The RPM Challenge • Part 1 • Kioea

Making an Album in a Month

The RPM Challenge is an opportunity for musicians to record an album, 10 songs or at least 35 minutes long, in February. The RPM Challenge streams the final results on their website. I am participating in the 2019 challenge after a five year hiatus from playing music. Prior to that, I was unable to play my guitar because of a health problem. When I was able to return to the guitar, I realized that my time away had a silver lining: I took to playing my instrument with a fresh perspective and this allowed me to break old habits.

This winter I acquired a Fender Stratocaster. It is more comfortable to play; the tremolo bridge encouraged me to compose songs with a surf-rock infused vibe. I feel incredibly fortunate to make music with old and new friends for my two RPM projects. This post features the background of my project named Kioea.

Kioea the Bird

I first heard of the Kioea (Chaetoptila angustipluma) when writing a poem about the vanished birds of Hawaii. The bird was a much a mystery during its life as it was after its death. The story remains unknown of what forces drove the delicate Kioea to extinction around 1859. Only four preserved specimens exist, and no current evidence indicates that the Kioea was a part of local folklore, nor incorporated in Hawaiian featherwork.

One of the remaining specimens of the Kioea (Chaetoptila angustipluma).

The Kioea, approximately the size of a crow, had moss green and chartreuse yellow feathers, and dark auriculars under its eyes. The species had two interesting adaptations — a fringed-tongue paired with a curved beak for nectar-feeding and wispy feathers as fine as hair. The Kioea was last seen on the Island of Hawaiʻi. It gracefully fluttered through blossoming bushes that reclaimed the Kīlauea volcanic eruption.

Kioea translates from the Hawaiian language to mean, “stand tall.” The word can also be interpreted as “to be lifted up,” or “to extend.” Consequentially, I believe that the Kioea’s unwritten life merits a new narrative and song.

Kioea the Band

Kioea Music

Last summer, I joined a weekly music get-together hosted by local poet and musician Jim Rioux. Creating music in a group is like a breath of fresh air. I am grateful to be part of this ongoing collaborative experience.

The songs for the RPM Challenge were initially inspired by fragments of instrumentals played during the meet ups. I drew from influences such as surf music (Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, The Centurions, The Sentinals, The Trashmen) psychedelic bands (Ofege, The Chocolate Watchband, Ant Trip Ceremony), 1970’s Anatolian rock (Erkin Koray), Afrobeat (Fela Kuti), Ethio-jazz (Mulatu Astatke). Similarly, I looked to contemporary sounds (Khruangbin, Dungen, Wand, The Mattson 2, Allah-Las, The Space Agency), along with other styles. Hawaii’s diverse landscape prompted the song titles and the album’s overall ambiance.

Jim Rioux recorded the self-titled album at his studio. Rioux plays on drums. Jonathan Blakeslee and Pete Duchesne contributed upright bass and electric bass to the recording.

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