NĀ MELE
Weldon Kekauoha

Air date: Mon., June 11, 7:30 pm

By Emilie Howlett

 

 

Hawaiian musician Weldon Kekauoha has been crafting beloved musical arrangements and sharing them with Hawai‘i, the continental U.S. and beyond for over 30 years. He’s enjoyed a successful solo career, amassing multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards and, in 2014, a Grammy nomination. For the past 15 years, he has been going to Japan to perform, finding an enthusiastic audience there that has embraced the Hawaiian culture.

 

Web exclusive:

 

 

Kekauoha gave a soulful performance in PBS Hawai‘i’s Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Multimedia Studio, for the taping of our newest Nā Mele. In this episode of our traditional Hawaiian music series, guitarist Jack Ofoia, bassist Alika Boy Kalauli IV and hula dancer Yuko Hashimoto accompany Kekauoha with a performance set against dramatic photo backdrops of Hawai‘i landscapes.

 

Identifying himself as a contemporary artist with a traditional foundation, Kekauoha goes in-depth about the meaning behind his songs, his experience as a longtime performer and the importance of music in his life.

 

He also addresses an incident at the Halekulani Hotel in 2013. While enjoying the pool during a weekend getaway at the Waikīkī hotel, Kekauoha and his family were asked by security guards to verify that they were guests. The guards were acting on another hotel guest’s suspicion that the Kekauohas did not belong at the pool because they were locals.

 

Kekauoha vented about the incident on Facebook. The post went viral, sparking widespread outrage. The hotel apologized, but for Kekauoha to be a target of discrimination in the same neighborhood where he and many other Hawaiian musicians made a name for themselves was a bitter irony for him.

 

Today, Kekauoha says he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward the hotel. “Hopefully it brought a little bit more of an awareness,” he says. “Racism can rear its head often, and we’ve got to always be vigilant to try and keep it in its place.” Thankfully, as Kekauoha knows intimately from his world travels, nothing breaks down barriers of difference better than the art of sharing music.

 

In these excerpts from an interview with Kekauoha and Jason Suapaia, PBS Hawai‘i’s Vice President of Integrated Media Production, Kekauoha highlights the many ways music has touched his life.

 

 

PBS Hawai‘i: How important is music in perpetuating the Hawaiian culture?

Weldon Kekauoha: Very, very important. People say hula has been able to sustain that part of the culture, and from there, so much of the [Hawaiian] Renaissance has been able to flourish. More interest has grown because of hula, and music has always been there in the background.

 

I think music is a little bit of a different animal, only because it’s so open for creativity and influence. If you look at so much of the history of Hawaiian music – in Hawai‘i, on the U.S. mainland, even abroad – it’s incredible to see how much the music has changed from being super traditional, and then going way out from it, to being commercialized.  And I mean that in a good way. There’s of course some negative aspects to it, and then “Hollywood-ized,” if you will. Then it took a long while to bring it back [to the traditional], because it just got so way out from the original intent of our culture. But it’s neat to see the revival of all that is Hawaiian, and the new pride that has been fostered from it. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next 20 years.

 

Kekauoha, left, performs on Nā Mele with bassist Alika Boy Kalauli IV and hula dancer Yuko Hashimoto. Photo: Richard Drake

 

How has music touched your life, and your family’s life, and what would it be without music?

I can’t imagine how it would be without music. It’s always been there, it’s always been in the background for me at some level. And obviously, now, where I am, it’s what I do and it’s what I’m known for. I feel blessed that I get to do what I love to do. Oftentimes, people are looking for something to do that they enjoy, and I think if it wasn’t for music, I would probably embrace whatever it is that I was doing, and that would become perhaps my passion and I’d make it work. That’s your job. If you’re not happy, you gotta change.  But if you get to know your job well, and you love it, it’s a different type of enjoyment.  In this case, it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed since I was a young boy. To be able to carry it over into sustaining me, my family and my life all this time, I’ve been lucky.   And it’s still a work in progress. It’s like any other business; you gotta kind of take care of it, and try to make sure you have something good to sell, something good to give people. And you just continue with good relationships and good performances, and all that that entails. Having a good business is pretty much what you should shoot for.

 

When people listen to your music, what do you hope they will get from it?

I just hope that they would like my music, for whatever reason – whether it strikes a chord in them, or reminds them of something. Even I am totally susceptible; I can listen to a song and it just takes me back somewhere. And that’s the power of music. I always remember how strong music can be. I just hope [listeners] take away something. I don’t expect one song to be like a huge, life-changing moment for anybody, but if I can have a place in someone’s heart or mind because of my music, I think that would be my goal. I want them to take away something from my music that they will always remember, whether it’s a feeling or the melody.

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 



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