Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Hokulea by AOMUSIC

Reviewed by Jonathan Widran
Driven by the expansive passions of musical and pan-cultural visionaries Richard Gannaway (stringed instruments, vocals), Miriam Stockley (vocals) and Jay Oliver (keyboards, synths, samples), AOMUSIC is all at once a truly global music phenomenon and a call to spiritual renewal by way of infectious melodies, transfixing rhythmic textures and hypnotic vocals and children’s choirs singing in their native languages from around the world. The group brings a colorful history into the rich, sweeping tapestries of their latest recording Hokulea (a Polynesian term translating to “Star of Gladness”), with their broad impact extending to an invitation to compose theme music for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, work with the Give Kids the World charity and being featured in the 2011 promotional trailer for Project Peace on Earth.

AOMUSIC gets the drums booming and guitars jangling at the outset of “Kuimba” - a track that beautifully traverses the landscapes of new age and world fusion - before Stockley’s lovely soaring voice crosses a bridge to a hypnotic choir singing an anthem in Swahili about singing and dancing till the sun rises. The dreamy, mystical title track blends deep ambiences with male and female lead vocals switching off to convey the essence of unity and home. The spiritual vibe is enhanced with a distant flute and the soothing harmonies of children. The gentle hypnosis continues via flowing, then soaring ethereal voices and light percussion textures on the Swahili language track “Sisi Ni Moja,” while “Ha Le” ambles along as an acoustic guitar driven folk song before the tribal rhythms amp up and voices swing and sway in a mix of Polynesian, Zulu, Xhosa, West African, Japanese and Hebrew (perhaps the most inspiring vocal mash-up ever!).

After the gracefully symphonic folk/new age influenced, mostly instrumental “Edge Walkers,” the group stirs up a fiery jam led by a fanciful Irish jig, dense percussion, ambient synth washes, flutes and trippy angelic harmonies. Although the title of the vibrant, soaring “Yaka Matai” almost sounds like an Eastern title, it actually derives from an exultation in the South African language of Xhosa. When the choir declares “God Is Here,” over the fiery groove, there is surely no doubt something divine is in the mix. Asia bound, the next track is the simply arranged Indonesian language tune “Itu Lagu,” which feature the charming flow of the children’s choir as the low key acoustic guitar line builds and eventually bursts into a high energy dance.

Hokulea wraps with yet another fanciful linguistic excursion, this time the Hindi language, in which a lush and innocent young female voice invokes the Divine Source in prayer; as God enters, the choir chimes in with a hopeful, solemn plea for the peace to stay and love to manifest. To the uninitiated, AOMUSIC presents world music in dynamic ways that truly reflect our common bonds as human beings. Longtime fans will enjoy the fresh, unexpected nature of what evolves, like a musical form of the Olympics, into a spirit of global cooperation and celebration of life.

– Jonathan Widran, Music Connection

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