Faithful fans of Nâ Leo, the successful Hawaiian female pop vocal trio, filled the Kahilu Theatre last Saturday night, and were treated to popular tunes that spanned the group’s multi-decade career. Backed by a top-flight group of musicians and ohana hula dancers, it was an extraordinary evening that Big Island concertgoers won’t soon forget.
Nalani Jenkins, Angela Morales, and Lehua Kalima, were longtime friends who began singing together as teenagers. In 1984, as high school seniors, they entered the annual Hawaiian youth talent contest, Brown Bags to Stardom, taking home top-prize with their original song “Local Boys.” The hit won a prestigious Hoku Music Award and became the best-selling single in Hawaii’s history, a record that still stands today.
“The three of us have truly spent a lifetime together. We’re not only friends and sisters, but we’re kindred spirits.” – Nalani Jenkins
With a vast catalog of songs, Nâ Leo reached back to the 1993 Friends album and opened the show with “Playing with My Mind.” The trio also sang the title track to their 2018 album, Beautiful Day. It’s their first album in seven years, filled with romantic ballads like “How Deep Is Your Love,” which was also part of the evening’s set list.
Hilo-born Lehua Kalima introduced a song for her “local peeps” called “Taro Patch Twist,” commenting that it was inspired when she helped clean out the streams at Waipi’o Valley while attending UH Hilo. Lehua’s sister, Iwalani Kalima, performed Hula throughout the show. She’s the Kumu Hula of Hula Hālau O Kou Lima Nani ‘E, a Hula school on the east side of the Big Island. Joining Iwalani on stage were Lehua’s nephew and niece, Joshua No’eau Kalima and Joelle Nohealani Kalima.
If you enjoyed the superb audio at tonight’s Nâ Leo’s concert, mahalo the Kahilu’s Tech Director and audio guru, Paul Buckley. He’s that guy way up there, at the back of the hall, peering out at the stage, making sure every tune has perfect tonal balance. It’s an important task when dealing with three harmonizing vocals.
The second half of the show began with a medley of fan favorites. Jenkins joked, “You get to a point in your career when you release an anthology CD… that means you old… and we did two!” Kalima added, “Some fans say to us, ‘You know your anthropology CD…’ – We’re not that old!” Nâ Leo launched into their classic cover of the Temptations’ hit “Just My Imagination.” Morales demonstrated some simple two-step moves while encouraging the crowd to dance even if it was just in their seats. “One-two, shimmy… No worry. No shame.”
Nâ Leo then performed a lively medley of Andrew Sisters’ songs and recalled doing a tribute for the surviving members of the 442nd, the Regimental Japanese American military unit that fought eight military campaigns in Europe during World War II.
Nâ Leo’s quartet featured Aron Nelson (keyboards), Shawn Pimental (bass), Bryan Kessler (guitar), and Rod Esteban (drums). Pimental is a five-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner and Grammy Nominated Music Producer and Artist.
For their encore, Nâ Leo ended the show with the song that made them legendary, “Local Boys.” When the house lights went up, fans quickly left their seats to line up for the opportunity to have a CD signed along with a memorable selfie with group members.
Set List I
Playing with My Mind | I Ola Kakou Na Hawai’i | Can’t Help Falling In Love | Taro Patch Twist | Waikiki | Beautiful Day | How Deep Is Your Love | Along For The Ride
Set List II
Medley: Friends/Poetry Man/Rest of Your Life/Flying with Angels | Hilo Hula |Grazing in the Grass/Just My Imagination | Medley: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy/ Rum and Coca-Cola / Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree/Well, All Right! | Ku’u Home O Keakaha | I Miss You My Hawaii
Please check out Nâ Leo’s website for the latest news and tour info: http://www.naleopilimehana.com
All photos by Steve Roby
Steve Roby is a music journalist and best-selling author originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.