Music

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.”

 

 

 




GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET
Samson et Dalila

 

Darko Tresnjak’s production is set in 1150 BC, where the mighty Samson fights vigilantly to free the ancient Israelites from their bondage underthe Philistines. The High Priest of Dagon, angry with Samson after he kills the Philistine governor Ambimélech, plots to destroy Samson by utilizing the beauty of his former lover, Dalila. A passionate Samson falls prey to Dalila’s seduction, causing the secret to his superhuman strength, his long hair, to be revealed. After being ambushed by the Philistines, a weakened and vulnerable Samson must face the High Priest of Dagon and perform the ultimate sacrifice to save his people.

 

 

 

PBS PREVIEWS
Country Music

 

Join celebrated musicians for a concert celebrating the film by Ken Burns. Hosted by Burns and featuring performances and appearances by Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more.

 

 

 

AUSTIN CITY LIMITS
Miranda Lambert

 

Enjoy a show-stopping hour with country superstar Miranda Lambert in her third ACL appearance. The CMA and Grammy-winning singer and songwriter delivers a powerful performance of hits and songs from her acclaimed LP The Weight of These Wings. Miranda Lambert appears on the 43rd series of Austin City Limits.

 

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
More! Ledward Kaapana and Family

 

Ledward Kaapana remembers his Uncle Fred Punahoa playing the song “Radio Hula” in Kalapana: “In the morning, like one, two o’clock in the morning. In Kalapana, it’s so quiet, so… you know, and it’s dark, and so, he used to just sit outside on the porch, and play his guitar. I don’t know if you ever experienced sleeping…and hear one guitar just playing sweet music that just wake you up and like, ‘Oh, so sweet,’” Kaapana remembers. “Radio Hula” is one of the songs that Ledward Kaapana, along with his sisters Lehua Nash, Rhoda Kekona, and Lei Aken play in his Kaneohe garage on a rainy evening. They also share an energetic slack key performance of “Kuu Ipo Onaona,” and Ledward honors the late Dennis Kamakahi with “Kokee.”

 

 

Play Like a Lion:
The Legacy of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan

Play Like a Lion: The Legacy of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan

 

Award-winning Play Like a Lion travels India and across centuries to explore the musical legacy of iconic multi-Grammy nominated Indian sarodist Ali Akbar Khan, as seen through the eyes of his son Alam. With commentaries by Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, slide guitarist Derek Trucks, jazz saxophonist John Handy, Khan’s eldest son virtuoso sarodist Aashish Khan, and tabla masters Zakir Hussain and Swapan Chaudhuri to a soundtrack of Khan’s music-“the sound of singing water.” Directed by Joshua Dylan Mellars.

 

 

 

AUSTIN CITY LIMITS
James Bay / Rhiannon Giddens

AUSTIN CITY LIMITS: James Bay / Rhiannon Giddens

 

Enjoy performances by acclaimed singer/songwriters Bay and Giddens. Englishman Bay plays songs from his chart-topping debut album Chaos and the Calm. North Carolina native Giddens performs tunes from her Grammy-nominated solo debut album Tomorrow Is My Turn.

 

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NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
The Leo Nahenahe Singers

The Leo Nahenahe Sisters on Na Mele

 

“Leo nahenahe” is Hawaiian for “soft and sweet.” Now in their eighties, The Leo Nahenahe Singers celebrate over 50 years of performing together on this episode of NĀ MELE. Ethelynne Teves on guitar, Noelani Mahoe on ukulele and Mona Teves on upright bass accompany their instruments with their soft and sweet vocals. These Nā Hokū and Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame honorees perform Hawaiian classics like “Hanohano Wale No” and “Koni Au I Ka Wai.”

 

Preview

 

 

 

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