As I walk through Waikīkī, I savor the irony of heading to talk story with a man who often works on balmy Sunday afternoons like this one even though he gave Hawai‘i its most tuneful tribute to weekend recreation—a jaunty little lyric called “Aloha Friday.” That man, who crooned the hit 33 years ago, is Kimo Kahoano. Today, he is hosting a hula event. Of course he is. In addition to being one of the isle’s major radio and television personalities, he is Hawai‘i’s pre-eminent emcee, an ever-enthusiastic impresario for everything from funky canoe-club fundraisers to the mega-spectacle of the Merrie Monarch competition. He’s in high demand for his ineffable presence. And that novel little ditty from decades past remains part of his cred.
“Wherever and whenever I am on stage, I still get requests for ‘Aloha Friday.’ And when that happens, I will sing it. Because this song is the song of the people. It’s not just my song,” he proclaims while on break from his duties. While he admits (with my nudging) that this Sunday would be a good day for his favorite game, golf, he says the years have taught him that while he is on the job he should simply enjoy becoming an “extension of the surrounding community.” With that, he strums his air ukulele and croons: “It’s Aloha Friday/ No work ’til Monday …” Hula notables and uniformed hotel employees pass us by and flash smiles and shakas, prompting Kahoano to comment that Hawai‘i’s TGIF celebrations can take place on any day of the week: “It’s pau hana time. It’s about working hard, whenever we can, doing all we have to do, but still finding time to go enjoy. That’s the local story,” he says.
That local story, as Kahoano calls it, is also a story that was mostly absent from Hawai‘i’s stage performance until a period known as the Hawaiian Renaissance revived not only native cultural tradition but also inspired artistic innovation. “Aloha Friday” was the product of this era, Kahoano explains.
As the Renaissance got rolling in the 1970s, Kahoano was already an established fire-knife dancer and choreographer in Polynesian revues at the glitziest Waikīkī showrooms. However, with change in the air, he jumped to KCCN radio, joining a bunch of new DJs emboldened to make their broadcasts into a sonic boom of local identity. He also joined the storied scene at Territorial Tavern in downtown Honolulu, playing music in a band to packed houses of local fans alongside the rising kings of local satire, Booga Booga. “Crazy stuff, but we loved it because it showed in a common-sense way who we are,” Kahoano says. In 1981, his bandmate Paul Natto approached him saying he had written a humorous song; Natto suggested they go record it.
In the basement of an ‘Aiea home surrounded by sound equipment, Natto first picked out the melody of “Aloha Friday” for Kahoano. In the spirit of the era, Kahoano let it rip, dredging up his acting skills from performance training he’d received as a Kamehameha Schools student. He improvised between choruses, making up a monologue about a bruddah who is off work and cruising for chicks but ends up shelling out his credit card to cover rounds of drinks for other guys. On top of the quasi-rap, Kahoano added in a hook of “Doobie-doobie-doo”—scat singing sampled straight from Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”—and then, to finish it off, he and Natto boosted the tempo with the beat of Hawaiian country music. All in a single take.
The song scored plenty radio airplay in Hawai‘i and California. “Lucky that corporate approval of playlists wasn’t around then,” Kahoano says. Just the other day, the godfather of Aloha Friday says, he heard it played by request on a local radio station. Kahoano clasps his hands together as if in prayer and laughs, “I am humbled that there’s something for everybody and for every generation in that song.”