Born in 1951, Keolamaikalani Breckenridge Beamer was raised in Kamuela, on the Big Island, surrounded by members of one of Hawai's most illustrious and beloved musical families. The Beamers trace their roots to the 15th century; among their ancestors are the Queen Ahiakumai Ki'eki'e and Ho'olulu, a child of the favored wife of Kamehameha I.
Keola established himself early on as the family's youngest standard-bearer. A child of the rock and roll era, he has always been on the vanguard of the Hawaiian contemporary sound. However, he also helped drive what has come to be known as the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance: he has recorded many of the songs written by his ancestors, from the lively Keawaiki to the lullaby Pupu Hinuhinu. He has recorded and produced more than a dozen albums, winning numerous Hoku Awards, Hawai'i's equivalent of the Grammies, and has even appeared on Sesame Street and on NBC's "Today Show."
Keola was one of Hawai'i's first recording artists to integrate Hawaiian chants and instruments, like the tiny gourd whistle and the nose flute, with contemporary forms of music. "A lot of musicians in the past treated the nose flute as a frame," he says. "They played it at the beginning and the end of a piece. Through experimentation, I managed to integrate it into the piece. It has a gorgeous sound, a gorgeous texture."
Keola's legendary great-grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer, (1882-1952), was one of Hawai'i's most prolific and accomplished singer-songwriters, whose compositions came to her in dreams, on boat rides, and during visits with friends. Possessed of a high, clear soprano, her fluency in the Hawaiian language endowed her with lyrics with vivid images. She was also a skilled dancer whose intricate footwork and fluid grace left a lasting imprint on the hula.
Her grandaughter and Keola's mother, Winona Kapuailohia Beamer, is also a noted chanter, composer, and author, who has spent a lifetime researching and teaching "Hawaiiana," a term she coined. Indeed, Keola's career as a musician began in his mother's Honolulu hula studio, where he played guitar as an accompaniament for the dancers. "That's part of being in the Beamer family - your job is as a musician," he says. Then he adds with a laugh: "And my mom is the only person who ever fired me."
In high school and college, Keola studied classical guitar, and later, when he began to teach guitar, he published a method book, Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, using a tablature system for 16th-century lutes as his starting point. At about the same time, in 1972, he recorded his first landmark solo album, "Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style," filled with the nahenahe (soft and sweet) sound of this Hawaiian tradition. This album continues to influence many guitarists.
"In my family, music was taken seriously," Beamer says. "It was an integral part of our lives, almost like a religion. But Hawaiians are up against a shallow stereotype, often demeaning to the native culture. That hurts." It has been the life passion of Keola Beamer to counter such images.
In 2009, Ms. Raiatea Helm was honored with the privilege of performing at the Presidential Inaugural Ball in Washington DC as part of the festivities related to the recent election of Barack Obama. The Chicago Tribune (January 18, 2009) featured Raiatea as illustrative of the multicultural nature of the music at the Inaugural Balls.
Raiatea’s status as an international recording artist was secured with a yearlong concert schedule that included performances in venues as faraway as New York, Tokyo and Beijing.
Raiatea Mokihana Maile Helm made history as Hawai‘i’s first solo female vocalist to ever receive a Grammy Nomination for her sophomore CD “Sweet and Lovely.” Just 21 years old, she was one of the youngest performers to attend the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California. It was a remarkable achievement when you consider that she comes from the tiny island of Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i.
The Arts and Leisure Desk of the New York Times (February 5, 2006) ran a story on Raiatea that listed Grammy Nominated artists who had produced remarkable work but who might be overshadowed by the pop and glitz of industry icons. The NYT wrote of Raiatea Helm, “[She] sings in the high-voiced throwback leo ki‘eki‘e style without a hint of kitsch. Her second album, “Sweet and Lovely” is poised and utterly elegant.”
Raiatea’s appearance onto the national music scene with her Grammy Nomination was a natural progression of her growth within the Hawaiian music scene. Her debut recording, “Far Away Heaven,” captured the prestigious Female Vocalist of the Year and Most Promising Artist awards from the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).
Raiatea Helm continued her award-winning tradition two years later with the release of her second album “Sweet and Lovely.” At the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts awards ceremony, she was recognized again as Female Vocalist of the Year and also received the coveted award of Favorite Entertainer of the Year. With the additional awards for technical merit in Engineering and Graphic Design, “Sweet and Lovely” received six Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Few performers of any age can lay claim to such an accomplishment.
Raiatea’s most recent release, “Hawaiian Blossom” continued her tradition of producing award-winning music with her Second Grammy Nomination and her eighth Na Hoku Hanohano Award from HARA.