Sounds from the Mountain: Olomana

April 2, 2012 | By Waikiki Magazine Team

(left to right) Jerry Santos, Haunani Apoliona and Willy Suenaga. Photos courtesy of Olomana

The people, place and culture are the “magic” formula for what makes Hawai‘i so special and memorable. And no one understands this “sense of place” better than longtime local musician Jerry Santos.

Right now, he’s up on stage sharing his aloha spirit by telling stories and singing songs—about Hawai‘i, of course—during another serene evening at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Bar. The cold drinks flow while a slight tropical trade wind blows through the packed house of locals and visitors. Led by founding member Santos, the Olomana trio, including Haunani Apoliona (vocals/slack key guitar) and Wally Suenaga (vocals/bass), is moving through a 20-minute medley of classic Hawaiian songs. It feels like stepping back in time to a kinder, gentler era.

“It’s about creating an authentic Hawai‘i experience,” comments Santos inbetween the evening’s sets. “Hopefully, both visitors and locals can come together and enjoy what we’re doing.”

Santos should know a thing or two about what works with crowds in the heart of Waikiki; he’s been playing here for more than 30 years. As he puts it, you have to be comfortable with doing it all and changing it up at a moment’s notice depending on how the crowd responds. “I enjoy singing songs that we grew up with and mixing in some contemporary ones as well.”

During their long history, Santos and crew have had one constant in their lives—change. Originally, in 1973, Santos and partner Robert Beaumont joined forces as Olomana (named after the majestic mountain located on windward O‘ahu) to introduce their exciting new sound to the Hawaiian music scene. He fondly remembers bringing their distinctive harmony and original songwriting to many of the area’s nightclub and concert stages. It was an exciting time.

“At that time, Waikiki used to be full of nightclubs all up and down the street,” he recalls. “Don Ho would be playing at one. We’d be playing at another. And we’d go from club to club playing and checking everyone else out.”

Then, in 1982, following the untimely death of Beaumont, the Olomana family paused for a beat, then regrouped and added a new member, singer Haunani Apoliona. They also released an early anthology to honor Beaumont’s creative contribution to the band Through the Years.

After some 10 years gigging around town as well as abroad, Olomana released 1992’s E Mau Ana Ka Ha‘aheo (Enduring Pride), a collection of music that celebrates the group’s enduring love for the people, land and true spirit of the Hawaiian culture. Once again, the local music community recognized their efforts with three Na Hoku Hanohano awards including the Traditional Hawaiian Album of the Year honor.

Although they play week in, week out at Hilton Hawaiian Village and other venues, it’s been almost 20 years since Olomana has been in the studio.

“Over the years, I’ve continued to write and record,” he laments. “But since we all have busy lives with family and friends, it’s tough to get the gang together to record.”

Even with a successful career spanning three decades, Santos remains humble and focused on enjoying himself while playing music night after night for people from all over the world.

“Nowadays, longevity is what I aspire to,” he says. “I’ve become very comfortable telling stories through song.”

And that’s exactly what he does best.

Fridays and Saturdays 8 – 11 p.m. at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
2005 Kalia Road [D:4 Waikiki Map]
(808) 949-4321