Pe‘a voyages ahead with his newest album
Recorded amid pandemic, it pays tribute to people, places
* EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maui News is featuring some of Maui’s Na Hoku Hanohano Award nominees in the lead-up to the ceremony in September when the winners will be announced.
Composing songs during the pandemic lockdown on Maui, two-time Grammy Award winner Kalani Pe’a was drawn to the theme of voyaging ahead through troubled waters.
“My last sold-out concert was at the Lincoln Center in New York on Feb. 27, 2020,” Pe’a recalled. “People were texting and calling me to come home, and since then I lost every show and tour. I reevaluated my lifestyle as a musician. What do you do during this pandemic?
“So I was writing music about people and places I love. I compiled music and thought of the theme ‘kau ka pe’a.’ My last name is Pe’a, which means a sailboat. When I thought of the word sail, I realized we’re all hoisting our own sail during this pandemic. We all have to hoist our own sail and chart our own journey. We have to be effective through change.”
Compiled and recorded during the pandemic, “Kau Ka Pe’a,” pays homage to loved places and people, especially Hawaii’s monarchs.
As part of his reevaluation and a desire to create a meaningful album, Pe’a felt inspired to work with some of Hawaii’s renowned musicians.
“I wanted to collaborate with prolific artists like my kumu Larry Kimura and a dear friend, Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, and Kalenaku De Lima of Kapena, and people I looked up to like the Pandanus Club,” Pe’a said.
A Grammy winner for his exceptional debut, “E Walea,” and “No ‘Ane’i” follow-up, Pe’a’s third album features seven original Hawaiian language songs, two local favorites and impressive covers of “When I Fall in Love” and Les Miserables’ “Bring Him Home,” all delivered in his inimitable, animated style.
Gifted with a gorgeous voice and a talent for composing memorable Hawaiian songs, he opens his new musical journey with Kimura and Peter Moon’s classic song “Kulaiwi,” which he learned growing up.
“I wanted to acknowledge the music that I was taught to me as a child,” he said. “It’s a song about the importance of holding the teachings and knowing your identity.”
From there he launches into one of the album’s highlights, the powerful title track where he pays tribute to his ancestors, along with David Kalakaua and Kamehameha, assisted by the Pandanus Club, Kimie Miner, and Kalenaku.
“In the second verse which the Pandanus Club sings, I wanted to honor King David Kalakaua and his perpetuation of hula and music,” Pe’a explained. “He traveled the world and built relationships with kings and queens around the world. He’s one of my idols. I wear bling bling outfits because I wanted to be like Kalakaua, because they followed the British monarchy, and I loved the refined beauty of all of that. And in the third verse I wanted to honor King Kamehameha Ekahi and his legacy of bringing peace and unity to the people of Hawaii. Kimie and Kalenaku sing that verse.”
Among other original compositions, ” ‘O Mauna Leo I Ka La’i” celebrates his Wailuku home and love for his partner Allan B. Cool, while “Pa’ani I Ka Baso” honors his father and his talent as a bass guitar player. On “Kuhio Makamae,” he pays tribute to Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole and his resistance to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and illegal annexation of Hawaii.
Other striking songs include his soaring “Kaniakapupu,” about the former summer palace of King Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama, and a sublime tribute to Poli’ahu and Lilinoe, the snow and mist goddesses of Mauna Kea, with “‘A’ahu Poli’ahu.”
“I am so in love with the divine goddess of snow,” he said. “On the last verse I compared my mom to the snow goddess of Haleakala and Mauna Kea, and the nurturing of mothers.”
Known for his love of R&B ballads — his recording of Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love is Fair” was a highlight of Henry Kapono’s “The Songs of C&K” project — he teams with Amy Hanaiali’i to breathe new life into “When I Fall in Love,” with newly added Hawaiian lyrics. Natalie Cole’s “duet” with her father on the song won a Grammy in 1996.
“I sang ‘You are So Beautiful’ on my first album and I did the Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’ (on ‘No ‘Ane’i’),” Pe’a said. “I love this music. I was thinking about ‘When I Fall in Love’ and uncle Larry Kimura and I translated it into ‘olelo Hawai’i, and Amy said, ‘Of course, I’ll be there.’ I am so used to singing in a higher range and I sang it in a lower octave, so Amy could sing in an octave above me.”
Besides Hanaiali’i, other notable musicians performing on the album include Imua Garza, Dave Tucciarone, Kenneth Makuakane, Ikaika Blackburn, Wailau Ryder, Nalei Pokipala, Aaron Nelson and Reggie Padilla.
Included on the soundtrack of the recent Netflix film “Finding Ohana,” Pe’a was among the Maui artists nominated for 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards — for Christmas Single and Music Video of the Year for “O Holy Night,” and Hawaiian Music Video for “I Love You,” which was featured on the Sony Music Japan compilation album “Aloha & Mahalo II.”
Having enjoyed covering “O Holy Night” with Damon Williams, “to bring peace to the world,” he is currently working on a Christmas album and has secured the participation of “an international superstar,” he said. “I can’t disclose her name yet.”
Looking forward, he would like to present a Christmas show on Maui in December, and hopes his latest album brings comfort and joy, “and I hope it enlightens people about our leaders of Hawaii who paved a path for us.”
* “Kau Ka Pe’a,” is available on all download platforms. CDs can be purchased through Island Heritage Music or at www.kalanipeamusic.com/shop.