I was introduced to the music of The Makaha Sons (John Koko, Jerome Koko, and Louis “Uncle Moon” Kauakahi) very early in my hula journey. Their CD, Heke Wale No: Only the Very Best of the Makaha Sons, was my second Hawaiian music purchase and I’ve done my best to wear it out, along with all the others that they’ve recorded that I can get my hands on! They’ve been singing for over 30 years and have won several Na Hoku Hanohano awards (the Hawaiian Grammys), and their music draws my soul to the islands.
Often during their concerts they invite different halau up to the stage to dance with them while they sing. Our halau had danced with them before, but I didn’t even think about putting it on my bucket list. But oh– how wonderful it would be! Then, for the concert in 2012, our halau was invited to dance, and those of us who were competing would be the participants. Sweet!
Then came devastating news: John Kapualani Koko died on June 25, 2012, age 51. We were stunned. Many of us knew that John had heart issues that spanned many years but he was always so vibrant, so full of the spirit of aloha, and we would forget just how seriously ill he really was (he was awaiting a heart transplant at the time of his death). And many of us were friends with John on Facebook; we always got birthday greetings and often a comment on one of our own posts.
As July approached, our hearts were torn: excitement about competition, excitement about dancing with The Sons, countered by deep grief over John’s death. The concert was billed as a celebration of John’s life and it was certainly that. We danced, knowing that he watched us from above, smiling broadly as we honored him with our hula. His son, John, sang a Fijian farewell song, Isa Lei… I cannot convey in words the power of that performance. He sang it in Fijian and altho we did not understand the lyrics, our hearts understood.
Isa Lei – The Farewell Song
Isa, Isa you are my only treasure
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken?
As the roses will miss the sun at dawning,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning
Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow;
O forget not, when you’re far away,
Precious moments at Sonaisali
Isa, Isa my heart was filled with pleasure,
From the moment I heard your tender greeting;
Mid the sunshine, we spent the hours together,
Now so swiftly those happy hours are fleeting
O’er the ocean your island home is calling,
Happy country where roses bloom and splender;
O if I could but journey there beside you
Then forever my heart would sing in rapture.