Hawaiʻi

Josh Tatofi
Grammy-Nominated Musical Artist

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi

 

June Cover Story by Liberty Peralta , PBS Hawai‘i

 

As a young child, Josh Tatofi thought he had an ordinary life.

 

“I thought everyone’s dad was a rock star, and I thought everyone was playing music,” he says. His father, Tivaini Tatofi, was a founding member of local island music group Kapena. “I didn’t really know that my childhood was special until way later,” says the younger Tatofi.

 

Likewise, he didn’t find music particularly special right away. He was about six years old when his dad would start showing him basic notes on the bass guitar. He’d also go through the motions of taking guitar and piano lessons. “I was so over it,” he says of the latter. “I wanted to play with the kids next door.”

 

That feeling changed a few years later – “when I was eight or nine” – when he and fellow children of Kapena’s band members were “thrown onstage to play a couple of songs,” recalls Tatofi. “I liked the feeling of being onstage, playing music. I wanted to be like my dad.”

 

He’d find further inspiration from R&B vocalists like Luther Vandross and Pebo Bryson. “Love songs, ballads is what I love to sing,” says Tatofi.

 

Born in Honolulu, Tatofi grew up on Windward O‘ahu, in Kāne‘ohe, before moving with his family to Maui in his early teens. It was in Kāne‘ohe that Tatofi would have a breakthrough moment, when his friends of the Hawaiian music group Hū‘ewa invited him onstage at a bar to sing a Hawaiian-language song.

 

“I came off stage, and I didn’t know, but Kumu Hula Auntie Aloha Dalire was in the crowd,” Tatofi says. “She tells me: ‘Eh, I don’t know what you’re doing with your music career life, but I think you should sing Hawaiian music.’ And I was like: ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Thank you, Auntie, but no, I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do.’”

 

Dalire passed away a week or two later.

 

“I remember singing at her funeral, and I remembered the conversation that we had, and it just lingered upon me for a while,” Tatofi says.

 

His desire to stay in the Islands and entertain local audiences, encouragement from friends, and a growing ease and excitement in creating Hawaiian music arrangements, steered him toward writing more Hawaiian mele.

 

Tatofi admits he doesn’t speak the Hawaiian language, so he writes his music in Tongan, his family’s native language, then in English, before enlisting the help of friends fluent in Hawaiian to translate.

 

“When you try to write it in English [first], and then translate it to Hawaiian, it’s kind of difficult just saying ‘I miss you,’” he says. “In order to get the proper ‘I miss you’ in Hawaiian, I have to write it in Tongan first, ‘cause once I translate it from Tongan, it turns into something like, ‘The morning mist lingers throughout my day.’ That part just kind of kills me, because it picks at your brain and your heart at the same time.”

 

Josh Tatofi (center) with bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

Josh Tatofi (center) with bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

 

Tatofi wrote his first Hawaiian language song, “Pua Kiele” – “not knowing once we released that song, that it would change my life forever,” says Tatofi. His 2016 debut album, also called Pua Kiele, would go on to win two Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards.

 

He hasn’t let success get to his head. “I’m still a student of being a practitioner of Hawaiian music, of Hawaiian culture,” he says. “I’m still very much learning.”

 

Josh Tatofi is featured on a new episode of PBS Hawai‘i’s Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song. He’s joined by bandmates Travis Kaka on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and Laupepa Letuli on lead guitar and backing vocals. The program also features hula dancers from three different hālau: Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua and Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea. Watch this performance online here on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Ledward Kaapana and Family

 

On most Friday evenings, slack key artist Ledward Kaapana gets together with his neighbors to share potluck dishes, laughter and music. For Ledward, it’s a tradition that goes back to his younger days in Kalapana on the island of Hawaii. “When I was growing up, we used to have kani ka pila…everybody sit down and enjoy, listen to music,” Ledward remembers. This special Na Mele features Ledward and his sisters Lei Aken, Lehua Nash and Rhoda Kekona, playing their music in Ledward’s garage. Ledward’s falsetto voice leads off with “Nani,” and Lei, Lehua and Rhoda take vocal solos on “Kaneohe,” “Kalapana” and “Holei.”

 

 

 




PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS
Those Who Came Before:
 The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae (2009)

THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE
: The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae

 

The Kamae’s final documentary recounts Eddie’s own journey of musical self-discovery, a journey that led him to some of the most well-respected gatekeepers of the Hawaiian Renaissance and grew into a 50-year pursuit of Hawaiian cultural and musical traditions.

 

 

 






LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Tom Vendetti

 

Meet Tom Vendetti, a Maui-based psychologist and filmmaker who has turned a series of unexpected life twists into two intertwined careers. He shares how his unlikely journey has unfolded, all driven by his quest for happiness.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, August 4, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Dator

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last 50 years pondering and researching what the future might hold. He’s a pioneer in this academic field and is an internationally respected voice in futures studies. Learn how a series of family tragedies in his early life propelled him to always look forward, not back.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jim Dator Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

There is a little monument in Kapiolani Park that was placed there at the 100thanniversary, 1976, I think, that’s supposed to be opened a hundred years later.  I have something written in there which assumes it will be under water.  Now, this is 1976, I’m saying that the park’s gonna be under water.  I did television programs uh, that were used in the schools that talked about Waikīkī being under water.  I live in Waikīkī; I’m concerned about that.  We’re still debating it.

