Kalani Pe‘a: Living life to the fullest
Soulful artist raises the bar on the follow-up to his award-winning debut
A self-described Hawaiian contemporary soul artist, Kalani Pe’a will likely increase his popularity with the release of his latest album, “No ‘Ane’i” (“We Belong Here”). Having won a Grammy Award in 2017 for his superb debut recording, “E Walea,” Kalani has raised the bar once again with his very impressive follow-up.
Featuring eight original songs and four of his favorite classics, “No ‘Ane’i” is distinguished by his flair for Hawaiian language composition, a talent for fusing traditional and contemporary elements into his music and his wide, expressive vocal range.
“This album has played a pivotal role in my life right now,” says Kalani. “It’s like giving birth to a second child. Producing and arranging music really defines who I am in setting the foundation with Hawaiian cultural values and practices.”
Kalani opens with a tribute to his home town, the traditional “Hilo March,” then guides us on a stirring voyage honoring family (“Kahunani No ‘Ola’a”), special places (“Hamoa,” the chant “Oli Aloha No Wailuku” and ” ‘Akaka Falls”), his partner (“Ke ‘A’a O Na Lani”), cultural pride (“Pa’a Mau”) and love as a foundation with the beautiful hymn “Na Hua O Ke Aloha,” which closes the album.
“I wanted to go from where I come from — born and raised in Hilo in the capital of mold, mildew and rain — and talk about the lehua blossoms that bloom and the love that Hilo has for the perpetuation of language, art and hula,” he explains. “My soul is there, and I love Maui, it’s my second home. I take you on a journey where I honor my forefathers and ancestors, and my grandmother.
“Then I take you to my secret beach, Hamoa. It’s my favorite beach in the world. My great- grandparents are from Hana, Kaupo and Keanae. Then I wanted to honor the place I live, Wailuku. I love the Wailuku breeze. We call it ‘wahi pana’ — favorite places, places that are endearing to me.
“Take you on a journey and end it with love. Aloha and love conquers everything so the song (“Na Hua O Ke Aloha,“) exemplifies the importance of love and having God in your life. With the foundation of love at home, you can spread love around the world.”
As to the significance of the album’s title, he talks about the value of people as a primary resource.
” ‘No ‘Ane’i’ refers to us being from here. All of us need to thrive as a resource. We are our resource. We don’t have to depend on Wikipedia or Google.com. We must become that primary or secondary resource for our people so that we maintain and retain the resources, and so that our people thrive in Hawaii. We are responsible for becoming a pillar for our people — to carry out the torch and light of our ancestors.”
“The song (“No ‘Ane’i“) was written by my kumu Kauanoe Kamana, and I kind of beefed it up with a Kalani Pe’a contemporary- style. She also wrote “Pa’a Mau,” which means to stand firm, and she gifted those two songs to me.”
A former Hawaiian resource coordinator at Kamehameha Schools Maui fluent in Hawaiian language, Kalani first came to prominence with his debut album, which won a Grammy in the Best Regional Roots category. It marked the first time a Hawaiian artist had won since the category was created in 2012 (after the Recording Academy abolished the award for Best Hawaiian Music Album).
Previous Regional Roots nominees have included Maui musicians Keali’i Reichel, George Kahumoku Jr., and Kamaka Kukona. The regionally based traditional American music category includes Hawaiian, Native American, polka, zydeco and Cajun genres.
“A lot of people thought there would be pressure,” he says about his Grammy win. ” ‘How is Kalani going to produce an album that meets the standards of his first one?’ But I never knew I was going to win a Grammy or a Hoku for the first album. Accolades do not matter to me. What matters is how I deliver the message and tell my story.”
Working again with award- winning producer Dave Tucciarone, Kalani is backed by musicians like Imua Garza and Wailua Ryder, with special guests Amy Hanaiali’i and Willie K on “Hilo March,” and Ho’okena and Moon Kauakahi from the Makaha Sons on the upbeat original ” ‘Elala He Inoa.”
“As I was doing my second album, I wanted to feature idols, vocalists and great entertainers who played an important role in my life as a child. Uncle Willie shared his ukulele talent, and Amy flew with me to Oahu. I’ve been following their music over the years. It was a great start to feature those who have paved the path and held a torch for young artists like myself. And I wanted to feature my idols Ho’okena and Moon Kauakahi. I’m so happy they all approved to help this big boy out.”
