Hula

NĀ MELE
Halekulani’s House Without A Key

 

NĀ MELE goes on location to document a traditional, cherished Hawaiian experience. Halekulani has a special place in the hearts of Hawai‘i’s people and everyone who has spent time there. PBS Hawai‘i captures a late afternoon at the hotel’s House Without a Key with hula dancers Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, and the musical trio Pa‘ahana (Pakala Fernandes, Kaipo Kukahiko and Douglas Po‘oloa Tolentino).

 

 

NĀ MELE
Peter Medeiros

NA MELE Peter Medeiros

 

Slack key artist Peter Medeiros, accompanied by guitarist Josh Silva and bass player Nate Stillman, presents a fun evening of traditional slack key. Joining the trio are the dancers of Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima, led by kumu hula Vicky and Jeff Kānekaiwilani Takamine. Songs performed include “Ulili E,” “He‘eia,” “Ke Ala O Ka Rose” and “Kananaka.”

 

 

NĀ MELE
The Royal Hawaiian Band

NA MELE Royal Hawaiian Band

 

Founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, the Royal Hawaiian Band has
provided audiences the world over with a continual connection to Hawai‘i’s
royal heritage. During this vintage concert set on the grounds of historic
Iolani Palace, Bandmaster Aaron Mahi pays tribute to one of his predecessors,
Henry Berger, Royal Hawaiian Bandmaster from 1871 to 1915 and sometimes called
the “Father of Hawaiian music.”

 

 

NĀ MELE
Led Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and Cyril Pahinui

NA MELE Led Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and Cyril Pahinui

 

NĀ MELE presents a traditional Hawaiian jam session featuring slack key masters Cyril Pahinui, Led Kaapana and the late Dennis Kamakahi. The program includes sentimental classics with each artist taking a turn on lead vocals and guitar.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kanoe and John Miller

 

Kanoe Miller felt drawn to the spotlight at an early age, fantasizing about becoming a Broadway chorus girl or a ballerina. The young Kanoe began taking hula lessons, and her goal shifted to performing hula in Waikīkī. For more than 40 years, Kanoe has been living that dream. You’ll often find her biggest cheerleader in the audience: her husband John Miller, a former Aloha Airlines pilot. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kanoe and John tell the story of their love and reflect on the life they’ve built together.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kanoe and John Miller Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

JOHN: Even my friends would say: Oh, that’s not a good idea. You know, if you come from the mainland and you steal away one of the local girls, they usually kill you. You know. You’ll end up in the Kunia cane fields someday, you know. Well, I mean, that was a joke, but I mean—

 

KANOE: They were joking.

 

JOHN: –people would say that.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: You know, to me.

 

KANOE: Even his mother said to him: John, now this girl is a performer, and she works on the stage in front of strangers every night; there will be lots of people in the audience wanting her. John, are you sure? You know, so there was a lot of … people.

 

JOHN: So, it was the two of us out there, just on our own, trying to make sure that the feelings we had for each other were real, you know.

 

When Kanoe and John Miller fell in love during the 1970s, they faced persistent doubt and opposition from family and friends. All these years later, they say challenges and adversity have only strengthened their marriage. Kanoe and John Miller, 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. Our guests today are a husband and wife who say that naysayers made them stronger. Kanoe Miller, born Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa, was crowned Miss Hawai‘i in 1973. For twenty years, she would be one of Hawai‘i’s top fashion models, and at the same time, and up to the time of our conversation in early 2018, she’s been performing hula the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Waikīkī, Oahu, with only a few breaks over forty-one years. Today, Kanoe and her husband, John Miller, own a digital entertainment company, creating videos and live shows of beloved Hawaiian Golden Era music and hula, with Kanoe as the featured dancer.

 

John Miller grew up in Denver, Colorado and became a military pilot, and served in the Wyoming Air National Guard. In 1976, John says he left the freezing cold of Wyoming to head to the warm shores of Hawaii as a pilot for Aloha Airlines. One fateful night in 1977, as he was walking through Waikīkī, Oahu, he stopped in at the luxury hotel, Halekulani. It was a moment that would change his life.

 

JOHN: When I first came out here, the second year I was working for Aloha Airlines, I lived on a boat in the Ala Wai. And I used to go for a walk in the evening if I had the evening off. And I walked by the Halekulani, and I saw Kanoe dancing. And I thought: That’s probably the reason I’m here. You know.

 

What made you say that? Because there are other hula dancers along the beach at Waikīkī.

 

JOHN: You know, well, there was a lot of entertainment. But Kanoe just has something special. You know? And so, I went in and sat down. And the way she dances, she relates to everybody. But I thought she was just relating to me. And so, I thought: Oh, my god, this is heaven. You know.