 

He offers educated forecasts of what the future may hold for the coming decades.  Jim Dator, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  What does the future hold?  It’s a question that we ask ourselves from time to time.  Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last fifty years pondering and researching this very question.  Dr. Dator is professor emeritus and the director of the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. As a futurist, he studies a multitude of trends, ranging from social and environmental conditions to technology, and then develops forecasts, or alternative futures, for the next few decades and beyond.  He’s a pioneer in this academic field, and is an internationally respected voice in future studies.  While there are misconceptions about what futurists do, the field of future studies continues to grow, and has gained traction worldwide.

 

I think some people confuse futurists with psychics.  You get some jokes about: Why didn’t you predict this, Dr. Dator?

 

Yes. That’s right.  I used to have a statement: When all else fails, call a futurist.  But they call a futurist, and they want that futurist to predict the future, or to tell them what to do.  And there are futurists that do that; there are people that call themselves futurists that do that.  And they give a bad name to those of us that understand you can’t allow people to think that you know what the future is.  So, we have a code of ethics to make sure that we can’t predict what the future will be; we will engage you in a process of considering alternative futures, and you then decide to move in a certain direction.  It is more of a social science than it is of a natural science, but it is theoretically based.  That is to say, there are understandings the way the world works that allows you to make statements about forecast.  So, I distinguish between predicting the future, and forecasting alternative futures. And we still want to be able to be precise in the old scientific reductionist way.

 

When you’re familiarizing people with your alternative futures or future alternatives, it must sound pretty bizarre sometimes.

 

Well, yes.  Again, Dator’s second law of the future is, in a situation, in an environment of rapid social and environmental change.  In that environment, any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.  Because the things are changing, and things that are going to be important in the future are not things you’ve experienced before.  So, to be a futurist, you have to not only understand the trends from the past, but continue into the future of what are called emerging issues, new ideas, new technologies, new lifestyles, and you look for them just as they’re just popping out underground.  So, you don’t make it up, you see what could be a mighty oak if it grows in a certain way, or a cactus if it grows in a different way.  And therefore, you have to identify emerging issues, things that are not part of the past or the present, but which might be part of the future, and build scenarios around both the past and the emerging issues.

 

That’s right; you can’t rely on the same assumptions. You don’t even know if there are any assumptions you can make in some areas.

 

That’s true.  But we don’t throw it all away.  We do have categories; assume the categories will continue, at least for our foreseeable future.  But the content of those categories—so transportation, for example, has changed and might change.  Communication has changed tremendously over time.

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator studies the past and present to make forecasts about the future.  As he was growing up, he liked the idea of looking forward, rather than backward, because he and his family experienced many difficulties, starting with the death of his father even before Jim got to know him.

 

My mother did not intend to get pregnant.   She was anticipating a life as a musician or at least somehow related to music.  She was a student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  She got pregnant, they got married, and I was born. That was all fine, except my father drowned.

 

While you were still a baby?

 

I’m just about sixteen or eighteen months old.  Anyway, she had to come back to Florida, which is where she was originally from.  And we’re talking about 1933, 1934, which is the very depth of the Depression.  And so, my grandfather was the town undertaker.

 

This is her father?

 

Yes; that’s her father.  And was the town undertaker in a little town called DeLand, Florida.  His father had been one of the pioneers that had come and settled that part of Florida.  They were sort of fixtures in the town, having a furniture store and a funeral parlor, making coffins from the furniture store.

 

Well, that seems to bode well for the child who now has additional family.

 

Well, people die, but they don’t have money to pay for it.  So, he had the job of burying people, but not necessarily being paid, or not necessarily being paid in cash, but in kind.  So, we would get pieces of furniture or silverware, or other things like that.  Times were very, very tough.  And for me to show up, unwanted, and for his daughter, oldest daughter to return instead of going off to seek her fortune as he imagined.

 

It’s two more mouths to feed.

 

Yeah. That’s right, two more mouths to feed. And one of them a squalling brat, you know.

 

More tragedy struck Jim Dator’s family in DeLand, Florida during his youth.  Within a period of two years, all of the adult males in the family, including his great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle, passed away suddenly.

 

Dying was not only the family profession in terms of the undertaker, but all the males in the family died all at once, leaving me as the only male with three females.  My grandmother, my mother, her sister—my aunt, were my family during the time I was young.

 

And what was your life like?  Was it a happy childhood?

 

No; it was not unhappy in the sense that I was well taken care of.  But no one felt really happy, and they didn’t show. So, I don’t ever recall being hugged and kissed, and being told I was a good boy, or anything like that.

 

Even when you were a young child?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I might have been, but that’s not the memory I have.  And I don’t recall feeling depressed.  That’s just the way it was.

 

Well, you don’t know what’s normal, I suppose.

 

No.

 

But you must have been a good student.

 

Well, but that was expected.  I was expected to succeed.  So, the things I did were never praised.  That was just what Jimmy did.  I had to overcome that, and to learn to love other people, and to love people who could love me back.  And so, I was sort of a driven kid.  I was extremely popular in terms of elections to things at various stages, but I never was a person that hung out with a lot of people.  I was friends with everybody, but not close friends with anyone.

 

Because you hadn’t had that intimate connection in your nuclear family.

