By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Tia Carrere evokes 'feeling of Aloha' on her new CD

Courtesy of Simon Wakelin Although she found fame in big-screen hits like "True Lies" and "Wayne's World," Tia Carrere never wanted to be an actress. "Singing has always been my first love," she says.

January 24, 2008/Ventura County Star

When actress Tia Carrere recorded her first Hawaiian CD, she never expected to be nominated for a Grammy.

"It's so wonderful to do what you love just because you love it, and then to be celebrated for it is just gravy," said Carrere, whose newest project, "Hawaiiana," debuted at No. 13 on Billboard's world music charts.

Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Bianca, Carrere strived to create an album that captured "the feeling of Aloha" she experienced as a child.

"There's a special feeling you get whenever you visit Hawaii — everything slows down just enough so that you can savor each moment," said Carrere, 40, of Topanga, who was born in Honolulu. "The best part about recording this album is singing traditional songs to my baby daughter. Her face just lights up at the melodies and some of the lyrics just make her giggle."

Carrere will perform about half a dozen classic Hawaiian songs from her CD on Sunday at Borders Thousand Oaks. The show is just weeks away from the 50th Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, when Carrere will vie for Best Hawaiian Music Album.

Each track on "Hawaiiana," produced by two-time Grammy award winner Daniel Ho, features Carrere's vocals accompanied by one instrument — either solo slack key guitar or ukulele.

"It is a very personal, intimate recording," said Ho of Westwood, Carrere's friend since high school who produced the album on his label, Daniel Ho Productions. "Tia and I played music together in high school and have been writing music together for many years. This album is a collection of music we grew up with back in Hawaii."

The album is considered one of the most appealing, revelatory endeavors of her career, with each song holding special meaning.

For instance, "Aloha 'Oe" is sentimental and reflective, while "Pupu Hinuhinu" recalls childhood memories. "Pupu Hinuhinu," Nona Beamer's lullaby about shiny shells, was written for the children in her family. "Ulili E" is a rhythmic song about birds running along the shore. "Sing," the Carpenters' old hit, is the lone non-Island tune.

"Music has always been in my family ... since I had Bianca, I've been thinking about how important Hawaii is to me, and what a special place it holds in my heart even though I don't live there anymore," said Carrere, whose maternal grandmother sang harmony with her sisters on Hawaiian radio during World War II. "I want to preserve these songs."

The album is particularly unique because it is so simple and clear, Ho said.

"You can hear every breath, every word, every note of the guitar," he said. "We recorded it in higher than CD quality resolution, with all vintage audio equipment to capture the warmth and detail of the acoustic sound."

Carrere was born Althea Rae Duhinio Janairo. The oldest of three sisters and two half-sisters, she was discovered in a Waikiki grocery store while attending Sacred Hearts Academy school for girls, and landed the female lead in the indie movie, "Aloha Summer."

Although her passion has always been singing — with her first singing lesson at age 10 — Carrere continued her ascent in the acting world with a regular stint on "General Hospital" as Jade Soong, and a string of co-starring roles on "MacGyver," "Quantum Leap" and "Friday the 13th," among others. She even kicked up her heels on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

It wasn't until her breakthrough role as Cassandra in the "Wayne's World" films that Carrere was able to showcase both her singing and acting talent.

"Singing has always been my first love — I never wanted to be an actress," Carrere said.

Nevertheless, the cult classic success of "Wayne's World" set the stage for her villainous role of Juno Skinner in "True Lies" opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, computer whiz Jingo Asakuma in "Rising Sun" opposite Sean Connery, and her own series lead of Sydney Fox in "Relic Hunter." She has also appeared on the 2007 season premiere of "Nip/Tuck," on Kelsey Grammer's "Back To You," and recurred as Cha Cha on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

She most recently returned to her Hawaiian roots with her voice work in Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" films and series, as well as her Grammy-nominated CD.

"I've come full circle," Carrere said. "Since having my daughter, I've really come back to doing what I love."

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