I Meet Yoshimoto Banana

September 29, 2009

I come to Kurkku’s complex in Haragyuku for an interview by Switch Magazine, that will be a conversation between me and Japan’s beloved novelist Yoshimoto Banana (last name first is customary here, and her first name is pronounced BAH-nah-nah.)

In spring 2008, Kurkku hosted the first of what became four art shows of the original drawings and page layouts of Living on the Earth. I was delighted to hear that Banana-san had purchased my self-portrait that appears on the epilogue page of the book. She’s 15 years younger than I am, and the book was a favorite of her childhood. So, she said, she felt almost in a dream to purchase this drawing she had gazed upon so long ago.

Fujii-san, a rock and roll producer who is a friend of Banana-san’s and a friend of Keisuke Era’s (he’s the director at Kurkku) offered to introduce me and Banana-san, and Switch Magazine offered to document this event. So, here we are: Takeshi Fujii, Yoshimoto Banana, me, Miho Kawaguchi (writing for Switch), Kaori Miyagi (translating for me) and Kengo Tarumi (taking photos for Switch).

OMG! We showed up wearing the SAME EXACT T-SHIRT! It’s the Being of the Sun illustration licensed by Aya Noguchi (fashion designer and owner of Bed and Balcony) last year for her summer line.

But that wasn’t the only coincidence. After the interview was over, Banana went out to the street and there stood our dear friend in common – Sandii Manumele, vocalist extraordinaire and hula teacher of hundreds of Tokyo students, including Banana. Sandii rushed upstairs to see me and we had a happy group hug.

I had last seen Sandii at a huge rock concert memorial for Donto in Okinawa City in 2006. She danced and sang in the show, and I sang one of my songs, too. We became instant friends.

Sandii choreographed the hula for Donto’s classic song “Nami,” which women all over Japan love to dance. I just recorded “Nami” on my recent CD, Beyond Living, both in the original Japanese lyrics, and also in a Hawaiian and English translation. I was happy to present both Sandii and Banana with signed copies of my new CD.

Here‘s Banana-san’s blog about the same meeting (in Japanese).

Beyond Living – Reviews

Back cover (tray card) of Beyond Living

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Review by H.V. Cramond for Feminist Review, March 28, 2010

As the title of this album suggests, Beyond Living is a collection of folk songs about death, many of them written by musicians who have passed. Alicia Bay Laurel, known for her 1971 guide to sustainable living entitled Living On Earth, collected and recorded many of the songs on this album in response to a number of deaths she encountered in recent years, including, most notably, legendary Japanese singer-songwriter Takashi Donto Kudomi, who died in 2001 at a hula performance. Songs from artists from several countries round out this decidedly international album.

While the album’s theme might suggest darkness, the album feels more like a celebration. As Laurel’s liner notes suggest “lyrics about death contain valuable instructions for living,” and these songs are no exception. Their cheery melodies, vocals, and a fingerpicked guitar mix with deep sadness in the manner I associate with children’s songs (Remember when you found out “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” was about The Plague?) The album invites the listener to engage with the certainty of death and to feel the relish that reality brings to living. Much like listening to the blues, listening to these songs provides a deep and pleasurable access to human emotion.

Review by multi-platinum-selling singer/songwriter Joe Dolce in his weekly newsletter, sent 09-25-09:

What I’m Listening to This Week
‘Beyond Living’ – Alicia Bay Laurel. This is the most recent release of my friend, Alicia Bay Laurel, with whom Lin Van Hek and I will be performing with in Okinawa and Tokyo next month. Alicia is one of the few real visionary freaked-out flower children from the 70s who has grown even further into the great dream of the Beloved Community that we all shared back then. She also had a Number One hit, so to speak, in her 20s, with a New York Times best-selling book, Living on the Earth, which changed her life, and it is an inspiration to know someone who continues to reinvent herself – without disowning her past.

Alicia and I were also both close to, and sang with, the girl who introduced me to California hippie communes back in the 70s, Janet ‘Sunny’ Supplee, and the spirit of Sunny hovers throughout this recording. Sometimes, listening to Alicia sing, I swear Sunny is in the building. Sunny and I sang together for a couple of years and she certainly influenced me in an unforgettable way. She was killed in a car crash in Maui and I still miss her.

Beyond Living collects a master’s bouquet of beautiful songs about Death that do not drag death down into the valley of shadow and fear where old time religion would like to keep it penned up, but releases it out into the empowering light and flight of warm meadows and possibilities. Alicia has included the song I wrote and sang at my own father’s funeral, Hill of Death, with lyrics by Australian feminist pioneer, Louisa Lawson, drunken Henry’s mum.