 

No, I never had.  That’s right; exactly right.  I hated Christmas, let me put it that way, because all my friends got all these wonderful presents, which I never did.  I would get literally, an orange, or a walnut, or my uncle’s refurbished scooter. Something like that.  And also, the men died around Christmastime.  So, Christmas, which is supposed to be the big family joyous time, was always sort of the saddest time.  My aunt, she joined the military also during the war—SPAR, that’s the Coast Guard, which then gave her military preference, veteran’s preference for a really good job with the post office.  She never married, never had children.  She taught me how to be a man, and discovered at age eighty that she was lesbian.  But in between that, she’d never made the connection.  And so, I learned to be a man from this, again, not loving, but matter-of-fact, hardworking woman.  And my mother was off being a university professor, and didn’t pay much attention.  My grandmother had all this personal sorrow and hardship, because she had lived a fairly good middleclass life, and suddenly no money, no income, she had to do a lot of working on her own.  And so, we were just all expected to do our duty.

 

Did you ever go on a walkabout to find your father’s family?

 

Well, yes and no.  We were brought back, and I never wondered, I never felt the loss of a father.  In fact, if I may say before I get directly to that, in looking back, I was always glad I didn’t have a father, when I looked at other fathers and other families with fathers.  I was glad that I didn’t have somebody say: That’s not the way we do it in this family.  No one said that to me.  There was no one telling me that we have to behave a certain way, because this is the way the family does things.  I also like my name, Dator, because it’s a simple-sounding name, but there’s no ethnicity attached to it whatsoever.  And it turns out now in this day of the internet that there are Dators, Dator in the Philippines.  But I don’t think there’s any connection to that.  I suspect it was something like Dieter or Datorovich, or something that got shortened to it.  But at least I never had ethnicity, I never had a father, I never had a family history. And that’s one of the reasons I became a futurist, I think.

 

Because?

 

Because I didn’t have a past that was telling me how to behave.  I needed to find my own identity.

 

As a young adult, Jim Dator continued to look forward, while studying the past.  He graduated with a degree in ancient and medieval history and philosophy at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, where his mother was a professor. He then earned a PhD in political science at the American University in Washington, D.C., and briefly considered becoming a priest, before deciding to center his career on teaching.

 

My very first job as a teacher with a PhD was to go to Japan, where I taught in a Japanese university in a college of law and politics in Japanese for six years. I encountered a group of people from an established university in Japan called Rikkyo Daigaku in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, if you’re familiar with it.  And they had created a new college of law and politics in this old established university, one of the so-called Big Six Universities.  And they wanted a new political scientist, a young political scientist to come and bring the American style of politics to that university.  And they said: We’ll send you to Yale to learn intensive Japanese.  And so, for nine months, from eight in the morning ‘til five at night, every day for nine months, I studied oral Japanese.  I didn’t know how to read and write, I didn’t know how to read and write anything; I just knew how to speak.

 

Futurist Jim Dator says that his six years working and teaching in Japan was a profound experience, and sparked his interest in future studies.

 

And while I was there, I met a person who said: Jim, I want you to read this article I’ve written; it’s called The Senior Partner, and it analyzes Japan as a civilization.  And he concluded that Japan went through the same stages, in the same order that the West did, each one about the same length of time, and that Japan was two hundred years ahead of the West.  And I said: What?  This is 1963, 64.  Didn’t we just beat them in a war?  Aren’t they underdeveloped?  Aren’t we the crown of creation?  Well, I never argued or cared whether he was right about Japan.  It just said: Well, wait, we have these theories of moving from underdeveloped, to developing, to developed, but what’s next? Development—didn’t say it then, and it doesn’t say it now.  It makes it act as though we’re the end of history.  Well, that is what made me a futurist.  That episode in 1963, it happened to be on the day that John Kennedy was assassinated, which is another part of the story.  But I said: Okay, I’m now gonna ask what’s next.  And so, all of the work I subsequently did in future studies came from that day, and I oriented all my teaching towards the future from that.

 

After a half-dozen years in Japan, Jim Dator returned to the United Stated and started the first accredited future studies program in the country at Virginia Tech.  In 1969, Dr. Dator came to the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to teach future studies. When he arrived, he found that Hawaii was interested in futurism and had recently launched statewide activities called Hawaii 2000 that would examine the possible futures of Hawaii.

 

When I arrived, Governor Burns and Tadao Beppu, and David McClung, and the people in the business community, and the labor unions, and the University, had already started something called Hawaii 2000, which was an activity to look thirty years ahead.  I had nothing to do with it; it had already been created.  But Glenn Paige, remember, of the political science department, was sort of the secretary of that.  And he said: Well, you know, we got this futurist at the University; why don’t you join the group.  And that is what really, really, beyond anything else, turned me into a futurist. Because that activity, which has never been equaled anywhere in the world, never been equaled here in Hawaii—we’ve tried several times, but the powers that be don’t really want to have people thinking about alternative futures.  But at that point in 1970, statehood was good, the future was looking good, tourism was just beginning to blossom, they wanted to look ahead optimistically, and it was no holds barred.  We had incredible variety of people, all islands had their own—Maui 2000, Kauai 2000, and so forth.  There were student groups, youth groups, university groups, elderly groups, women’s groups, all sorts of different groups.  If you look at the number of lectures, the numerous talks I gave to groups during that time, thousands of them.  Honolulu Magazine in ’73 or so said I could have been elected governor, ‘cause I knew so many people.  It was an incredible opportunity, a deep dive into Hawaii culture and thinking about the future.  I’m obviously still excited about it.

 

Interesting that you say that people were excited about the future, and therefore, they wanted to peer into it.  Do you find they don’t really want to look too far if they suspect the worst?

 

Not anymore.  I mean, even at that time—if you read the book, Hawaii 2000, the book exists, and there is a list of people who attended, the who’s who of the future, as well as of the present.  But if you look at it, all of the married women are Mrs. John Doe.  None of them have their own first name there.

