Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole has been hailed as a modern trailblazer, boldly adapting Hawaiian music for a new generation.
A multi-Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner, with his most recent recording "Kaumakaiwa," this innovative artist crafted an extraordinary collection of primarily original Hawaiian songs embellished with judicious contemporary and world music influences.
Few albums in recent years can match "Kaumakaiwa," for its combination of refined artistic vision, stunning production, soulfulness, gorgeous vocals, and exemplary blending of modern and tradition.
Mountain Apple Co. photo
Hoaikane is among groups performing Saturday at Reggae in the Valley at the MACC.
Kanaka'ole sets the bar high from the opening track, "Grandchild," with its collective chant, layered vocals, cool global groove and mesmerizing Hawaiian "rap" by his grandmother, Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele.
"As long as the vocals and poetry are substantial, you can go anywhere with the music," Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole explains. "And you have to be articulate enough to be able to justify what you are doing."
At the 2009 Hoku awards, "Kaumakaiwa" earned Kanaka'ole Male Vocalist of the Year and Hawaiian Language Performance. He could have easily walked away with Album of the Year, but innovation rarely seems to impress Hoku voters.
Born on Hawaii Island, Kaumakaiwa is the eldest son of Kekuhi Kanahele, the eldest grandchild of Pualani Kanaka'ole, great-grandson of Edith Kanahele Kanaka'ole, and great-great grandson of Mary Keali'ikekuewa.
His mother is an acclaimed Hoku award-winning recording artist; his grandmother and his great-aunt Nalani Kanaka'ole, also Hoku winners, are the kumu hula of the family halau, Halau O Kekuhi. His great-grandmother was one of the most influential kumu hula of the last century, and one of the leaders of the Hawaiian "renaissance" of the '60s and '70s.
Raised in the traditional Hawaiian way, Kanaka'ole's education included Hawaiian immersion preschool and a performing arts degree from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
"We rarely listened to what's considered traditional Hawaiian music in the household," he recalls. "It was more classical. My mother is a great fan of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Bach. Because we were such a traditional family, the foundation, we didn't have to look too hard towards Hawaiian music."
As an 'olapa of Halau O Kekuhi, Kanaka'ole has been involved with the Merrie Monarch Festival since he was 12. He has also appeared onstage and in film productions such as the hula epic "Holo Mai Pele," "Kamehameha Pai'ea," "Kilohi: Na Akua Wahine," and "Hanau Ka Moku," a collaboration with the Tau Dance Theatre. Most recently he was featured in the Hawaiian chant documentary "Mana i ka Leo" (Power of the Voice), alongside Hokulani Holt and Dr. Kamana'opono Crabbe, which screened at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in January.
In 2003, he released his debut album, "Ha'i Kupuna," which was honored with a Hoku award for Haku Mele. His second album, "Welo," earned him Hawaiian Album of the Year and Hawaiian Language Performance.
His creativity reached full fruition with his third album, where every track shined with originality. It was spawned from his family's vision that: "Doing the same things all of the time is how we put ourselves in a noose as far as continuation is concerned."
One of the most striking tracks, "Aina Po," features the extraordinary combined chanting of Kanaka'ole with his mother and grandmother, enhanced by percussive handclaps and pahu drumming.
"My great-grandmother was very passionate about having your feet in the past as well as the present," he notes. "You have to be progressive, but always passionate about the past."
A charismatic artist, Kanaka'ole has been impressing audiences far beyond the islands. In January he was the only Hawaiian musician featured at New York's Globalfest, the annual world music showcase, performing alongside artists from India, Peru, Brazil, Haiti and Senegal.
"New York was awesome, and we're looking forward to performing at the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival in Indiana in September, and the Chicago World Music Festival and the Dreaming Festival in Brisbane, Australia, at the end of the year."
Down the road, he's also looking forward to releasing a new recording, a joint collaboration with his mother.
"My mother and I are working on an album together," he says. "It will be our shared fourth album, as we both have three albums out."
Knowing his adventurous spirit, one can imagine it will sound unique.
"My mom is equally as worldly in her approach to music," he continues. "So we decided to take simple traditional Hawaiian melodies and put them to melodies with a little guitar and techno samba. Through her encouragement we decided to go a step further with innovation."
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Solo Sessions series presents Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole tonight at 7:30 in the McCoy Studio Theater. General admission is $25. To watch a "chicken-skin" clip of this powerful chanter with his mom and grandma at the Hokus, check out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2y9bWG7I1c&feature =related. And for a very trippy video of him singing the beautiful "Lana'ihale": www.youtube.com/watch?v= Ibr296lCG_Q&feature=fvwrelReggae local-style will be jamming when the sixth annual Reggae in the Valley fest presents a range of isle bands Saturday at the MACC. Featured performers include: Sly Dog, Maoli, Hoaikane, Kolohe Kai, Natural Vibes, and the Hot Rain Band with Siaosi/Kiwini, Vaitai/Laga, Savea/Damon Williams, FIJI and J BOOG.
Reggae in the Valley kicks off at 5 p.m.; gates open at 4:30 p.m. Admission is $25 in advance, $35 day of show (plus applicable fees).
Following a jazz fest on Lanai, the Four Seasons Resorts in partnership with HawaiiONTV.com and Jazz Alley TV will present the inaugural Lanai Ukulele Festival from July 29 to 30 at the Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele.
Throughout the two-day event there will be free performances by Uncle Richard Ho'opi'i, Tony Conjugacion, Brittni Paiva, Herb Ohta Jr., Walt Keale, David Kamakahi, Benny Uyetake, CJ Helekahi and the Lana'i Ukulele Club.
The schedule of events includes music from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Manele Bay and from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at The Lodge at Koele. Plus Benny Uyetake plays Coffee Works from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by a ukulele jam in the evening at Pele's Other Garden in Lanai City beginning at 8.