While in LA, I was lucky enough to be able to sing and play with her on this recording. I was surprised at first when the tasty, awesome, I-am-the-Fingers-of-God mandolin part I had recorded was nowhere to be found in the final mix, but after a couple of listens, I understood why it went to the cutting room floor (along with Satan, Everlasting Hell and the Edsel.) It’s not necessary. Alicia’s last album, What Living’s All About, was an eclectic brew of styles, electric guitar solos, even rap – but this one, a unique fusion of Hawaiian and Japanese sensibility, is smoothly unified by the continuity of Alicia’s lullaby-like singing and precision finger-picking guitar, the latter most notably in the fifteen minute closing instrumental, Ruminations, which is a collage of no less than fifteen tunes: Amazing Grace, The Garden, Is This Not the Land of Beulah, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Oh Come Angel Band, Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet, Angels Are Watching Over Me, This Little Light of Mine, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Bosan Gokko, Hill of Death, Long Black Veil, Good Night Irene, We Shall All Be Reunited, and Kumbaya – and leading to the final Hawaiian, Aloha Oe’. I wouldn’t mind at all having these fifteen minutes playing in my final hour.

There are also three tracks written by Takashi Donto Kudomi, a legendary Japanese new wave rock star turned spiritual singer/songwriter, who died mysteriously on January 23, 2001. He, his wife and their two young sons were watching a hula performance dedicated to Pele, the volcano goddess, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. At the end of the final chant, Donto fell to the ground unconscious, and was rushed to the hospital. The next day he was pronounced dead at age 37 from a brain aneurism. He had been in perfect health until that day. We will be staying and singing with Donto’s widow, Sachiho, in Okinawa, at Donto-in, the temple Sachiho built in his honor.

One of my favourite tracks is the quirky Altid Frejdig Naar du Gaar (Courage Always When You Walk) with melody by C.E.F. Weyse, 1838, lyrics: Christian Richardt, 1867, set into verse by Alicia. It is often sung at funerals in Denmark and is faithfully sung here in Danish. Just voice and stand-up bass, played masterfully by Chris Conner and reminiscent of her great version of Nature Boy, on What Living’s All About, the vocal seems to float in and out of ordinary tonality like a ghostly dandelion puff. One day, I do hope Alicia gets a chance to put out an album of just vocal and stand-up bass recordings, as they are always a pleasure, and a challenge, to listen to.

Review by Gerald Van Waes, host of “Psyche Van Het Folk” (a psychedelic folk radio show in Antwerp, Belgium) on his website, November 20, 2009

Alicia Bay Laurel : Beyond Living (US, 2009)

A bit different from Alicia’s previous albums, this is a conceptual piece of songs to be meant as a tuning in to a spiritual good vibration and feeling, on moments when people have passed over. When Alicia suddenly saw many related and befriended people pass over, it seemed as if she had no other option but to give all this an accompanying meaning; she started to collect songs from different countries to express this.

It starts strongly, with a Hawaiian opening chant which leads to a song inspiration, as a special moment (or person) to remember. The second song is an Australian folk gospel song, a folk version in which the backing vocals gives an Americana gospel feeling. Next we hear a traditional Japanese song, accompanied by harmonium and congas and vocals. Also this one has gospel flavours, reminiscent a bit of ‘Amazing grace’, being a more delicate, religious almost Christmas-sphere sphere. After its vocal parts with high voices (in Japanese), there’s some spoken word by Alicia giving more reference in the song. “Waltzing with Angels” sounds more like a country children song with a Hawaiian effect on the way the mandolin is played, with a happy feeling or energy. The song with original Danish lyrics by Christian Richardt (1867) is sung with a Marilyn Monroe song voice, and accompanied with bass only.

“The Garden” is again more countryesque, is sung with nice dual voices, leaving a Hawaiian feeling. “Auntie Nona” sounds like a happy children’s song, old music. The next small song has more religious Christian lyrics which appeal less to me. Also here gospel and country-flavours are mixed nicely. “Nami” turns back to Japan but leaves traces of Hawaii. On “Ruminations” we finally return to the “Amazing Grace” song, turning after a short while into a slow Hawaiian guitar medley on acoustic guitar. Also the last instrumental is a guitar piece with references to
Hawaiian melodies.

Except as a dedication to the subject, the album is as much a dedication to spheres provoked from Hawaiian songs and music, to spirituality in gospel music, as quietly privately experienced music, and the fresh kindness of children songs, and a touch of country. All of this is omnipresent throughout with a happy inner strength and positivism towards life and thankfulness to people and their lives.

Raves for Beyond Living CD

BL cover at 96 dpi

buy Beyond Living

Aloha Alicia,

As my mom and I were and are fans of your work, I appreciate your staying in touch.

Moana and I send tons of aloha and wish you good luck with your music.

Thank you for helping us to keep my mom’s work alive in the world.

Me Ke Aloha,

Keola Beamer
Legendary vocalist/guitarist/songwriter
Son of Hawaiian Renaissance pioneer/dancer/vocalist/songwriter/historian Auntie Nona Beamer
Lahaina, Hawaii

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Hi Alicia,

The interview is finished and runs about 63 minutes and features 5 live in-the-studio-songs (Hang Out & Breathe, Pain & Love, Love Understanding & Peace, Auntie Nona, and Doctor Sun & Nurse Water) and the rest from your new CD.

I did want to let you know we are now playing Aloha ‘Oe, Hill Of Death & The Garden in our regular new music rotation.

Once again the interview runs Wednesday May 5th at 10am on my show and then an encore airing on Friday, May 7th at 6pm.

Thank you and I hope you’re doing well!

