Soulful Hawaiian singer Paula Fuga (pronounced Funga) gave a marvelous performance Sunday night at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for 70 of her Big Island fans. The outdoor event was the first live public presentation for the Kahilu Theatre since it paused shows back in early August due to high COVID case numbers.
The concert took place on the resort’s beautiful luau grounds, and the stage area was surrounded by sheltering trees, and tropical flowers, with waves crashing on the shoreline nearby. Some concertgoers spotted a shooting star in the full moon-lit sky midway through the show.
Fuga’s 90-minute set was a heartwarming mix from her recordings: debut album Lilikoi; Misery’s End EP; and her long-awaited second album Rain on Sunday. She was joined on stage by fellow Oahu musicians Brad Watanabe on bass ukulele, and keyboardist Ethan Capone. Watanabe co-produced the current album with reggae musician Mike Love.
Probably one of the most touching moments in the show was Fuga’s detailed description of her rocky early years as a foster child and then raised by her grandparents.
“I was so lucky, and they made me feel special,” noted the singer. “My middle name is Hiltrudis; it’s the same as my grandmother.” The German name comes from a certain gladiator’s sword that symbolized winning a battle and being granted freedom from slavery. “So, I carry her name with me, and it gives me strength like a gladiator.” Fuga then segued into “Too Hot Mama” and its moving lyrics: “Hold me close, whisper sweet and low/Say you’ll be with me wherever I roll.”
Fuga also mentioned her grandfather’s last name is Spencer and that Waimea’s historic Spencer House and Spencer Beach Park were named after her family.
“Hoapili,” another song from the new album, was written by Fuga while staying at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona.
“The title translates to close or intimate friend, and Mike Love said it was my most vulnerable song,” Fuga told the crowd.
Fuga often shared the spotlight with her talented trio, giving Capone several solos, which showed Keith Jarrett influences on songs like “Hokule‘a” and “No Place Like Home.” Watanabe also shined on “Tangled” and “Lilikoi.” His tiny electric bass ukulele sure packs a punch. They’re a tight trio, but I still wanted to hear some percussion on several numbers for added emphasis.
The audience cried out for a hana hou, and Fuga closed with “Lilikoi,” which she said was about being a strong independent woman and an example for your daughters to follow. Then, she gave a nod to her new manager and her daughter.
Sunday’s show marked Fuga’s third Big Island appearance in recent weeks (Ola Brew and Uncle Robert’s), and we hope she’ll return after her upcoming eight-city tour of the mainland.
Catch Paula Fuga’s livestream concert on Kahilu.TV.