Continuing our look at Lena Machado’s final recordings, I have compiled this segment in such a manner that allows us to compare the 1962 versions of some of Lena’s originals with versions of the same songs from her 1930s sessions.
Lena’s 1962 version of “E Ku`u Baby Hot Cha Cha” isnothing like her first recording of the song that she cut with Dick McIntire’s Harmony Hawaiians nearly 25 years earlier on September 23, 1937. In fact, the later version is more like what we had expected the earlier version to sound like since Lena wrote the song inspired by the Latin rhythms of such artists of that period as Xavier Cugat, Prez Prado, and Tito Puente. The McIntire-led group completely abandoned all Latin rhythms and influences, but the 1962 group – with guitarists Sonny Kamahele and Cy Ludington, steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, and arranged by Benny Saks who also handled the piano and vibes chores – comes closer to the Latin feel with the galloping tempo and heavy percussion. Unlike the earlier version on which Lena sings every verse, the newer arrangement relies only on the men’s voices to handle the repeats of each verse.
Perhaps “Kauoha Mai” is Lena’s most well-known and enduring composition because it is the onlyone of her original songs she recorded three times throughout her career – in 1935 with Sol Ho`opi`i, again in 1937 with Dick McIntire, and finally with the 1962 group. The three arrangements vary little from each other with the notable exception of tempo. Lena and the boys take the 1962 version at about the same tempo as the 1935 version with Ho`opi`i – or what Sinatra referred to as “the tempo of the heartbeat” – while the 1937 version with McIntire was taken at a much peppier clip which, when held up side by side with either of the other two versions, is so fast as to feel almost like double-time. Another notable difference is that on the 1962 version Lena uses the verses she had previously reserved for a steel guitar solo to instead provide her English translation of the Hawaiian. One can only wonder about her intentions since an English translation of any Hawaiian-language song cannot convey the kaona (or multiple layers of meaning and metaphor) intrinsically embedded in the original Hawaiian. As linguists know, some concepts simply cannot be translated, and Lena’s spoken translation here is most literal and does not begin to speak to the artfulness of her songwriting.
But the most notable difference is that Lena sings a verse of “Kauoha Mai” in her 1962 recording which she deliberately omits – without plausible explanation – from both the 1935 and 1937 versions:
Ha`ina kau hana / Thus ends my song
Ke aloha`ole eā / Of your cheating ways
E ho`opulu a`e nei / They leave my eyelashes
I ku`u lihilihi eā / Damp with tears
Although we discussed the origins of the song here previously, Hawaiian composer and cultural expert Kīhei de Silva more closely examined the song’s closing line – which is also the song’s title – to attempt to discover what Lena really meant by “kauoha mai `eā.” It is often understood to mean “come out of there” – a command issued when the singer discovers her lover locked behind closed doors in the embrace of another. Or it could imply that the singer was deliberately set-up to discover the illicit affair – that the line should be attributed to the cheater who locks himself up with one woman and then tells the other woman to “come over” for the purpose of getting caught, a quick and easy end to a relationship no longer desired.
Lena debuted “Mai Lohilohi Mai `Oe” on record in 1935 with the group led by Sol Ho`opi`i that also yielded her first recording of “Kauoha Mai.” We discussed the earlier version and the origins of the song previously, and there is little difference – save for tempo – between the 1935 and 1962 versions.
The 1962 version of “Ho`onanea” again emulates the then very popular sound of a jazz quintet led by George Shearing which relied heavily on the interplay between guitar and piano or vibes. You may recall our discussion of the centerpiece of this composition: To add to the harmonic tension of the song, Lena replaces the expected dominant seventh (V7) chord with an augmented chord. It is important to understand that unique construction of an augmented triad allows those three notes to be played in different positions on a guitar or piano and still have an inversion of the same chord. (As we move up the guitar every four frets, the top note of the augmented chord in the previous position becomes the bottom note of the augmented chord in the next position, the middle note of the augmented triad in the previous position becomes the top note of the augmented chord in the next position, etc. This is true no matter how many times you move this chord around.) This is a unique feature of the augmented chord which is not shared by any other chord triad, and so it is one guitarists take advantage of all the time – especially steel guitarists who can simply slide their bar easily from an augmented chord in one position to the same augmented chord in the next position for dramatic effect. Nowhere in the 1935 recording – made in Hollywood with a group led by steel guitarist Sol Ho`opi`i – does Ho`opi`i take advantage of this feature, but steel guitarist Billy Hew Len does on the 1962 recording – starting as early as the second bar of his solo introduction and repeating this technique again in his solos later.