Andy Olson
Owner/Operator/Radio Personality
Radio Free Phoenix

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I want to send a mail just now!
What a perfect timing!
I listened your new CD! So beautiful. I cried……
I can feel your love and respect for Donto.
Now I am looking for Japanese distributor.
Tonight full moon is so beautiful and shining like you!
Sachiho Kojima, widow of Donto Kudomi
In the 1990s and 2000s, leader of the all-woman trance band Amana
In the 1980’s, leader of Japan’s first all-girl punk band, Zelda
Festival organizer
Naha, Okinawa, Japan


 I love Beyond Living! Very strong album though it sound extremely gentle!
Especially I like Nami and Hang Out and Breathe. It is surprisingly true that an artist have created her essential song in early days and gives it evolution.
Love, Setsuko
Setsuko Miura
television producer specializing in documentaries on the environment
Fujino, Japan


Got the CD, loving it, thanks!!!

Albert Bates
Ecovillage Training Center
The Farm, Summertown, Tennessee


Thank you for bringing the most wonderful people to us here at Hopi. I enjoyed teaching them of our way of life and I pray for you all  among the stars. Thank you for the CD that I received. I listen to it in the evening gazing among the skies.  Thank you and keep in contact.

Hopi Elder
Shungopavi Village, Arizona


FROM HIROMI KONDO, percussionist with Amana [band], and other bands
Konnichiwa! Arigato your new CD. So beautiful!
A lot of LOVE! Hiromi
Nanjo, Okinawa, Japan


Aloha e Alicia,

I wasn’t even going to fire up the computer tonight, but I received the CD, I just wanted to say pretty awesome and what an honor. Donto is whirling in the realm of Po. Aloha!
ke aloha wale, ka mahalo wale,
Ried Kapo Ku
Performer of traditional Hawaiian dance and chant
Vice President, Na Manupo Music
Torrance, California


Thank you for “beyond living”!
Your beautiful songs appreciating life and the beyond bring peace to my mind.
Kenichi Iyanaga
professor of mathematics
Ranzan, Saitama, Japan


Thanks for your new album.
I feel your voice is younger than last coming and guitar play is more beautiful!
I understand I love your world all over again!
Koki Aso
magazine journalist specializing in outdoor living

Hayama, Japan


We’re listening to it over & over.
Really love the way The Garden came out!
Also the beautiful slack key medley at the end.
Your BEST effort yet! Really nice.
Ellie LOVES the Nona Beamer song.
Looking UP,

Steve McGee
Singer/songwriter/guitarist/artist/boat captain
Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii


Hi Alicia,
I’m listening to your new CD.
From the opening this CD is unique.
Here’s a new experience of Nami. Joe Dolce and Amana…
I think I want start to sell this CDs soon.
I’m gonna play this CD almost everyday in Yukotopia.
Oh, Nami again, and peaceful instrumentals at last. This is a nice album.
Roku Uehara
Vocalist/guitarist/leader of the band HaZaMa
Former manager of Yukotopia night club
Tokyo, Japan


Alicia starts out with Hawaiian songs & then it seamlessly segues into a Japanese song & it was all ocean sounds somehow. Very beautiful. There’s an old Danish song (lovely) & the Danes are also ocean people. If you haven’t heard it yet, I recommend you get it.
Pam Hanna
Journalist and Political Writer
New Mexico


It’s so beautiful CD. My tears came. So moved. Arigato so much.
Satomi Yanagisawa
Jewelry maker and Craftsperson
Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan


I was particularly blown away by the 15-minute instrumental ending and the ingenious way you integrated ‘Hill of Death’ instrumentally into the timelessness of those classics. I have never thought of the song as just music before, but it works like that!
I also like how the common thread of all the songs is your finger-picking style which really stands on its own.
I’ve always thought that ‘Hill of Death’ felt like it could have come from the hills of 19th century Appalachia but you are only the second person to pick that up and the first to actually demonstrate it via that instrumental collage!
Joe Dolce
Melbourne, Australia


I love the CD!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everything from the Bosan Gokko to Auntie Nona and Ruminations. And what a nice surprise to see the photograph from Forest Hills. You are such a visionary…all I did was snap the shutter.

It works because it is so authentic…so thoroughly full of the heart and soul of YOU – and a true reflection of your bittersweet and tender feelings after so many loved ones passed on. I love that you are so inclusive in the explanations of your relationship to each song, lyric, and tradition. Your sound and FEEL puts down a deep tap root. Then the icing on the cake is your artistic nature-centric metaphor using the morning/mourning glory blossom to show the glowing light at the end of the physical life leading the way to the next adventure. And of course the piece de resistance is that you drew the blossoms and wrote the words in your own handwriting – enveloping the recording project with your SELF. Love it all. The whole shebang.

Ruthie Ristich
Jazz Vocalist and Professor at Berklee School of Music
Boston, Massachusetts


As soon as I got it, my mother and I listened to your CD and we love it!!!  And when my family held a BBQ party at a tiny garden, we enjoyed your music again.

Takako Minobe
Wakayama, Japan


My dearest amiga,

I have listened to your studio songs today (all 4 CD’s that I am aware of). “Beyond Living” is my favorite. Your playing and singing are impeccable. I think it’s quite possibly one of the greatest views on life I have ever witnessed.