 

Ah …

 

Can you imagine how un-futuristic that was?  It’s embarrassing to look at that.  But in any event, the groups of people who participated in it made me very optimistic about being able to change things, and all sorts of ideas. There were a number of task forces, and if you read each one of the recommendations of the task forces in their area, there was a desire to have open land, and high-rises, and mass transit. So, the idea is, we would not do what actually happened, divide up the large estates and give everybody a little piece of land.  We would in fact have as few landholders as possible holding things in trust, and we would keep land open as much as possible, and use high-rises spread throughout each one of the islands, linked by mass transit.  That was one example.  The things that we got most right was, we basically predicted the cell phone, and the network, internet.  If you read it, that’s almost totally predicted.  And we basically understood the changes in genetic engineering, and so forth; all the things that are now very controversial.  We understood that those would be emerging issues. So, in the area of technology, we did a pretty good job.  Completely missed the entire Hawaiian renaissance.  The Hawaiians that we had on the committee, and we had a lot, were of that generation that assumed they would be lost, that there would instead be what Governor Burns called The Golden People of the Pacific.

 

Yeah.  So, they were probably older, because that was the Western generation.

 

And they didn’t speak Hawaiian, and they were forbidden to speak Hawaiian.

 

And yet, the Hawaiian Renaissance was knocking on the door at that time.

 

If was already existing.  So, on the one hand, we missed women’s liberation, if you will, and we missed the Hawaiian Renaissance, even though they were there.  So, the moral to that story, and it’s still true, it’s a lot easier to predict, if you will, technology than it is social changes. And that’s still a problem for futurists.

 

In 1971, the State Legislature established the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at UH Mānoa, and appointed Jim Dator as its director.  Dr. Dator has developed the program into a world-renowned institution for futures research, and helped to educate four decades of futurists.

 

In general, during your just very long and successful career in academics, have people taken what you’ve said to heart and made changes?

 

Well, everyone said at the end of Hawaii 2000 or other things, people will come up and tell me that such-and-such an event changed their life.  So, I think that individuals have acted on it, but in fact, there was a point in the late 70s, after the so-called Arab oil crisis, when suddenly we realized that Hawaii is not really independent, that it’s highly vulnerable, that if the oil stops coming, things don’t go well, in which it became forbidden to think about alternative futures.  Even though Governor Ariyoshi used that term, and he did a better job than almost anyone else in doing futures work, it was still relatively select.  And the thing that worked, tourism, he didn’t want anything to upset that.  And so, you couldn’t really begin to think about other alternatives.  And so, I’d say from that point on, this heavily citizen-based free expression of ideas about alternative futures has been pretty much discouraged.  But there are certain other things that I have harped on over, and over, and over, and over again, like climate change, sea level rise, and so forth, that we still are debating and figuring out what we ought to do about.  We say we’re gonna do something, but in fact, we’re not yet really doing anything.

 

How do you gauge your success as a futurist?

 

Well, when I deal with a client, the success is not whether they enjoyed the activity.  Often, they do, and will say what I said earlier; it really changed my thinking. If the organization then institutionalizes future studies as part of their planning and policymaking, if they hire a futurist or engage in a process of getting information from the future of building their strategic plan around a prior futures activity—most don’t; most just go back.

 

Even after recruiting you and getting the getting you to study something?

 

Yeah, and enjoying it.  They go back, but some don’t.  The State of Virginia, for example, did incorporate futures into their judicial planning.  And there are other examples here and there, but basically, that’s my definition.  Other futurists might have other criteria.  Did it make a difference in the way they did business?  Do they now routinely begin to try to look ahead or not?  And we haven’t learned to do that as people, yet.  And who can blame us.  We have millions of years of responding only to immediate pressures. It’s in our genes, it’s in our psychology, it’s in our stories.  Look backwards in order to understand what lies ahead.

 

In addition to leading future studies at the University of Hawaii, Jim Dator served as secretary general, and then president, of the World Future Studies Federation.  Even though he’s retired, he continues to travel, teach, and consult.  At the time of our conversation in late 2018, he was teaching Space Humanity courses at the International Space University in France and the Korea Institute for Future Studies.  Mahalo to Dr. Jim Dator of Waikīkī, Hawaii. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

Futurists who are being minted now at the PhD level; how do they differ from you?

 

Well, they’re a lot smarter.

 

No, really.

 

No, that’s really.  I have some fantastic students.  In fact, on Saturday, I will hood my last PhD student, since I’ve retired from the University of Hawaii.  And he’s an absolutely fantastic guy who is already doing so many wonderful things all around the world.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Jerry Byrd & Friends

NĀ MELE: Jerry Byrd & Friends

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG presents a special encore of the smooth sounds of the late master steel guitarist Jerry Byrd. Byrd was joined for this nostalgic journey by four master musicians in their own right: Hiram Olsen Jr. on guitar and vocals; Dennis Keohokalole on ukulele and vocals; Gary Aiko on upright bass and vocals; and the late Ned Ka‘apana on guitar and vocals.

 

 

 

PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS
Lahaina: Waves of Change (2007)

LAHAINA: 
Waves of Change

 

In 1999, Lahaina’s plantation era came to an end with the closing of the West Maui town’s Pioneer Mill, the beating heart of Lahaina’s sugar industry. This film documents the last harvest, the last cane burning and the final days of operation at the mill, revealing a town with great historical and sacred significance, as well as the persistence to thrive into the future.