The catchy ” ‘Elala He Inoa” is about bugs that bother him, both insect and human. In the liner notes, he writes this mele also alludes to the repugnant creatures in life that discourage one from fulfilling one’s goals.
“It’s a fun song about the various insects of the world,” he says. “As an entertainer, we can’t please everybody.”
The project proved very emotional for him.
“I cried so much recording this, being overwhelmed with emotions,” he says. “I cried writing ‘Kahunani No ‘Ola’a,’ because it’s a song for my grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She’s my only grandparent alive. I want to acknowledge her being the matriarch of the family. She doesn’t remember me when I talk to her. I sing to her and she will remember me for about four or five seconds, and then I lose her. I know her spirit is strong.”
One of the hallmarks of the album is how he artfully blends musical influences to enhance his Hawaiian songs, including adding a retro, early ’60s Sam Cooke- rhythm to “Pa’a Mau.”
“I talked with my father yesterday — he’s a professional bass player — and he told me that there are a lot of different flavors in each song,” he reports. “That’s truly who I am. There’s an island-music feel, there’s an R&B feel and there’s a classical feel. It’s Hawaiian contemporary soul. It’s who I am as an artist. I’m evolving as an artist, and I stay true to my roots and values.”
His broad palette is also reflected on Henry Kapono’s latest recording project, “The Songs of C&K,” which features some of Hawaii’s younger artists recording classic C&K songs. Kalani sings Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love is Fair.” Kapono asked him to add Hawaiian lyrics.
“I love singing classics in Hawaiian language,” he notes. “As a fluent speaker, I can write and translate in my native tongue. Uncle Henry Kapono is a total music icon in my life. My mom listened to C&K in high school. She’s very proud that the new generation is uplifting and reviving his music.”
Kalani’s love for classic pop and R&B is reflected on his new album with a sublime cover of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar” (with added Hawaiian lyrics), which was a hit for the Carpenters and one of his favorite singers, Luther Vandross.
“My mom loved singing that song to me,” he says. “I grew up with all kinds of music. I grew up with Earth, Wind & Fire, and Reba McEntire, Willie K and The Temptations. You have a melting pot in Hawaii of cultural diversity. I love to do a few classics and write my own music.”
There are so many highlights on “No ‘Ane’i,” each reflecting a different facet of his talent — from his gorgeous vocals on the classic “Akaka Falls” and the vintage feel of “Hamoa” with its lulling backing chorus all sung by this artist, to the jubilant title song reminiscent of the Hawaiian Style Band, and the simplicity of the final hymn “Na Hua O Ke Aloha,” which features just his lovely voice and piano accompaniment.
“I wanted it to be simple and clean and feature Aaron Sala, a Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning artist, to play piano,” he says. “It’s an old Mormon hymn. It’s been sung many times by my great-grandparents and grandparents. We were required to sing it or else we wouldn’t be eating dinner. If you were flat, you had to do it again.”
Heading to Japan in late October followed by a “Music for the Soul” tour on the Mainland, Kalani hopes his latest album inspires people.
“Just enjoy, go to Hamoa, dive into the water, swim with the sharks and live life to the fullest.”
The “No ‘Ane’i” CD is available at www.islandheritagemusic.com, and as a download at digital outlets such as iTunes.
Kalani will perform “All in Love is Fair” when he joins Henry Kapono & Friends at 5 p.m. Aug. 26 at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater, along with Kalapana, Jerry Santos, Keola Beamer, Na Leo Pilimehana, John Cruz, Brother Noland, Robi Kahakalau, Alx Kawakami, Blayne Asing, Josh Tatofi, Kimie Miner, Landon McNamara, Mike Love, Paula Fuga and Starr Kalahiki. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $15 for kids age 2 to 12; $55 and $75 for reserved seating and $150 for VIP (plus applicable fees). Gates open at 4 p.m.
Kalani will also perform in concert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Na Wai ‘Eha will open the show. Tickets are $30 and $45 (plus applicable fees).
For tickets to the MACC events, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or go to www.mauiarts.org.
“The Songs of C&K” CD is available at all First Hawaiian Bank branches throughout the state. All proceeds will go to The Henry Kapono Foundation.