Ricky Moore


Alicia, in my view this is your best recording yet!  The songs are so movingly beautiful, no matter which culture they are from.  Donto’s pieces are just beautiful.  Your performance is great.  The production is superb!  You have done amazing things with supporting voices and instrumentation.  You should be very very proud of yourself.  And I was very touched at your including Peter in the liner notes.  I think you have succeeded at reaching “Beyond Living” to a glorious and amazing place.

Linda Kane
Photographer and Filmmaker
Honomu, Hawaii


The CD is beautiful, eclectic and extremely well produced.
It is appropriately other-worldly.
Nami keeps going though my head like a continuous wave.
I LOVE the Donto tracks and the Donto memories.
Hill of Death sounds fresh and the medley is masterful.
The Danish piece is a treasure and a revelation.
Your guitar and vocals are so beautiful and they blend perfectly with the accompanist’s parts.
And you know me…I love good liner notes and you have written the BEST ones.
I’m one of those people that like “The Making Of…” even better than the movie, so good liner notes are a necessity.
This is a totally unique collection of authentic and personal music.
I feel like I peered into the pages of your “musical diary”.
I love the Hawaiian/Japanese flavor of it all.
Rock ON my courageous ONE!
Wildflower Revolution
Artist and Environmental Activist
Graton, California


Your new album has offered much consolation as Brandon and I mourn a good friend, a talented and spirited fiddle player. Your tunes fit so perfectly into my soul at the moment ~ THANK YOU. I would LOVE to plan a show together. I will put some feelers out.

Much love,
Gwendolyn Sanford
Singer/songwriter/guitarist/film composer
Los Angeles, California


What I’m Listening to This Week 11-05-09
Beyond Living – by Alicia Bay Laurel. Having just done three concerts with Alicia in Japan and Okinawa, these tunes are still floating through my head. A very unique artist and ahead-of-her-time writer.

Joe Dolce
Melbourne, Australia


I love your CD, such a wide collection of inspiration ~ today’s favorite – Hang Out & Breathe. My husband and I lived and worked in and around the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland for the last 10+ years. After he died last year I was guided to move over to Arizona, reconnect with the Earth and continue my work here. It is a blessing to have connected with you.

Jewels Hayden
Anam Aire ~ Soul Midwife


i LOVE the CD … 🙂 Beyond Living!
thank you for taking so much care in signing them so beautifully…its so lovely,…really ! GOOD JOB!

Vilma Lihau Daly


The CD is beautiful!  It brought me so much joy – I’ve already listened to it twice through.  It’s really a treasure!  Thank you for making so much beautiful music with so much heart.

Lytton Dove White
Environmentalist and Writer


I absolutely love your music.  The CDs are great, and now I have three of your special CDs.

Audrey Linden
Actress, Comedienne, and Teacher of Comedy Improvisation
Bevery Hills, CA


Aloha Dearest Alicia,

This is a mahalo to your from both Bruce and myself for the beautiful gift of your CD [Beyond Living]. We listened to it together as we commuted back and forth to Kapalua weddings – and we found it delightful. Bruce commented on how beautifully produced it is…A most wonderful collection of songs!

Rev. Kolleen O’Flaherty Wheeler
All Ways Maui’d Weddings and Ceremonies
Bruce Wheeler
Seventh Wave Photographics


Aloha our brilliant Alicia,

Thank you so much for sending us “Beyond Living”.
You literally went “beyond” in this lovely recording.
Bless you, dearest friend, for sharing your creations with us.
We love you.

Gloria and Barry Blum
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars

Reviewed on Amazon, March 5, 2017

(Anonymous customer)

Wonderful slack-key musings. Soothing and profound, diverse guitar music. Lovely voice.


I found the CD Beyond Living, so incredibly moving. I have also lost many people I love in the last several years too, and before, but especially recently, and the music you created really made me feel connected to those loved ones, loving them and celebrating them, as you were when you created this. I loved the “Waltzing with Angels” medley–I am familiar with Kitty Wells and Hank Williams but did not know the “Gathering Flowers” song. And the “Ruminations” medley was an incredibly complex masterpiece! I have no doubt that I will be enjoying these over and over and can’t wait to share them with my sister. I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed them.

Many blessings and good wishes to you,

Joy Massey
Author and Musician


Beyond Living: Fingerpicked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers: Notes About, Liner Notes and Song Lyrics

buy Beyond Living

Beyond Living: Finger-picked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers has come from the pressing plant this week. It’s a collection of charming antique and antique-sounding songs from the USA, UK, Australia, Japan, Hawaii and Denmark that focus on mortality, immortality, and a life that is mindful of spirit.

Along with my open-tuned guitar picking, singing and speaking, you’ll hear musicians from Japan, Hawaii, Australia, and the LA folk and jazz scenes, including Joe Dolce, Moira Smiley, James Kimo West, Ried Kapo Ku, the band Amana, Auntie Nona Beamer, Steve McGee, Ray Armando, Vic Koler, Chris Conner, and anime film songwriter, Tim Jensen.

On this particular CD, I wrote only two of the eleven cuts, but I wrote new English lyrics from translations of two songs by Donto, a legendary Japanese new wave rock star turned spiritual singer/songwriter, and one 19th century hymn in Danish.