 

 

 

 




NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Josh Tatofi

 

As a young child, Josh Tatofi thought he had an ordinary life. “I thought everyone’s dad was a rock star, and I thought everyone was playing music,” he says. His father, Tivaini Tatofi, was a founding member of local island music group Kapena. “I didn’t really know that my childhood was special until way later,” says the younger Tatofi.

 

Download the transcript of this program

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song – Josh Tatofi and his bandmates Travis Kaka (left) and Laupepa Letuli (right)

 

Born in Honolulu, Tatofi grew up on Windward O‘ahu, in Kāne‘ohe, before moving with his family to Maui in his early teens. It was in Kāne‘ohe that Tatofi would have a breakthrough moment, when his friends of the Hawaiian music group Hū‘ewa invited him onstage at a bar to sing a Hawaiian-language song.

 

NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Song - Josh Tatofi's performance includes a Hula performance

The program also features hula dancers from three different hālau: Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, Hālau Hi‘iakaināmakalehua and Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea.

 

Read more about Josh Tatofi in our June program guide cover story here.

 

Josh Tatofi on NĀ MELE: Traditions in Hawaiian Music, Monday, June 24, 7:30 pm

 

More from Josh Tatofi:

 

Kaleohano, commentary

 

Kaleohano. Written by Louis Moon Kauakahi

 

Kāneʻohe

 

Kuʻu Leo Aloha

 

Kuʻu Pua Ilima

 

Lei Hala, featuring Hālau HiʻIakaināmakalehua

 

Leolani

 

Pua Kiele, featuring Hālau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine

 

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lorenzo DeStefano

 

Lorenzo DeStefano is a Honolulu born photographer, filmmaker, film editor and writer who explores the hidden lives of those who are often overlooked in society. He wrote and directed Shipment Day, a stage play that ran at O‘ahu’s Mānoa Valley Theatre. It tells the true story of his feisty cousin Olivia who contracted leprosy at age 18 and was exiled to Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 30, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Having gotten leprosy and having struggled against the Board of Health, and the autocratic, dictatorial nature of fear and stigma, and having Patient Number 3306, I mean, just short of stamping it on your arm, you know, changed her, changed everybody who was caught up in that fear.

 

Patient Number 3306 was his cousin, and Lorenzo DeStefano wrote a play about her life. Meet this Hawai‘i-born photographer, filmmaker, film editor, and writer who explores the hidden lives of those who are often overlooked in society, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Growing up in Hawai‘i, he was Larry Stevens.  Now, he is Lorenzo DeStefano, having gone back to the Italian origins of his family name.  Today, DeStefano lives in Ventura, California, but during the early years of Hawai‘i’s statehood, he was an island kid living in the O‘ahu neighborhoods of Kāne‘ohe, Wai‘alae, Kaimuki, and Waikīkī.  Lorenzo DeStefano tells his stories through different types of media.  He produced and directed a documentary film titled “Hearing Is Believing”, about Rachel Flowers, a blind musician and composer.  And more recently, he wrote and directed a stage play called “Shipment Day”, the true story of his cousin, Olivia Robello Breitha, who developed leprosy at age eighteen and was exiled to Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i.

 

[scene from “Shipment Day”]

 

That’s when he began taking scrapings from around that spot on my arm.  He went deeper into the flesh than I ever thought he would.  I tried really hard not to scream, and I didn’t.  I almost passed out.

 

LORENZO DESTEFANO

 

Jason, everything sounds good?

 

[OFF STAGE]

Sounds great.

LORENZO DESTEFANO

Yeah, that line with Lauren was okay; we got it?

 

[OFF STAGE]

Yeah.

 

My dad came from Brooklyn.  I think he came to Hawai‘i in the late 40s.  He worked at KGU as a radio announcer.  I don’t know if he spun music, or talked.  I know when he did go to KGMB.  Was it Channel 9, I think that was, a CBS affiliate.  He had a show uh, called Larry Stevens’ Matinee, and he played movies, screen movies of his choice, I guess.  They had a library of movies.  And then, between the breaks, he’d be sitting there with a cup of coffee, and he ran this thing called the Trading Post, which was sort of an early QVC type thing.

 

Really? 

 

Where they sold things.  And he’d say, like, you know: Mrs. Wong in Kāne‘ohe has a bunkbed she wants to sell for five dollars; if you’re interested, call 5671.

 

That’s interesting.  I’ve heard that since on the radio.

 

Yeah; I don’t know if he invented it, or it was something that he was assigned to.  But he got to be known.  But here was this guy smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, and he’d say: Well, now back to the movie.  And then he played Charlie Chaplin’s song, “Limelight”

 

And he started off as a DeStefano, changed to Stevens.  So, you were born a Stevens.

 

Yeah.

 

You changed your name back.

 

Yeah.  Well, he was Severio DeStefano.  You know, this was the 40s, when we were at war with Italy, and you know, there was a lot of bias about immigrants anyway.  Jews, Italians, Germans; you know, a lot of people changed their name.  And he changed his name to Stevens, Lawrence Stevens.  So, I was born Lawrence Peter Stevens.  I just changed it back a long time ago to Lorenzo DeStefano.  I didn’t change my name, I just went back to what it was before, you know, before he had changed it.  And he approved of that.  You know, he says: Yeah, times are different now.  And I understood why he did it.

 

And your mother from Kalāheo, Kauai was a Silva.

 

Yeah.

 

And she turned out to be kind of a business dynamo.

