Maui County musicians bring home Na Hokus
While the band Keauhou won big for its debut album, young artists with Maui County ties also shone — taking home awards in major categories and making a bit of history at the 40th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards ceremony Saturday night on Oahu.
Kalani Pe’a, 34, became the first Hawaii recording artist to win a Grammy and a Na Hoku award for the same album. Ra’iatea Helm, 32, was named Female Vocalist of the Year for the third time. And Blayne Asing, who was named Most Promising Artist of the Year in 2016, earned Single of the Year for “Molokai on My Mind.”
Maui slack key guitarists George Kahumoku Jr. and Jeff Peterson each won an album category, as did four-man Maui band Kanekoa, which took home Reggae Album of the Year for “Tales of the Fruit Stand Mystic.”
“You can see that a different generation is coming out,” Helm said Sunday. “A lot of the artists that we grew up listening to . . . they continue to support the younger generation, including myself. It’s up to us to be the helm of that ship to make sure we have enough Hawaiian music in the Hawaiian language.”
Helm, who hails from Molokai, was recognized Saturday for her fifth solo album, “He Leo Huali: A Pure Voice.” She was first named Female Vocalist of the Year in 2003 at the age of 18, making her, at the time, the youngest artist to receive the award.
“I was just a baby. I didn’t really understand the industry,” Helm said. “This time in my life, everything all sort of makes sense. That comes with growth. I take (this year’s award) as support from my peers and my mentors. Obviously they believe in what I do and it’s very humbling.”
In the age of online downloads and hit singles, making an album is “a huge commitment,” Helm said.
“You want to make sure you pick the songs that you feel will represent that time,” she said. “I wanted to stick with more traditional on this one, just because I wanted to share my love and commitment to Hawaiian music.”
For his work on Helm’s album, Dave Tucciarone won the Hawaiian Engineering Award.
Helm performed on stage with award-winning band Keauhou during Saturday’s awards ceremony. The trio of Zachary Lum, Nicholas Lum and Jonah Solatorio topped all nine categories it was nominated in for its debut album.
Pe’a had nine Na Hoku nominations for his first album, “E Walea,” which won Contemporary Album of the Year just a few months after he accepted a Grammy in Los Angeles.
“I’m just so happy to be able to win the Hoku and the Grammy and represent my kupuna and all the other musicians who have held that torch and paved that path,” said Pe’a, a Hilo native who now lives in Wailuku. “It’s been a wonderful year of love and joy and support.”
A Hawaiian resource coordinator at Kamehameha Schools Maui, Pe’a said that he is grateful to win the awards but that it “doesn’t define my credibility” or his passion for Hawaiian language and music.
“I will continue to strive speaking Hawaiian language at home and in the community, while writing Hawaiian music and being able to perpetuate that,” Pe’a said. “I feel that is my kuleana.”
During the awards ceremony Saturday, Pe’a performed on stage with Peterson, whose album “Wahi Pana, Songs of Place.” won Instrumental Album of the Year.
“It was really an exciting night,” Peterson said. “I always love going to the Hokus and seeing fellow friends in the music industry. It’s like a whole ohana that gets together and celebrates once a year.”
Peterson’s album highlights the Maui-born musician’s range of styles and pays homage to some of his favorite places, from Haleakala Ranch and Olinda on Maui to Sandy Beach and Lanikai on Oahu. Writing the seven-minute track “Concerto for Slack Key Guitar and Orchestra, Movement 2: Kilauea” took him all year.
“It was a very meaningful project for me,” Peterson said. “There’s sort of a purpose for each song and each place I recorded. . . . It’s fun to do an album that just showed a lot of my different interests.”
Peterson, a multiple Na Hoku winner who’s also contributed to two Grammy-winning recordings, said Saturday’s ceremony was full of “new artists and new energy” and that it was exciting to see a fresh wave of musicians coming in.
Kahumoku, also a multiple Na Hoku and Grammy award winner, agreed that a new generation is taking the stage and that it’s “hard to win now because I’m from the old generation.” Nevertheless, the longtime Maui musician won another Na Hoku on Saturday — this time in the Christmas Album of the Year category for his 11-track release “Maui Slack Key Christmas.” He called the album a “fun, kind of off-the-cuff” project.
“We were certainly honored that we won anything at all,” Kahumoku said. “The Christmas album was pretty solid. I’m glad that my wife got me out of the taro patch pulling weeds to create this album.”
He said he spent much more time on “Kahumoku — Priest of the Land,” which was nominated for Slack Key Album of the Year. Kahumoku said that the difference he sees between his generation and the next is that newer artists have “more access to their audience.”
“For us, our audience was we had to play music and be there. That’s how we made contact with our audience,” he said. “These guys, they have social media. . . . Everything’s a lot more instant. I think that’s an advantage with technology.”
But, some things won’t change.
“It still has to be good music,” Kahumoku said. “You still have to make a connection with your audience.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.