I also commissioned a long overdue Hawaiian translation of Donto’s famous hula, “Nami,” by Auntie Nona Beamer’s adopted son Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, an instructor of Polynesian languages at University of Hawaii in Hilo, and an opening chant for it in the ancient Hawaiian style by the late recording artist and kumu hula, Ried Kapo Ku, which opens the CD.

I also had the gall to record a 12-minute guitar solo consisting of 15 different songs.

I had the liner notes and lyrics translated into Japanese so I could take it to Japan on my concert tours there. There are two different covers, but the CD itself is the same in both versions.

I painted the cover in watercolor pencils. My idea is that the Bardo looks like a quasar or a morning glory, which have the same mathematical shape.

Photo by Ruthie Ristich of Alicia Bay Laurel at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.

Beyond Living: Finger-picked Ruminations on the Hereafter and Its Messengers
Liner Notes and Song Lyrics

Music that contemplates death does not have to be heavy and dark; think of the songs typical of an Irish wake, a New Orleans funeral parade or the Mexican Day of the Dead.

 I collected and recorded these folk, Americana, gospel, Hawaiian, Australian, Danish and Japanese songs to honor the many I love who have passed on, and to uplift and comfort those who are grieving, providing hospice, or dying. However, even those not currently focused on the mystery of death and dying may find themselves dancing along to these sprightly tunes.  I find that, quite often, lyrics about death contain valuable instructions for living.

During 2007 and 2008, an inordinate number of people close to me died, some elderly, others in their middle years.  My mother and my father died on August 15, 2007.  They were 500 miles apart, and had not communicated in over 45 years.

I assumed responsibility for my mother’s care during the two years before her death, held her hand as she lay dying, arranged for her cremation, wrote her obituary, coordinated her memorial service, eulogized her, put her affairs in order, and remained in her home, settling her estate, for a year after. My sister did much the same while caring for our father.  We held hands over the phone, facing these challenges together, and still do.

Our parents’ simultaneous deaths came one month after the death of their friend Davida Solow, the mother of our friend since birth, Benida Solow, in whose home I lived while I cared for our mother.  A month before Davida’s passing, our adored Aunt Ruth Lebow died.  We’d known both of these women all our lives; their children were our earliest companions, and remain our friends today.

Auntie Nona Beamer, renowned Hawaiian singer/songwriter/dancer/storyteller, and my beloved mentor, died in April 2008.  That spring, two cherished artist friends, Mayumi Hirai and Mela MacVittie, perished from cancer in mid-life.  

Other dear friends and family members died shortly before or after: Peter Kane, Jacqueline Lynfield, Steve Gursky, Marty Jezer, Anson Chong, Fred Stoeber. My stepfather and Benida’s father-in-law, exactly two years apart.  My sister-in-law’s mom.  Both of my brother-in-law’s parents.  My cousin Jay Lebow.  A 40-year-old friend’s 64-year-old father. 

It seemed as if the door between the physical and the non-physical swung wide, and messages zinged both ways furiously.  I collected as many as I could. 

Then there’s the case of Donto.

Takashi “Donto” Kudomi, a legendary Japanese singer/songwriter, died mysteriously on January 23, 2001.  He, his wife and their two young sons were watching a hula performance dedicated to Pele, the volcano goddess, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  At the end of the final chant, Donto fell to the ground unconscious, and was rushed to the hospital. The next day he was pronounced dead at age 37 from a brain aneurism.  He had been in perfect health until that day.  Returning a year later to Pele’s home at Halema’uma’u Crater, Donto’s wife beheld him as a rainbow.

Later in 2001, I met her, singer/songwriter/bassist Sachiho Kudomi, through Seawest Studios, near Pahoa, Hawaii, where we had both recorded CDs.  In 2002, I helped her organize a first-year memorial for Donto at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, a Buddhist temple in Hilo, and organized a Hawaii tour for Sachiho’s all-woman band, Amana. 

I have since performed with Sachiho and her band during three visits to Japan, at numerous events, including at a huge Donto memorial concert in 2006.  In May 2008, we recorded two of Donto’s songs for this CD at Donto-in, the temple Sachiho built in his honor, in Okinawa.  In January 2009, I debuted “Mele Nalu,” Kaliko Beamer-Trapp’s Hawaiian language interpretation of Donto’s famous hula, “Nami,” (Wave) at the final memorial for Donto at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin.  Kaliko is Auntie Nona Beamer’s adopted son, a scholar of Polynesian languages teaching at the University of Hawaii, and a member of the von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame.

I first admired the songwriting of Steve McGee and Joe Dolce when I met them at the communes where we lived in northern California in the late ‘60s. In the early ‘70s, we all lived and composed songs on Maui. All of us made music in both places with the dazzling singer and midwife, the late Janet “Sunny” Supplee.  Her presence is particularly felt in this recording, since it was she who taught me the 19th century hymn “Oh Come, Angel Band” while we were living at Wheeler Ranch commune, where, at the time, I was writing and illustrating Living on the Earth, and Steve McGee was composing his song “The Garden.”  Joe Dolce went on to become a platinum-selling musician and songwriter in Australia and elsewhere.