 

Well, she’s the eldest of three.  They were orphaned when my mom was nine, when her parents died.  What I think that instilled in my mom, being the oldest of three, she was gonna make something of herself.  She wasn’t gonna be tagged as this orphan, this second-class citizen, you know.  So then, she got secretarial skills, and really made something of herself.  And I think when most women were maybe just homemakers and happy with that, she was that, plus she worked for Bishop Realty in the early 60s and throughout the 60s as one of the top brokers with Vi Dolman and people like this who were around at those times.  Really dynamic women, who were sort of in the business world.  Looking back, I feel honored and privileged to have been brought up here.  You know, lots of diversity, growing up without fear of the other people that looked differently or acted differently than you, multiculturalism.  I think, like anyone who was around then, life was slower and simpler.  The 50s was sort of maybe a fantasy period of tranquility.  You know, then I started to grow up.  Some of my first jobs were, I was a busboy at Rudy’s Italian Restaurant on Kuhio Avenue, and I sold koa wood bowls on Lewers Street.

 

On the sidewalk?

 

Yeah; yeah.  And then, I worked at a candy store making candy.  You know, I had two or three jobs.

 

Where was that?

 

On one of those side streets.  Then I went to Punahou for a year, until they suggested that maybe I’d do better elsewhere.

 

What was the reason for that?

 

Well, I was not applying myself, you know.  They were pretty strict, as they are still.

 

So, you were disappointed, or did you want to leave?

 

I wasn’t as disappointed as they were.  You know.  I think they were disappointed, but you know, my folks never really pushed me. They just wanted me to be myself. I guess they were kind of ahead of the times.  They weren’t really autocratic about—you know.  ‘Cause they both made made themselves, reinvented themselves from where they came from.

 

 

Lorenzo DeStefano finished his formal education at Kalani High School in East Honolulu.  Deciding against a college degree, he says he felt comfortable teaching himself, as he did during his teen years when he taught himself photography, namely street photography, capturing candid chance images of strangers.

 

I think my folks bought me Time Life books on photography.  It was like about eight or ten books, which were great books, you know.  I think I wasn’t the only one to get turned on to photography by those books and the great photographers in there.  Black-and-white, color, nude; all the stuff that was fascinating, you know.  And then. I saved my money from bus-boying and all that stuff.  And a friend of the family went to Japan and brought back a Nikon for me and some lenses.  And I just started shooting, you know.  It was really a sense of discovery for me.  And so, I got into these places.  I actually went into Leahi Hospital and shot a behavioral unit for kids. You know, emotionally disturbed kids.

 

I remember that unit.  There were also patients with tuberculosis there in your time, too.

 

Yeah.  But again, I had full access, you know.  Now, you know, you have to fill out forms, even if you could get in.

 

As a teenager on your own, no parent accompanying you or other friends, you just went on your own, and got in?

 

Yeah.  I got in my car, and went and did it.  And then, you know, like I remember shooting a Young Republicans rally at Kapi‘olani Park, and you know, seeing the different kinds of people.  It was, I guess, the Nixon days, and people with the flag.  And I thought they were rather curious people, you know.  I think the important thing is, as a photographer or writer, whatever, you have your own politics and your own values, you know, what you believe in, that either agrees with who’s in power, or doesn’t agree with who’s in power. But when it comes down to your work, you should be pretty much nonjudgmental, you know, about it. ‘Cause that lessens the power, I think, of what you’re doing.  Your job is not judge so much as a photographer, as to show, you know, whether it’s a play, or a novel, or whatever.  It’s to observe, translate, express, but not take sides.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano’s curiosity with still images progressed into a hunger to learn all he could about motion pictures and film editing.  He said that as a teenager, he saw the musical movie “Cabaret” more than a dozen times at the former Cinerama Theater in Honolulu.

 

The fourteen times I went to see Cabaret, I did that for a reason.  Because Cabaret was a brilliant film.  I’m not such a big fan of musicals, but there were great songs in there by Kander and Ebb, you know, the songwriting team.  But the way the film was put together was stunning to me.  You know, it was editing as impressionistic.  It wasn’t just shot over shoulders and, you know, sort of the standard TV type of editing, or even movies, mediocre kind of exposition.  It was very creative.  But I was convinced by that film I wanted to learn that craft, and I couldn’t do that here, you know.  There was no film school here at the time.  And so, I went to the mainland and eventually found myself in L.A.  And I found ways to get into the game, you know.  I basically lied about the experience that I’d had, and I got a job as an assistant editor at National Geographic.  We used do their editing down there.  And the first day in the cutting room, I got the job.  It was like three hundred week; it was like pretty good at the time.  People now are not making three hundred a week, you know.  Hundreds of thousands of feet of sixteen-millimeter film shows up from Africa of elephants.  Just elephants, you know.  And I’m going: What am I supposed to do with this?  And the other assistant, who I still know—she’s in New York, says: You don’t know much, do you?  I said: No, not really.

 

So, I did a couple of those National Geographic specials, you know, and I learned quickly, you know.  But I was always looking to get in the union—this was a nonunion job, so I could work on features, you know, movies.  So, it took me a couple of years.  You know, basically, what I did was, I had about ten editors whose names I had collected over a year or two whose movies I liked, you know. But I didn’t know how to contact them. This was not internet days, you know, where you can just find people pretty easily.  So, I called the Editors Guild, the union, and another group called American Cinema Editors, where these people belonged, and I basically posed as an assistant to a producer, a known producer.  And I’d read the trades, you know, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and find out what movies were almost in preparation to go into production. And so, I’d call up and I’d say: I’m—and make up a name, you know.  I’m revealing all this stuff now.

