drums. It all depends on where we place our fingers on the skins of the bongos to muffle the sounds, or hit the side of the bongos that makes that slapping sound."
The band’s refreshing repertoire doesn’t crowd out audience favorites.
"Whatever they want, whether it’s to sing ‘Tiny Bubbles’ or ‘The Hawaiian War Chant,’ I try to tailor my music to make the people happy," he says about taking requests. But hearing the beach-at-sunset harmonies of Ho’omanawanui, it’s near impossible not to sip these songs like umbrella drinks.
"People are starving to hear original, cultural Hawaiian music, people who aren’t even from Hawaii who wish to visit the islands, and they know they can have that experience by listening to us perform," he says. "The music has a loving feeling."
Mainlanders-turned-islanders can enjoy a pina colada-kinda weekend — assuming you can break away from all the political palaver.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0256.PREVIEW what: Prince Jonah Kuhio Ho’olaule’a Pacific Islands Festival when: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday where: Henderson Events Plaza, 200 S. Water Street tickets: Free (267-2171)