Death teaches us that life is fragile, and therefore to make use of all available opportunities to be kind and to forgive.

Alicia Bay Laurel, Los Angeles, Spring 2009

*           *         *        *

This recording was conceived, arranged and produced by Alicia Bay Laurel, for Indigo With Stars Records.  Recorded, mixed and mastered (plus a lot of producer-type guidance) by Scott Fraser at his studio, Architecture, in Los Angeles, with additional recording as follows: Some of the parts for Nami, Mele Nalu and Bosan Gokko recorded in Okinawa at Donto-in by Kikou Uehara, some of the parts for Nami at Kazana Studio in Hirotsu, Japan by Tim Jensen, and some of the parts for The Garden and Nami at Maui Recording in Lahaina, Hawaii by Lynn Peterson. 

Liner notes by Alicia Bay Laurel, translated into Japanese by Reiko Ashidate.  Photo of Alicia Bay Laurel at Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, by jazz vocalist Ruthie Ristich.  Graphic design and cover painting by Alicia Bay Laurel. Digital layout preparation by Al Lopez.  Japanese digital layout preparation and calligraphy by Atsuko Sano.

A thousand thanks to those whose inspiration, kindness and generosity helped to make this CD possible: Joe Gallivan, Sachiho Kudomi, Yoko Nema, Hiromi Kondo, Reiko Ashidate, Nona Beamer, Keola and Moana Beamer, Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, Tim Jensen, Mayu Uotani, Joe Dolce, Scott Fraser, Lynn Peterson, Kikou Uehara, Mana Koike, Kaorico Ago, Ried Kapo Ku, Moira Smiley, James Kimo West, Ray Armando, Chris Conner, Vic Koler, Steve McGee, Naoshi Omote, Yukata Arata, Kohki, Yumiko Kawashima, Satomi Yanagisawa, Keisuke Era, Koki and Ayako Aso, Setsuko Miura, Yoko Utsumi, Kim Cooper, Ruthie Ristich, Rick and Donna Keefer, Atsuko Sano, Jessica Mercure, Benida Solow, Ron Grant, and Lea Grant.

Profound thanks and love to my mentors now gone to the spirit realm: Esther Silverstein Blanc, James Leo Herlihy, Jean Varda, Louis Gottlieb, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, John Fahey, Helen Nearing, Auntie Nona Beamer, Uncle Sol Kawaihoa and Auntie Clara Kalalau Tolentino.

THE SONGS Note: Some of these songs have lyrics that were not sung or only a portion of which were sung.  I include here only the lyrics that were actually sung (or spoken).

1. Mele Nalu (Song of the Wave) by Donto Kudomi, (1997 Goma Records JASRAC). Donto’s famous hula, Nami, translated into English by Reiko Ashidate, re-interpreted as English lyrics by Alicia Bay Laurel, 2008, and re-interpreted as Hawaiian lyrics by Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, 2008. The song opens with a Hawaiian chant composed and performed by Ried Kapo Ku, (2009 Na Manupo Music). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Ried Kapo Ku (vocal, ipu heke [Hawaiian gourd drum]), James Kimo West (guitar), and Sachiho Kudomi (electric bass guitar).        

Opening chant:

‘Ae, he mele nalu no Donto

(Here then, a wave song for Donto)

Ha’alele a’e ‘oe i ke ao nei

(You leave this world)

Ho’opili ‘ia i ka poli o Pele

(Drawn to the bosom of Pele)

Me ka wiwo’ole i kou pono

(Unafraid because of your righteous goodness)

E kali mäkou ma kahakai

(We wait on the shore)

No kou pane ë

(For your reply)

Aia lä!  Ke änuenue!

(Behold!  The rainbow!)
Eia au i ka poli o ka nalu

He mele kaʻu e mele aku ai

Ka huna kai e pulu nei

I ke ʻehu o ke kai

Palena ʻole, launa ʻole

Kani ʻole ka leo o ka nalu

ʻO kuʻu leo ke kāhea nei

Lohe ʻole ʻia mai nō

Auhea-hea-hea wale ʻoe

Auhea-hea-hea e ka nalu

Auhea-hea-hea wale ʻoe

E ō, e pane mai nō

Riding waves that praise the island

Waves of tears are falling down my face

Is this the place beyond all knowing?

Far beyond the singing of the waves.

Waves can weary with pollution

But the waves always continue to appear

Come on, waves, give me an answer

Let me know you know I’m here

Hear me, hear me, hear me, hear me, ocean!

Answer as I call to you once more.

Hear me, hear me, hear me, hear me, ocean!

I am listening from your shore.

Oneone ē ka nalu

Kāwili pū i ka lepo o ke kai

Mau nō naʻe ka poʻi o ka nalu

A pau loa ke ao nei

Inā hoʻi ua lohe ʻoe

Pane mai i ke kani o kuʻu leo   
E nānā mai i ʻike maila

ʻO au nō ke lana nei

2. Hill of Death by Joe Dolce (melody, 2004) and Louisa Lawson (lyrics, first published in Louisa’s late 19th century Australian feminist newspaper, The Dawn, and later in her 1905 poetry collection The Lonely Crossing) Dolceamore Music APRA (Australia).  In 2004, Hill of Death won the Best Folk Gospel Award in the Australian Gospel Awards. Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Joe Dolce (vocal), James Kimo West (guitar) and Chris Conner (upright bass).