 

Intrepid; intrepid job-hunting.

 

I’d say: I’m assisting this producer, a real producer.  And they’d say: Oh, say hi to him.  I said: Okay, I will.  I didn’t know the guy.  But I said: You know, we’re looking for editors for this picture, and there was a real movie that’s in the trades.  I said: I need phone numbers and addresses for these guys.  You know.  And they gave ‘em to me.  So then, I’d write letters to these people.  And I’d say: You know, I’m willing to do anything, sweep up, whatever. And I wrote to about ten people, and it was amazing, about eight of them got back to me, either phoned or wrote a note. Six or so of them took me to lunch. Ended up working for four of them over the years.  Two of them were Oscar-winning editors, you know.  Richard Halsey, who won an Oscar for “Rocky”, was a big influence on me. I worked for him for four years. Bill Reynolds, who won four or five Oscars for “Sound of Music”, and bunch of films was another one.  You know, these are guys who had done it all, you know.

 

How long did it take to get to where you wanted to be, which was actually editing?

 

About five years.  Yeah.  First movie I edited by myself was “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, with Helen Hunt and Sarah Jessica Parker.  And then, I cut about ten or twelve movies after that.  And then, I got on a TV series at Warner Brothers called “Life Goes On”, which was a show with Patti Lupone.

 

That must have been really long hours.  Were you doing a weekly show?

 

Yeah.  It was a network series on ABC.  It was on film, shot for eight days.  You know, it was a drama, family drama.  It was about a family with a young Down Syndrome child.  It was kind of a cutting edge, breakthrough series in a lot of ways.

 

I think you’ve compared film editing to writing.

 

Sure.  I learned that later, you know, that the final drafts of a script in the case of film is in the editing room.  You know. Where the script is now thrown away, and now it’s the film that was shot from the script, and then it’s free, you know, open season on how you’re gonna turn this into a film using all the techniques available.  Not just editing, but sound and music, and other things.

 

When you were editing fulltime, did you say: I have found exactly where I want to be, and this is where I’m gonna stay, this is me.

 

Yeah, I did have that feeling.  I think I chose well, in terms of my personality, you know. A lot of editors make great directors, you know.  David Lean was a film editor, “Lawrence of Arabia”.  Hal Ashby won an Oscar for “In the Heat of the Night” as an editor, went on to direct “Harold and Maude”, and “Being There”.

 

Did you have that aspiration to be a director?

 

I did; yeah.  But I was, you know, daunted by it, you know.  Editors don’t often make good directors, ‘cause it’s an insular kind of personality.  Directors tend to be more outgoing and jump right into the fray, you know.  And editors tend to—not to stereotype, but tend to want a more private controlled atmosphere.  And the set is not a controlled atmosphere; it’s basically chaos, you know.  And so, it took me a while to embrace the chaos, you know.

 

What did you direct?

 

Well, I did my own things, and then I did documentaries starting in the 80s.  Music films; I’m sort of a failed musician, you know.  So, I worked that out by making films about musicians.  I’ve done three of them so far.  And then, I directed on “Life Goes On”.  That’s when I got into the Directors Guild and worked actually in a studio situation.

 

I would think egos would come even more into play when you’re directing on a set.

 

Well, in that case, it was good, because people knew me.  The actors all knew me, and the crew knew me from being a producer and a supervising film editor.  And so, I was a friend, you know, I was part of the team already.  So, that was helpful. But yeah, that was a step, you know, of confidence-building.

 

In Los Angeles, Lorenzo DeStefano worked his way up the ranks as a film editor, later becoming a producer and a director.  He would eventually branch out on his own as a documentary filmmaker and writer.  During one fateful visit to Hawai‘i in the late 1980s, DeStefano learned of a family secret: a relative who had been exiled long ago when leprosy was a much-feared and little-understood disease.  DeStefano set out to meet his forgotten cousin, Olivia Robello Breitha.

 

Well, first of all, I should say she’s one of the most amazing people I ever got to meet, you know.  And the fact that she’s family was even more of a revelation.

 

What was the connection to her?  How were you related?

 

My mom and her mom, their mothers were sisters.

 

I see.

 

So, they were first cousins.  Yeah; yeah.  Portuguese girls from Kalāheo.

 

How did you meet her?

 

Finally, my mom told me about this cousin of ours who had leprosy, who was in Kalaupapa.  And I went over there to meet her.  And I hiked down the trail, and she wasn’t home.  I didn’t check first; I just figured she was there.  She was in Honolulu.  So, I missed her the first time.  But then, I met her Christmas of ’89, and we spent, you know, seventeen years ‘til she died in 2006, being very close, you know.  Especially after my mom died in ’96, ten years between then and Olivia’s death, Olivia who’d never had kids, you know, who loved children.  I wasn’t a kid anymore, but anyway, we bonded. You know, I like to call her the Rosa Parks of leprosy.  You know, she’s a simple woman, like Rosa Parks was.  Rosa Parks was a maid, you know, who took the bus back and forth to White people’s houses to work, and who wasn’t gonna change her seat.  Came a day when she says: I’m not doing this.  And then, we know what happened from there. She and others kicked off a whole movement, you know.  Olivia said: I’m not my disease, you know, I’m not my condition; call me by my name, Olivia.  And I really respected that.

