For the first time since 2008, the pounding drums and gyrating hips of Tahiti Fête of Hilo return this weekend.
Tahitian halau and individual dancers will perform in the dance competition from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“So many performers and audience members kept asking us to bring it back, I just decided we’d try again,” said producer Pua Tokumoto. The festival was put on hold while Tokumoto’s husband, Dwight, a well-known steel guitarist, recovered from cancer.
“He’s fine now. He’s been playing with everybody. He’s just finished recording with Lito Arkangel,” Tokumoto said Tuesday.
One of the bands Dwight Tokumoto has been playing with is the Grammy-nominated Hawaiian swing band Kahulanui, who’ll play at 1 p.m. Sunday. Other musical acts include Mark Yamanaka, the big winner at this year’s Na Hoku Hanohano awards, at 1 p.m. Saturday, slack-key master Ben Kaili at 4 p.m. Saturday, and Aunty Diana Aki, the legendary “Songbird of Miloli‘i.”
“They’ll be playing during intermissions, which is good because it will give us time to score,” Tokumoto said.
Most of the halau are from the Big Island, including Hilo’s Toa Here, Tokumoto said, as well as Te Ea O Te Turama, a West Hawaii troupe led by Maile Lee Tavares, daughter of the late, legendary singer-songwriter Kui Lee.
There also are halau from Oahu, the mainland, Japan and Mexico. They include Te Orama of Daly City, Calif., winners of Tahiti Fête of San Jose in 2011 and 2013, and Bali Hai of Mexico City, first place winners of Tahiti Fête of Hilo in 2007.
Tokumoto said the Mexican halau has worked hard to make the trip to Hilo and the dancers are ready to impress.
“This group has been practicing all year. They’ve been raising funds, doing car washes,” she said. “Just to get a visa, you can’t imagine. For us, we show our passport, we hop on a plane and we’re outta here. They have to get a letter from me inviting them to come here. Then, they have to show that it’s a legitimate event, with brochures. They have to show the government their itinerary, where they’re going to stay, what hotel. They have to show a certain amount of money in the bank.
“The sacrifices they have to make to come here from Mexico, to get a visa to come to the United States, would discourage a lot of people. But for them, it’s the trip of a lifetime.”
Tokumoto said the appeal of Tahitian dance is “it’s very uninhibited.”
“There’s so much freedom of expression when they do it, especially the old dance, which is called otea, that I think people are attracted to. That’s why you see halaus from Japan and Mexico,” she said.
“I have to thank the Merrie Monarch because a lot of these people who dance Tahitian dance hula, too. A lot of these folks from Japan and Mexico want to come to the home of the Merrie Monarch. A lot of them want to come to the Merrie Monarch, but they have to have their visas by the time the tickets come out (just after Christmas), but then they don’t know if they’re going to get tickets. So, the next best thing for them is to come for Tahiti Fête at the home of the Merrie Monarch.”
General admission is $15 for one day, $25 for both days. Admission for children ages 5-12, seniors 65 and older and full-time students with ID is $10 for one day and $18 for both days.
Tickets are available at Basically Books, Music Exchange and The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo, Parker Ranch Store in Waimea, online at www.tahitifete.com and at the door.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.