Lunch At Zippy’s With Grammy Nominee Horace Dudoit Of Hoʻokena

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ʻEwa has its very own local boy to root for during Sunday’s Grammy Awards. Horace Dudoit, ʻEwa resident and founding member of the three-man Hawaiian group Hoʻokena, will walk the red carpet, and not for the first time. It’s Hoʻokena’s third Grammy nomination.

Hours before their Wednesday afternoon flight to New York City, Horace and wife Nani Dudoit met me at Zippy’s for lunch. Over Korean fried chicken we talked about the work that led to Hoʻokena’s nomination for Best Regional Roots Music Album, the evolution of the group, the excitement of being on the red carpet, and, of course, what they’re wearing.

And Horace explained why he has a feeling that in this, the group’s 30th year, they’ll be flying back with a trophy.

The title of Hoʻokena’s nominated album, Hoʻokena 3.0, is a clever nod to the regular upgrades we make to our electronics, always looking toward the new and improved future. But it also reflects the group’s changes over the years—and its journey together.

While working on the album, Hoʻokena celebrated an anniversary. “It was 30 years (as a group), we’ve had 3 different changes within the group, and we are 3 guys now,” said Horace, who plays 12-string guitar, ʻukulele, and vocals. Bassist/vocalist Chris Kamaka and slack-key guitarist/vocalist Glen Smith round out the group.

ho'okena 3.0 album cover (L-R) Glen Smith, Horace Dudoit, Chris Kamaka

To honor their voyage as a group, Horace, Chris, and Glen worked with the artists and composers who have shared the journey with them. Maila Gibson has contributed to their last three albums, and sings a beautiful version of “Behold Lāʻie” on this one. Gibson’s musical partner Ben Vegas plays electric guitar and sings on a swinging version of “Ka Laʻi ʻo Nuʻuanu.”

The sixth track, “Alawai Nui,” is a song Horace originally performed with his mentors, Robert Cazimero, Roland Cazimero and Kaipo Hale: “The whole version we did was the song Robert’s group Hālau Nā Kamalei entered in the Kamehameha Day Hula Competition and won back in 1987,” said Horace. There’s another 30-year anniversary.

Hoʻokena doesn’t look only to the past for inspiration. March 2017 saw the release of “Hawaiian Girl,” an unexpected collaboration with multiple-platinum country star Josh Turner.

“His producer wrote to us and asked if we would be interested in doing the backup vocals,” said Horace. “I thought at first it was someone playing a prank.”

Not being a keen follower of country music, Horace didn’t know who Turner was. He reached out to his musical family for advice. “I called Maila because she likes country music. She said, ‘Yeah he’s a pretty big star.’”

Turner had written the song while vacationing on the Big Island with his wife. “He heard us and said ‘that’s the kind of voices I want to hear on this song.’”

Then the song arrived. “I thought it was kind of corny. So I had Maila listen to it and she said, ‘Horace, that’s what country music sounds like.’”

Horace had creative freedom to arrange the vocals to give it that recognizable Hoʻokena sound, and he even wrote the third verse of the song. (There’s that number three again.)

Turner told Billboard Magazine: “They put their own special stamp on it, and really made it a cool moment for the end of the record.”

Horace said working with Josh was a highlight of their year. The collaboration put their music in front of new audiences, and got them to try new things.

While this is Hoʻokena’s third Grammy nomination, it’s their first in the category of Best Regional Roots Music Album. Their first two nominations were for Best Hawaiian Music Album, which is no longer a category.

The new Regional Roots category is very broad—anyone playing Hawaiian, Native American, polka, zydeco, or Cajun music is eligible. “It’s really huge that we even got nominated,” said Horace. Another Hawaiʻi musician, Josh Tatofi, joins them as a nominee. Says Horace: “He’s really good. He sounds like Luther Vandross.”

To support other young, local talent, Horace and Nani reached out to designer Manaola Yap for fresh digs to wear to the ceremony. Manaola, who just showed at New York Fashion Week, surprised Horace and Nani by gifting them their outfits.

Nani is wearing a black and gold gown that features an ʻupena (fishnet) weave. Manaola told them the weave represents good karma and inspires us to “catch hold of positive energy in your net.”

When we met, Nani was wearing a Manaola top in a print featuring ʻulu (breadfruit), which symbolizes growth. This was another gift to her and a very appropriate one because she had just completed her ʻuniki examination weekend to become a Kumu Hula!

I asked them what they are looking forward to in New York: “Eating. Drinking. Seeing shows. They have this neat piano bar called Don’t Tell Mama. They have some awesome piano players and singers there. Also looking forward to seeing the stars at the Grammys.”

Who do you want to see? “Beyonce. And Bruno, of course.”

As Horace and Hoʻokena rub elbows with these stars, we will be wishing them all the best from Hawaiʻi. Horace remembers good vibes throughout the entire production of the album, which they recorded in the living room of Chris Kamaka’s dad’s house in Kāneʻohe; hopefully these good vibes and their hard work these past 30 years will lead them to victory on Sunday.

“For this album and the past year, everything has just been falling into place,” said Horace. “Each thing we do has been leading us to the next step along the way.” As we said goodbye, I wished him luck. I look forward to where their journey leads next.

Catch Hoʻokena every Saturday night at the Kani Ka Pila Grille at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. Just not this one 🙂