You read the story behind “Ho`onanea” here previously. What I did not tell you is that by the time of the 1962 recording, Lena had failed to renew her copyright for the song and was in danger of losing it. Because the copyright had expired, Lena had to obtain copyright all over again, and in order to do this, the newly submitted song had to be different from the original. So Lena changed only the last line:
E ake inu wai a ka manu / I long to drink deeply of love
E ake e pili me ku`u manu / I long to be close to my beloved
This is an interesting change given that the Hawaiian language conveys a sense of time not merely though tense (or how we use verbs to denote a location in time – past, present, or future, complete or incomplete, etc.) but also through aspect (in which the larger fabric of time is conveyed through context – what else has been said or not said – or tone of voice). The earlier version of the lyric – “E ake inu wai a ka manu” – conveys possibility of a love that is yet to be shared. But the later version – “E ake e pili me ku`u manu” – can convey either possibility or improbability depending on context. With this in mind, Kīhei de Silva gives us an interesting perspective of the song: The change in lyric is likely a reflection of the passing of Lena’s husband, Luciano, five years earlier in 1957. This is no longer the same kind of longing Lena felt when she was away on her long tours and Luciano remained at home. This may likely be the longing that stems from more permanent loss and, therefore, which is arguably even more keenly realized. Hānai daughter Pi`olani Motta refers to the 1962 version as more mature:
When you listen to the 1935 and 1962 recordings of the song, the first version is light and lively, like it’s about two young people on the beach who are dancing and having a good time. But the second version sounds like a heavy love song; it is much more romantic and mature, much more expressive of a deeply moving experience… It evolved into something more personal.
Motta goes on to say that copyright and the 1962 recording session notwithstanding, Lena rarely sang the new version of the lyric. If the song – and the new lyric – are truly about her beloved Luciano, then I conjecture that Lena did not sing the new lyric because it was meant only for her and Lu.
And, so, we close our look at Lena Machado’s recording career by comparing one of her final recordings to one of her earliest recordings of the same song.
Despite the popularity of these recordings and finally attaining an agent for the first time in her career, tragedy would bring Lena’s career to an abrupt end. In October 1965, Lena accidentally crashed her car into a tree in Po`ipū on Kaua`i on her way to her new home in Koloa. Her injuries were so extensive that she was flown to Honolulu for the best possible care, but despite exhaustive reconstructive surgery, Lena was left paralyzed in her left arm and blind in her left eye. Now add a pre-existing heart condition, and Lena would not return to the stage for years – not until 1969 when she moved to Kailua, Kona on the island of Hawai`i and performed at Kona’s King Kamehameha Hotel. But it would not be long before a heart attack sent Lena back to O`ahu and Queen’s Hospital and eventually confinement at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation Center. It is widely acknowledged that “professional entertainer in Hawai`i” is not a career path that results in a safety net or nest egg of any kind. Lena exhausted all of her insurance policies and sold anything of value – including her house – to stay ahead of her medical expenses. To help defray the mounting medical bills, on December 17, 1973 Lena’s friend, Genoa Keawe, produced an all-star fundraiser. Lena was naturally moved, but so, too, were her doctors who reflected on Lena’s contributions – to Hawai`i at large but also, on a more personal level, to these doctors’ schools and churches – and they waived the rest of their medical fees – freeing Lena’s mind of this overwhelming burden.
Lena Machado passed away on January 22, 1974 in her room at Hale Nani. But she left a lasting legacy of an enviable singing voice and style (emulated still today by such young female singers in Hawai`i as Raiatea Helm) and a seemingly endless catalog of compositions just perfect for budding falsetto singers. She also forged a songwriting style that can be seen in new compositions by Robert Cazimero, Taupouri Tangaro and Kekuhi Kealiikanakaole, and Puakea Nogelmeier.
Next time: A few of Lena’s compositions you’ve not yet heard here performed by some of Hawai`i’s greatest voices…
[Editor’s Note: Biographical information provided by the quintessential volume on Lena Machado’s life and work, Songbird of Hawai`i: My Memories of Aunty Lena by Pi`olani Motta with Kihei De Silva. For more information about this historically and culturally significant artist, I encourage you to read this book cover to cover. Highly recommended.
The songs from the 1962 sessions have been digitally remastered and rereleased by Cord International/Hana Ola Records as Lena Machado – Hawaiian Songbird, the cover of which is pictured here and which is available both as a CD and MP3 download from most major music retailers.]