Colorado

Kalani Peʻa

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Kalani Peʻa

 

For Grammy- and Nā Hōkū Hanohano-winning singer Kalani Peʻa, music wasn’t just a hobby. It was therapy.

 

“I stuttered a lot as a child,” he says. “In preschool, my mom wanted me to take speech therapy. That didn’t work.”

 

A pivotal moment came when Pe‘a was only three years old, when his parents found him serenading a mannequin at a Hilo shopping mall.

 

“[My parents] were like: ‘If we put him through choir [and] vocal training, will that really help him, give him the confidence to be comfortable with himself, to be able to overcome such a challenge?’” Peʻa says.

 

The answer was a resounding “yes.” Indeed, Peʻa’s parents signed him up for vocal lessons and choir. Throughout childhood and into his college years, Peʻa would keep singing in talent shows and public performances.

 

NĀ MELE - Traditions on Hawaiian Song: Kalani Peʻa“Music saved me,” he says. “[Singing] helps me to enunciate and pronounce certain words, whether it’s in Hawaiian music or English.”

 

One word that many may find difficult to pronounce – his legal first name. “What the heck is a ‘Trazaara’?” Peʻa laughs. (It’s pronounced “trah-zah-ah-rah.”) “Trazaara is an English men’s cologne. My mom gave that to me. Sounds like an entertainer’s name, right?”

 

Growing up, Pe‘a lived with his family in a pink trailer home in Panaʻewa Homestead near Hilo. “We had lanterns; we didn’t have electricity,” he recalls. “And it was such a loving family. We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor, but I knew that we had to work hard … That home is a reminder of hard work for me.”

 

While continuing to work through his speech impediment in the third grade, he asked his parents about transferring from a mainstream English language school to a Hawaiian immersion program. “I wanted to speak [the Hawaiian language] just like my siblings,” Peʻa says.

 

He would remain in Hawaiian immersion schools, graduating from Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu in Keaʻau, Hawai‘i Island. Wanting to cement his speech abilities, he moved to Colorado for college and earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications.

 

Singer Kalani Pe‘a (in red cap) performing in the PBS Hawai‘i studio. He’s accompanied by Aron Nelson on piano, Nalei Pokipala on backing vocals, Henry Aiau Koa on guitar and Mark K. Vaught on bass guitar. In the foreground, from left, are Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela dancers Julyen Kaluna, Auli‘i Faurot and Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap.
Singer Kalani Peʻa (in red cap) performing in the PBS Hawaiʻi studio. He’s accompanied by Aron Nelson on piano, Nalei Pokipala on backing vocals, Henry Aiau Koa on guitar and Mark K. Vaught on bass guitar. In the foreground, from left, are Hula Hālau ʻO Kamuela dancers Julyen Kaluna, Auliʻi Faurot and Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap.

 

“I was told that I would never be successful,” Peʻa says. “My siblings and I were told that if we spoke Hawaiian fluently, we’ll never go to college. And I went to college. We had to overcome challenges and misconceptions. That’s what I do.”

 

Music saved me

– Kalani Peʻa

 

And he does much of this through music. In a new episode of Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song, Peʻa performs selections from his albums, E Walea and No ʻAneʻi, both of which won Grammy Awards for Best Regional Roots Album. Supporting Peʻa are: Henry Aiau Koa on guitar; Nalei Pokipala on backing vocals; Mark K. Vaught on bass guitar; and Aron Nelson on piano. Members of Hula Hālau ʻO Kamuela provide hula accompaniment. And from the lighting on set to his wardrobe, it’s clear that Peʻa has a trademark color, one often associated with royalty and creativity: purple.

 

For a creative like Peʻa, every moment is a chance to craft a melody. “I’m just inspired all the time, whether I’m sipping on coffee, or eating breakfast with my ʻohana …I’m all about pushing the envelope and coming up with ideas.”

 

He says the desire to strive and create are traits that have served Hawaiians well. “We’re all about collaborating with each other and finding innovative things to do,” he says. “Kalākaua was an innovative king. Kamehameha I was an innovative king, collaborating with the people of England. So when it comes to tradition, part of our traditional practices and values play a role in our lives now, but we seek balance between modern technology and our old cultural practices.”