No downward path to death we go
Through no dark shades or valleys low,
But up and on o’er rises bright
Toward the dawn of the endless light.
For not in lowlands can we see
The path that was and that to be,
But on the highlands, just where the soul
Takes deeper breaths to reach the goal.
No downward path to death we go
Through no dark shades or valleys low,
But up and on o’er rises bright
Toward the dawn of the endless light.
There we can see the winding way
That we have journeyed all our day,
Then turn and view with spirits still
Our future home beyond the hill.

3. Bosan Gokko (The Monk Song) by Donto Kudomi (1995 Yano Music JASRAC), plus Yamadera No Oshosan, a traditional Japanese children’s song. Translation of both songs by Reiko Ashidate and Yoko Nema, set into English verse by Alicia Bay Laurel, 2008. The piece opens with the first lines of Shoshinge, a sutra by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, translated by Yoko Nema. Sachiho Kudomi (vocal, electric bass guitar), Yoko Nema (vocal, harmonium), Hiromi Kondo (djembe), Ray Armando (congas), and Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar and spoken word).

(Translation of opening lines of Shoshinge)
I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha,
Who has eternal life,
And light beyond human knowledge.
(Translation of Bosan Gokko)
On the mountain, the temple bell tolls.
The aroma of supper greets me.
Potatoes cooked with tofu;
Let us say grace and enjoy it.
No electronic sounds at the temple.
When I hear ravens call, I go home.
Yes, I would be really comfortable
Living in the temple.
A candle burns in the silent temple hall,
Before dawn, the time of the wisdom of the universe.
The sun rises. Wake up!
I am a pillar of Japan.
So long I gaze at the lotus
Blooming in the pond of the garden.
Head shaven and devoted to the temple,
I am reincarnated into this world again.
Take care until I see you again
Live and let live.
Live and let live.
(Rough translation of Yamadera No Oshosan, a traditional Japanese children’s song)
High on the mountain, there is a temple.
In the temple, there is a priest.
The priest wants to play with a ball
But, there is no ball.
The priest is longing to play with a ball
But, there is no ball.
So the priest plays with a cat.

4. Waltzing with Angels (medley): Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Moira Smiley (vocal), and Vic Koler (mandolin and upright bass).Oh Come, Angel Band (The Land of Beulah) by Jefferson Hascall 1876. Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet by Marvin E. Baumgardner, (1940 Stamps-Baxter Music BMI). Gathering Flowers was a hit in 1947 for Miss Kitty Wells, “The Queen of Country Music,” both as a solo and in duet with Hank Williams, Sr. I alternate between the two songs here.

Oh Come, Angel Band

My latest sun is sinking fast;
My race is almost run.
My greatest trials now are past;
My triumph has begun.
Oh come, angel band,
Come and around me stand.
Bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home.
I’ve almost found my heavenly home
My spirit softly sings.
The holy ones, behold they come,
I hear the sound of wings.

Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet

Death is an angel sent down from above,
Sent for the buds of the blooms that we love.
For it is so we must all pass away,
Our souls to be flowers in the Master’s bouquet.
Gathering flowers for the Master’s bouquet,
Beautiful flowers that will never decay,
Gathered by angels and carried away
Forever to bloom in the Master’s bouquet.
Loved ones are dying each day and each hour,
Passing away like the life of a flower,
But we shall all be together some day
Transplanted to bloom in the Master’s bouquet.

5. Altid Frejdig, Når du Går (Courage, Always, When You Walk) Melody by C.E.F. Weyse, 1838, lyrics by Christian Richardt, 1867, English translation by Jessica Mercure, set into verse by Alicia Bay Laurel. Alicia Bay Laurel (sung and spoken vocal), Chris Conner (upright bass). Often performed at funerals in Denmark, this hymn served as a rallying call in the struggle against the occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945.

Altid frejdig, når du går
(Courage, always, when you walk)
Veje, Gud tør kende,
(On paths only God may know,)
Selv om du til målet når
(Even if you don’t reach your goal)
Først ved verdens ende.
(Until the end of time.)

Aldrig ræd for mørkets magt!
(Fear not the powers of darkness!)
Stjernerne vil lyse;
(The stars will shine.)
Med et fadervor i pagt
(With the Lord’s Prayer as your pact)
Skal du aldrig gyse.
(You will not quake with fear.)

Kæmp for alt, hvad du har kært;
(Fight for all you hold dear.)
Dø, om så det gælder,
(Die, if you must.)
Da er livet ej så svært,
(Then life is not so hard,)
Døden ikke heller.
(And neither is death.)

6. The Garden by Steve McGee, 1969 (self-published).  About finding heaven on earth. Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Steve McGee (vocal, lead guitar), James Kimo West (rhythm guitar), and Vic Koler (upright bass).     

