The 2018 Na Hoku Hanohano Award nominees have been announced and some Kauai musicians are excited to be recognized by Hawaii’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
Lawai songwriter Mark Riley was selected as a finalist for Religious Album of the Year for his remixed and remastered recording, “Carry Me On.”
Hawaiian rapper “Illtalian,” Thomas Iannucci, was nominated for Best Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year.
Kilauea’s Stuart Hollinger was nominated for Rock Album of the Year for “Eklectic,” produced by Baby Boy Productions.
Also nominated for Rock Album of the Year was Anahola’s Pierce Bivens for his EP “Shining,” produced by Bandwagon Studios.
The 2018 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards will be held on Saturday, May 19, in Honolulu. Online voting for the awards began April 5, and all voting members will be emailed when the final ballot is available.
“It’s an album that pays respect not only to God but to our culture around us as far as the music and the people in relation to faith, hope and love,” said Riley, an ordained pastor with a local church and an itinerant minister with Music Missions International Hawaii.
“It’s important for us to relate where we live in terms of our sound and in terms of honoring where we are,” Riley said.
The nominated album is a compilation resulting from many years of working with different people. One of the Hawaiian musicians featured is Kawika Kahiapo, well known by Na Hoku followers and the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts as an accomplished slack-key artist.
“This particular album stands out as something special, and I’m glad people got to listen to it and recognize it,” Riley said. “I don’t really do things for money or accolades.”
Another musician who contributed, Kauai resident Chucky Boy Chock, learned from the greats like Gabby Pahinui and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, then encouraged Riley to submit his music after his 24-year-old son, Lucas Makana, was killed by a drunken driver almost two years ago.
“I was just about ready to release this project, and when that happened I didn’t do it. I just didn’t have it in me to do a lot of things,” Riley said. “Last year, we decided to not only get it out but to dedicate it to him.”
The album jacket features an underwater image of his son sitting on a surfboard. The album also stars Kauai resident Michael Ruff, a world-renowned keyboard arranger and Grammy-nominated song writer who has won multiple Na Hoku Awards.
“This particular album has a cast of tremendous people,” Riley said. “Usually our projects like this are kind of reunions. We might spend a couple years out and about playing at different places.”
Riley and his team, with sound engineer Kevin Penner, have recorded eight albums to date, and regularly lead times of worship, as well as many other music engagements both in and outside church venues.
“I play guitar, ukulele, a little bit of keyboard and some percussion,” Riley said. “I sing all of the songs and do some of the background stuff, but I like to collaborate.”
His longtime friend and producer, Martin Neil of Voices From the Nation, a music ethnologist who travels around the world, was the main drummer and percussionist for all the previous projects.
“Martin is really the one that helps to expand and finish all of my crazy ideas,” Riley said.
They do a lot of things internationally together, working with indigenous groups to develop songwriting from their heart language.
“We’ve spent time with people in various different places trying to cultivate songwriting,” Riley said. “We believe that people have a voice and that God is showing them things… It’s more important that they tell their story than tell someone else’s.”
Riley is part of a group called Music Mission International that he says exists to make God’s presence known through either music or video.
“I’m more interested in the goodness and the mystery of God’s love than I am in finding out why bad things happen,” Riley added. “We have to really understand what faith and what hope and what love is not when times are necessarily all good but actually when we really understand how much we need God and how much we need each other.”
Another Kauai artist to be nominated for the highly esteemed music award of Rock Album of the Year is Kilauea’s Stuart Hollinger for his album “Eklectic,” produced by Baby Boy Productions.
“When I was getting my songs together, I just thought about topics that have happened to me or my family, such as my brothers’ different hardships that they’ve gone through, and losing a loved one,” said Hollinger.
The singer, songwriter, bassist and guitarist says making his third album was a lot of fun while working with musician and friend Ruff as well.
“Music is a great vehicle to kind of highlight what topics are out there that people know but don’t talk about,” Hollinger said.
His songs share messages about important issues, like drug abuse and human trafficking, as well as tunes expressing love and heartache.
“I was honored just to be a finalist,” he said. “It’s great because on the one hand I’m representing our little island against the big boys on Oahu.”
“Living over here it’s much easier to write because there’s not as much mental interference,” Hollinger added. “We’re very fortunate that we have a lot of nature where you can keep your own thought patterns moving without being bombarded.”
Hawaiian rapper Illtalian, whose birth name is Thomas Iannucci, was nominated along with his producer Ariki Foster for their work on his debut album, “Makana,” in the Best Rap/Hip Hop Album of the Year category.
The album, which features guest verses by some of the biggest names in Christian rap (including 1k Phew, Je’kob, Swift and Gemstones, as well as guest production by Grammy winner Big Juice and Grammy nominee Spechouse), was released in December of 2017.
It has currently been streamed more than 10,000 times on Spotify.
“It’s an honor to be nominated,” said Foster. “It’s pretty rare for a Kauai artist to get nominated since we’re from one of the smallest islands, especially in the rap category. I don’t think it’s happened before. I’m very excited to see where we go from here.”
The album was named in memory of one of Iannucci’s best friends, Lucas Makana Riley, who was killed in a car accident in 2016. The name “Makana” means “gift” in Hawaiian. Riley is the son of Mark Riley.
“When I decided to name the album ‘Makana,’ it was a bit of a play on words,” said Iannucci. “It was my gift to Lucas, and my way to honor his memory, as well as a way to share my gift of rapping with the world. And now, God has blessed me with an incredible gift by getting us this nomination.”
“To say that I’m happy to be nominated is an understatement,” Iannucci added. “Winning a Hoku was the end goal when we started making the album over two years ago. We’re so close now. It feels like validation, in many ways, for all the hard work and heart we put into it. God is so good. I just wish Lucas was here to see this.”
Also nominated for Rock Album of the Year is Anahola’s Pierce Bivens for his EP “Shining,” produced by Bandwagon Studios.
“The album is a reflection of my work from the ages 13-15, and is, as a result, influenced by a large range of artists, concepts and genres,” Bevins said. “It encompasses a lot of work and a few different time periods in my life.”
“I’m so excited to share more of my music with the world,” Bevins added. “I’d like to thank Jeremy Hartshorn for producing the album, all the musicians for lending their talent, and the people of Kauai for their support.”
John Steinhorst, reporter, can be reached at 245-0435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.