Island Address Book 5-12-2006

Mufi Hannemann, Honolulu Mayor On Oahu’s Best Karaoke

By: Dawna Robertson

Mayor Mufi Hannemann never misses a beat. Whether he’s heading the hoopla of Honolulu’s 100th anniversary celebration or directing day-to-day municipal matters, this soft-spoken public figure remains in tune with the rhythm of Oahu.

A natural leader even as a child, Hannemann’s grades and sports prowess garnered a scholarship to Harvard University. In fact, he was the first person of Samoan ancestry to graduate with honors from the famed Ivy League institution.

Halfway through his four-year term, the mayor notes that the reward in leading the City and County of Honolulu lies in people and potential.

“No one is really a minority here,” he explained. “Anyone can aspire to reach the highest place, whether it’s in politics, medicine, law or anything else.”

With a political resume that sings praise to his accomplishments, Honolulu’s man in charge does a little singing of his own: Hannemann is a karaoke buff.

For those not in the know, the karaoke craze kicked off in Japan 20 years ago, making its way to Hawaii soon after. Videos display words and visuals prompting songbirds to sing along, but vets like the mayor work from memory.

The sixth of seven children, the crooner comes from a musical family where everyone played an instrument except for him, so his voice became his vehicle.

“Singing has always been a part of me,” he said. “I loved Elvis and would stay at his movies until I could leave singing one of his songs.”

He finds lyrical expression relaxing, bringing levity and humor to his life.

“It teaches you to not take yourself so seriously,” he said.

In his limited free time, Hannemann craves karaoke. With his hectic schedule, however, vocal ventures are somewhat sparse.

“These days, karaoke is spontaneous. I’ll go depending on who’s with me at the time.”

Naturally, his microphone moments were more frequent prior to taking office.

“It was definitely one of my favorite past times when I was campaigning for mayor,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’d head to Walter’s in Kalihi to sing a few songs and unwind before heading home.”

The mayor also enjoys the Side Street Inn for the mood and the food.

“I always start with the Nalo Greens, and I like the fish selections. Then, of course, I have to enjoy the pork chops, kalbi or spicy chicken,” he said.

As for his top tunes, Hannemann prefers to belt ballads.

“I’ll sing Engelbert Humperdinck, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Bobby Darin,” he said, “always ‘Mac the Knife’ and ‘Somewhere Beyond The Sea.’”

He’s always quick to share his golden karaoke moments.

“I competed at Hawaii Stars in a government competition that paired us with other singers,” he said.

Hannemann’s partner suffered an off night, forcing the mayor to hit a perfect 10 for a vocal victory. Thanks to his competitive nature and great pipes, Hannemann hit the mark to thrust his team to the top.

Another favorite tale describes his stint working for Hawaii’s former governor John Waihee.

“I know he wouldn’t be mad at me for saying that he doesn’t have the best singing voice,” Hannemann laughed. “He used to pick a hard song and start it out, then flip the mic for me to finish. That was always a challenge.”

As for taking the show on the road, Hannemann has tapped into American favorites in Hanoi, bopped to Beatle picks in China and vocalized “Edelweiss” and “Wooden Heart” by Elvis in Germany in German.

“When I sang ‘Wooden Heart’ in German, it really impressed the crowd. I had memorized the lyrics from his ‘GI Blues’ movie,” Hannemann said.

Hannemann now has his own DVD that was produced in conjunction with Honolulu’s 100th anniversary. An idea sparked by Mona Wood of Ikaiki Communications, the mayor sings “I Fell In Love With Honolulu” the perfect pick for a man who loves his home, his job and his music.


Oahu’s karaoke hot spots:

Banana Patch Lounge Miramar at Waikiki
2345 Kuhio Ave.

Chiko’s Tavern
930 McCully St.

Club Ohsama, Waikiki Resort Hotel
130 Liliuokalani Ave.

GS Studios, Waikiki Joy Hotel
320 Lewers St.

Karaoke Hut & Lounge
909 Kapahulu Ave.

Karaoke Room 2
1150 S. King St.

Side Street Inn
1225 Hopaka St.

Top of the Hill
3579 Waialae Ave.

Tropic’s Diner
1020 Auahi St.

Walter’s Karaoke
2337 N. King St.