Na Hoku-winning group includes Maui firefighter

Maui musician Ikaika Blackburn could not have dreamed of a better Memorial Day weekend than the one he enjoyed Saturday on Oahu.

His Hawaiian band, Na Hoa, was the highlight of the 2013 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, winning four awards, including album of the year.

(Na Hoa was inadvertently left out of a story on Na Hoku Hanohano Award winners from Maui published Monday on Page A3.)

“It was definitely surreal,” said the Waihee resident in a phone interview Monday. “We put this project together just to play Hawaiian music and share the music with our family and fans. We had no expectations for Hoku and we were just hoping to get one. To actually get four was an awesome experience.”

Na Hoa – which is made up of Blackburn and Oahu residents Keoni Souza and Halehaku Seabury – and group’s self-titled album won group of the year, most promising artist and Hawaiian music album of the year in the ceremony held at the Hawai’i Convention Center.

“It was the first album that we’ve ever done,” Blackburn said. “We wanted to perpetuate what we do, which was traditional Hawaiian music.”

While attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2002, he founded the group with Souza, who plays bass, and Seabury-Akaka, who plays the guitar. The ukulele-playing Blackburn performed with the group on Oahu for about four years until he moved back to the Valley Isle to join the Maui Fire Department.

“We continued to play, but not as often,” he said.

Several years later, the group committed to producing its debut album under the guidance of Dave Tucciarone, which was released in February 2012.

“I was traveling to Oahu whenever I had time to fly up,” Blackburn said.

The husband and father of five children said it took more than a year to finish the album due to travel and other commitments, but working unusual hours as a firefighter helped.

“Because I work 10 days a month it allows me to plan my schedule and plan studio sessions,” he said.

The Engine 1 of Wailuku firefighter said that his fellow firefighters were well aware of the awards, and flooded his Facebook and phone with messages throughout Saturday’s ceremony.

“Guys were calling me during the ceremony and I knew my crew was working that day,” he said. “I had vacation and my guys were calling me as we were winning awards and asking how it was going.”

Blackburn said that he definitely wants to make another album with the group, but wants to “let this one marinate” before collaborating again.

“We had a lot of fun with this album,” he said. “We’ve been together for over 10 years, and, of course, when I came back home our gigging slowed down, but this – this is just the sweetness, the cherry on the cake to win theses awards this past weekend.”

Blackburn also released a solo album this month titled “Maliu,” which is dedicated to his family and his love for Maui, he said. His album and the group’s album can both be found on iTunes.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at