 

So, did you remain on the mainland and go back and forth to see Olivia?

 

Yeah; m-hm.  I did, and she came there.  She went to the UN in ’97 with Bernard Punikaia and Catherine Puohala, and a lot of other patients that were being acknowledged.  It was World Leprosy Day or Month, the World Health Organization. And so, they got to meet Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the UN, and get medals.  And I still have her medal at my house.  And she got together in New York City, the only time she’d been.  And so she traveled, you know.  Like a lot of patients from decades of isolation, when they were able to travel, they just got out of Dodge and went all over the world—Belgium, and you know.  So, not everybody wrote a book, but she did.  And so, I think she made the best of the disease, I think.  She took the disease and said: You’re not gonna beat me down, I’m gonna beat you, and I’m gonna become what I’m gonna become, despite you, you know.  And she did. And you know, she made some enemies along the way.

 

She was feisty.

 

Yeah; she was not about to be pushed around, you know.  When she died in 2006, you know, I was in mourning for her, and I didn’t come to Hawai‘i for seven years after that.  My mom was gone, my dad, her.  There was really kinda no reason.  I’m gonna come here and get a tan?  You know. What am I coming here for?  And I came back in October of ’13 to put her gravestone.  I had a gravestone made in California with a picture of her and John, her husband, and it says: Together Forever on it.  It’s a nice little stone with the dates that they were married, and when they were born and died.  And took that over to Kalaupapa in October of ’13.  And that was the first time I’d been back in seven years.  And it sort of reminded me of what Hawai‘i meant to me, you know.

 

At what point during the seventeen years you really got to know Olivia did you decide: I want to do a play on this?

 

I didn’t.  Never.

 

Not at all during the seventeen years?

 

No, because it was happening, you know.  She would say; she says: Don’t ever make a movie about my life.  I said: Fine. You’re not so special, I’d say.  She’d say: Wait a second; what are you talking about?

 

Lorenzo DeStefano says that his cousin Olivia Robella Breitha taught him the value of fighting oppression, and to never lose sight of your quest for dignity. DeStefano decided to tell the early part of Olivia’s life story and her encounters with the stigma of leprosy through a one-act play he wrote and directed called “Shipment Day”, which was staged at Mānoa Valley Theatre in Honolulu, in late 2018.

 

She described to you what her life was like before she contracted the disease. And your play shows that, what it was like.

 

M-hm.

 

She was an eighteen-year-old, expecting to be married soon, and still living with her parents.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

And very Portuguese household.

 

M-hm.  Yeah. Well, that’s in her book, as well as stories that she told me and stuff.   But it’s very much in her book in the early chapters.

 

What was the hardest thing about writing your Olivia play?

 

It really wasn’t difficult.  You know.  It wrote …

 

It wrote itself?

 

I won’t say wrote itself.  I mean, it was a one-act play, twenty minutes, and we did it at PlayBuilders of Hawai‘i, which is a local play development program run by Terri Madden.  It’s a terrific program that they have here.  And we won Best Play, and Ku‘ulei Shafee won Best Actress, and William Hao won Best Actor for this little twenty-minute thing we did.  And that’s what got Mānoa Valley Theatre interested in the full version.  And so, they asked me to write a full version.

 

[scene from “Shipment Day”]

It was in that moment that I became a stranger, leaving a home and people that I loved.

 

Inclusion is important.  And yet, people’s fears, you have to deal with them in a creative way. And that’s what’s great about cinema and theater, you know, is that you get people in the dark, and you kind of own them for a little while.  It’s a privilege, you know, to have people, especially when they bought a ticket, you know. And you need to honor that, the fact that they did choose to leave the house, when they really don’t need to leave the house anymore.  They can switch on anything they want.  So, to take that privilege of having them show up, and trying to maybe transform them a little bit, or … I don’t want to use the word educate so much, ‘cause that implies they’re not educated.  But to show them, expose them to something that they maybe weren’t expecting, you know; so that a controversial character, even someone who’s completely divergent from their belief system.  You know, if you’re a Democrat, and you take a Republican type character and make them human, that’s good.

 

Is there one paramount lesson or piece of wisdom you take away after having known Olivia for so long?

 

You know, basically, it’s like, don’t give up to the tormentors, you know, in your life.  You know, not everybody’s in an extreme situation like that, you know, where you’re really incarcerated.  Self-belief, you know, pride.  Not that kind of pride that’s boastful pride or anything like that, but inner strength, you know.  Yeah; she was strong, super-strong person.  Yeah.  That, I guess I take away, you know.  I guess I was drawn into those worlds, hidden worlds, which I think looking back—I don’t look back a lot, I try to look forward.  But looking back, I guess there’s a kind of continuity there, you know, of discovery, finding out what’s unseen or what’s overlooked, you know. And I think there’s a commonality there throughout everything I’ve done.  Which basically comes down to being a curious person, you know.

 

Lorenzo DeStefano is having his play “Shipment Day” translated into both Spanish and Portuguese with the hope of sharing Olivia’s story with foreign audiences. And as curious as ever, he continues to discover hidden stories to bring both the big screen and the stage. Mahalo to Lorenzo DeStefano, former islander, who makes his home in Ventura, California.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Everybody loves stories.  We’ve got to find some commonality here.  You know, as people get torn apart by political differences, and ideological differences, those maybe never can be healed.  You know, maybe we’re in a place where it’s getting wider, and wider for people being able to really find any place to relate. And I do firmly believe, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that the arts is one place, if you can get people in.

 

 

 

 

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