And it’s a hard rocky road that we’re going down,
And I know we won’t make it by ourselves.
For it’s love and believing in what we have found
That will take us to the garden that the Great One has grown.
Love, only love, can take you there
To the place where we all can be free.
Love, only love, is the way to find peace;
It’s the answer to all that we need.
And it’s a place where the people are filled with joy,
And it’s a place where we all can be free to roam.
Where the music flows as though it came from above,
It’s a place that we all can call our own.

7. Auntie Nona/Kahuli Aku/Pupu Hinuhinu  Auntie Nona by Alicia Bay Laurel (2008 Bay Tree Music ASCAP), Kahuli Aku by Nona Beamer, (circa 1955), Pupu Hinuhinu by Nona Beamer (circa 1955), sample from The Story of Pua Polu by Nona Beamer, 1996, on her gorgeous CD collaboration with Keola Beamer, The Golden Lehua Tree (all from Starscape Music ASCAP). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), James Kimo West (guitar), and Chris Conner (upright bass).

Dear Auntie Nona, mother of aloha,
Songwriter, storyteller of our isles,
We loved your twinkling eyes; we loved your gentleness;
We loved your intellect, your heart and smiles.
A leader of community who fostered peace and dignity
Always with serenity, yet practical,
Keeper of the ancient chants, you could do a rascal dance,
Sing about Hawaiian plants and animals.
(Melody of Kahuli Aku)
You taught the children hula and decency
Your songs with nature themes, Hawaiian nursery rhymes.
These songs went on to be classics of the repertoire,
Along with your stories of your life and times.
Hula girl in Waikiki, Columbia University,
Taught for half a century, Kamehameha School.
Beamer family music camps, Mauna Kea oil lamps,
Soon your face will be on stamps because you’re so cool.
(Melody of Pupu Hinuhinu)
Please, Auntie Nona, from your perch in heaven,
Visit our memories and our dreams.
Angel of aloha, bless us with peacefulness,
Beamer of love and light, send your beams!
You kept an open mind; your eyes were color-blind;
You welcomed every kind who came to learn.
You loved the mountains high; you loved the ocean side;
You traveled far and wide, and returned.
(Melody of Kahuli Aku and the ending of Pupu Hinuhinu)
(Voice of Auntie Nona) Yes, you are always loved.

8. Hang Out and Breathe by Alicia Bay Laurel (1969 Bay Tree Music ASCAP). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), Joe Dolce (vocal), James Kimo West (guitar) and Vic Koler (upright bass).

What I want to do now is hang out and breathe,
Take care of the family at hand,
Live in the moment and be who I am,
For things may go different than that which we planned.
Oh happy most wonderful,
Hang out and breathe ’til I die.
Meet my Creator with open heart,
Surrender my body with joy in my eyes.
When I can remember to hang out and breathe,
And let all my worrying cease,
Thing can go crazy and things can go fine;
I’ll be a love fountain in a garden of peace.
Oh happy most wonderful,
Hang out and breathe ’til I die.
Meet my Creator with open heart,
Surrender my body with joy in my eyes.
Nothing is more simple than to hang out and breathe,
You’d think that’s what all of us do.
We come to this planet to live and to learn,
So don’t hold your breath ’til your wishes come true.

9. Nami (Wave) by Donto Kudomi, (1997 Goma Records JASRAC). Alicia Bay Laurel (vocal, guitar), James Kimo West (guitar), Sachiho Kudomi (electric bass guitar), Hiromi Kondo (djembe), and Naoshi Omote (congas, surdo, cajon, rainstick, and assorted hand percussion). Choir: Sachiho Kudomi, Hiromi Kondo, Yoko Nema, Mayu Uotani, Tim Jensen, Yukata Arata, Kohki, Alicia Bay Laurel.  

In this, the original Japanese version, I envision the song sung by friends, sitting around a campfire on the beach under a starry sky, playing drums and guitars.

10. Ruminations (medley): Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar and arrangement)

Amazing Grace, traditional Celtic melody, lyrics by John Newton, 1779, The Garden by Steve McGee, 1969, Is This Not the Land of Beulah? by Harriet Warner ReQua, 1890, Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Charles H. Gabriel (melody) and Ada H. Habershon (lyrics), 1908, Oh Come, Angel Band by Jefferson Hascall, 1876, Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet by Marvin E. Baumgartner (1940 Stamps-Baxter Publishing BMI), Angels Are Watching Over Me Traditional African-American Hymn,  This Little Light of Mine Traditional African-American Hymn,  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot Traditional African-American Hymn,  Bosan Gokko by Donto Kudomi (1995 Yano Music JASRAC), Hill of Death by Joe Dolce (melody, 2004) and Louisa Lawson (lyrics, circa 1895) (Dolceamore Music APRA), Long Black Veil by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill (1959 Universal Cedarwood BMI),  Good Night Irene  traditional folk song, first recorded by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) in 1934 for the Library of Congress. (Ludow Music and Andite Invasion), We Shall All Be Reunited by B. Bateman and Alfred Karnes (1929 Peer International BMI), Kumbaya (Come by Here, My Lord) Traditional African-American Hymn

11. Aloha ‘Oe (Farewell to Thee) by Queen Liliuokalani, 1878. Not penned for someone dying, but rather to a beloved to whom one expects to return.  Alicia Bay Laurel (guitar), and James Kimo West (guitar)