 

Peʻa is familiar with this balancing act – honoring cultural traditions without sacrificing his personal identity. “I would call myself a modern Hawaiian, a Hawaiian of this century,” he says. “I speak Hawaiian fluently, I honor my kūpuna, I understand my values and protocol and teaching. [And] I am the guy with the purple sequined jacket. That’s who I am.”

 

 

 

John Denver:
Country Boy

John Denver: Country Boy

 

At the peak of his fame in the 1970s, John Denver was one of the most popular singers in America. He performed at sold-out concerts, his albums sold more than 100 million copies, his TV specials got top ratings and he was named poet laureate of his adopted Colorado. Yet this man, who brought happiness to millions, was filled with insecurity, suffered from depression and was savaged by the music critics. Exploring the private life and public legacy of “America’s Everyman,” this intimate profile includes exclusive accounts from those closest to him, including former wives and managers, his son and brother, the musicians who toured with him for decades and the friends who knew the real John Denver.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Surviving the Dust Bowl

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Surviving the Dust Bowl

 

THE DUST BOWL chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.

 

Preview

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Medical Aid-in-Dying

 

As of 2019, Hawai‘i joined six other states – California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – plus the District of Columbia that allow terminally ill, competent adults, to get a prescription to end their lives. Hawai‘i’s law is called “Our Care, Our Choice.” Despite strict safeguards, the law is not supported by all.

 

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Joe Bonamassa:
Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks


Guitar hero Joe Bonamassa performs at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado in a concert celebrating the music of blues legends Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. The setlist is primarily sourced from the catalogs of Howlin’ Wolf, one of the most influential Chicago bluesmen of all time, and Muddy Waters, considered the “father of modern Chicago blues” and a major inspiration for the British blues explosion of the 1960s. Bonamassa grew up with that genre which influences his own music to this day. Bonamassa also performs songs from his own extensive catalog.

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
Limited Partnership

 

This film chronicles the 40-year love story between Filipino American Richard Adams and his Australian husband, Tony Sullivan. In 1975, thanks to a courageous county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, Richard and Tony were one of the first same sex couples to be legally married in the world. Richard immediately filed for a green card for Tony based on their marriage. But unlike most heterosexual married couples who easily obtain legal status for their spouses, Richard received a denial letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” Outraged at the tone, tenor and politics of the letter, and to prevent Tony’s impending deportation, the couple decided to sue the U.S. government, initiating the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same sex marriage in U.S. history.

 

During a lifetime filled with health issues, money woes and legal challenges, Richard and Tony never wavered in their love, lost their senses of humor, or gave up their quest for justice. Their personal trajectory parallels the history of the LGBT marriage and immigration equality movements, from their 1971 meeting at an L.A. gay bar called “The Closet,” to the 1975 signing of their marriage license in Colorado, through the era of AIDS, to the historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in June 2013.

 

EARTH A NEW WILD
Water

 

New

This five-part series takes a fresh look at humankind’s relationship to the planet’s wildest places and most fascinating species. Dr. M. Sanjayan, a leading conservation scientist, takes viewers on a stunning visual journey to explore how humans are inextricably woven into every aspect of the planet’s natural systems. The series features spectacular natural history footage from the most striking places on Earth, filming encounters between wild animals and the people who live and work with them. With up-close looks at a range of species, from giant pandas to humpback whales and African lions to Arctic reindeer, Sanjayan reveals that co-habitations with animals can work – and be mutually beneficial.

Water
Dr. Sanjayan explores humankind’s relationship with the Earth’s most important resource: water. Unraveling dramatic connections between fresh water and the health of the planet, he uncovers spectacular wildlife stories that center on managing the natural pulse of the planet’s water. The episode includes a kayak journey that follows the Colorado River to the sea; the elephants and people at the “singing wells” of Kenya; the connection between AIDS and a small fish in Lake Malawi; and a look at how hunters in America saved one of the greatest gatherings of birds on the continent.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
Denver, CO, Part 3 of 3

 

Host Mark L. Walberg and appraiser Suzanne Perrault visit a unique memorial to renowned potter Artus Van Briggle: a building on the Colorado College campus decorated inside and out with Van Briggle tiles. Highlights from the Roadshow floor include: two circa 1958 prototype chairs designed by a guest’s father when he worked for noted modernist George Nelson; a turn-of-the-century salesman’s sample canoe; and a 1941 Martin guitar, played live on the radio by the guest’s great-uncle, “Cowboy Slim,” and valued at $65,000 to $75,000.