Owana Ka`ohelelani Salazar,
(self-produced, 2000)

A steel guitar, sweeping through majestic chords; a rhythm guitar, mellow and rolling; and then the voice of Owana Salazar, soulful and soaring. From the opening phrases, this album reaches out, conjuring idyllic pictures of ocean, warm breezes, tropical forests. True, many a tourist will return from Hawaii, clutching this album and thankful for the memories. But more to the point, many a connoisseur of fine music will be inspired by Owana and her performance.

This album is a compilation on CD of tracks recorded for two earlier releases, and the most frustrating thing is, I would love to hear the songs left out! She has a trained voice, but Owana sings from her soul. There is joy in her voice, along with love, sorrow and more -- she lives the songs as she sings them. She uses her range well, and adds a delightful falsetto in that way Hawaiians alone can do.

One of the beauties of the music of these islands is the way it extends into a variety of genres without losing touch with its identity. There is no mistaking where it comes from, but at the same time, there are no boundaries.

The near bossa nova "Kula Morning" ripples sensually with the duet featuring Owana's singing and Kepa Stem's slide trombone. Stephen Salazar's piano work on "One Rose" (a variation of the old Jimmie Rodgers classic, which according to the notes, is of Hawaiian origin -- I didn't know that) creates a semi-ecclesiastic-cum-pub setting, very reminsiscent of London-Irish parlor music. The anthem-like "Kawailehua`a`alakahonua" with its slack key guitar, ukulele, bass, steel and vocals bring to mind Clannad at its best -- the entwined voices swoop through the strong melody to the acoustic accompaniment. The album ends in a smoky corner of a club as Owana strums unexpected chords and sings high and husky, while Gabe Baltazar spins a magical web on clarinet. Even pure Hawaiian songs such as "Makanani," with it's unusual chord structure and melody line, cross the culture divide and ring a distant yet familiar bell.

As long as there are performers like Owana Salazar, there are no boundaries to music. A fine slack key guitarist and ukulele player (I can vouch that she is a dab hand at steel, too) she reaches into a vast repertoire using quality as a guide, to convey the spirit of her home. You can taste the ocean, feel the warmth, see the mountains and fields, share the joys and the sorrows in this album. For almost three quarters of an hour, she gives more than a glimpse of Hawaii. I long to hear her again and I can't wait for her next album.

[ by Jamie O'Brien ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001