 

A lot of other guys in the audience kind of had the same expression on their face?

 

JOHN: Probably. I didn’t look at them, though. I was just looking at her, you know. So, yeah, I was probably Number 16 in line.

 

And it was about the Lovely Hula Hands; it was all about that.

 

JOHN: You know, if you’ve seen her dance, you know it’s about the whole everything. And I just thought: Oh, my god, she’s dancing right to me. And so then, I tried to talk to her, and I realized she’d never even seen me. You know? It was like, I was just another tourist. And she said something like: Are you having a nice vacation? You know. And I thought: Oh—

 

And where are you from?

 

JOHN: Yeah; where are you from? I thought: Oh. But I still was smitten. I just thought: This gal has something different than anybody else. So, I just kept coming back, and coming back. And after I came back enough times, I realized that she had a ring on her finger. She was engaged, or married. I thought she was married. And I thought: Oh, man, I’m too late. You know. But I still kept going. Like everybody else, they go the Halekulani for the music and to watch her dance.

 

Was that a ring to ward off suitors?

 

KANOE: No; I was engaged to someone else. And normally, you know, when you dance hula, you’re not supposed to wear any nail polish, no jewelry except your Hawaiian bracelet. But he insisted that I wear this ring. So, I wore it.

 

So, you’re engaged.

 

KANOE: I’m engaged.

 

JOHN: And then, actually, after a couple years of me being smitten by her, a friend of mine who knew that I really was infatuated with her called me up one night, and she said: John, Kanoe is not married; there’s an article about her in this magazine, and it’s all about The Fox of the Month. And it’s like all these questions about what she hopes to meet in her perfect guy.

 

KANOE: You know, this magazine; it was called …

 

JOHN: O‘ahu.

 

KANOE: O‘ahu. And every month, they had wonderful articles, and it was more tailored for the single young set of Hawai‘i, of O‘ahu. And every month, they had a Fox of the Month. And I was Miss November. And they had asked me: Describe your ideal man. And I did. Describe your ideal life. I did. When my fiancé read the answers, the first thing he said was: You’re not describing me. And that was my reaction: Sure, I am. Of course, I am. Yes, I’m describing you. He says: No, you’re not; everything you say in here is not me.

 

JOHN: Well, I read this article, and every question they asked about, what’s your perfect guy like … it was me. And I thought: Well, she’s talking about me, and obviously, she hasn’t gotten married yet, so he’s not the right one. Must be me.

 

KANOE: By the way, you have to tell the story of how you got that magazine.

 

JOHN: Oh. Well … one of the pilots that I got hired with, his wife was along for the whole time that I used to go and watch her dance, and take people there. I would take them there. I took everybody there. And of course, she would see me going: Oh, gosh, she’s so beautiful. You know. And of course, everybody feels that way about Kanoe when they watch her dance. But she was the one that called me up and told me: I read this article about Kanoe in the magazine. And so, she called me kinda late at night, you know. So, I said: Well, what’s the name of the magazine? She said: Oh, I don’t know, but her picture’s on the front. You know. So, I walked to all the bookstores looking for this magazine. And the magazine wasn’t there; it wasn’t for sale in newsstands. So then the next morning, I called her back up and I said: Where did you see that magazine? And she said: Oh, at my hairdresser’s; it’s a little place called Shear Power over in Kailua. I said: Okay. So, I drove over there. And I went in, and I went upstairs, and I walked in, and of course, the dryers were going and ladies were cutting, and you know, it’s a real female place.

 

Boy, you had it bad.

 

JOHN: I know. And I walk in, and there’s this table, and there’s the magazine with her picture on it. So, I walked in, and this one lady looks up and she says: Can I help you? And I said: Well, yes, you know, a friend of mine got her hair cut yesterday, and she told me about this magazine that has an article about someone I’m interested in; could I have that magazine? And she says: No; those magazines are for my customers. And I tried to think really quick, you know. I go: Could I get a haircut? And I took her aback. I said: If I get a haircut, does that make me a customer? Then, could I have the magazine? And she says: Okay, sit down and I’ll get with you in a few minutes. So, I sat down and waited for my haircut. At the end of my haircut, I got the magazine. And as an aside, I had my hair cut from her for like, twenty-five years after that.

 

KANOE: Faithfully.

 

JOHN: I was very loyal.

 

KANOE: You paid for that magazine.

 

JOHN: I paid for it; right. But then I took the magazine and read it, and that’s when I realized: This girl is talking about me. You know?

 

Okay, now; what did she say? What did you say was your perfect guy?

 

KANOE: What did I say? The most important question was: Describe your ideal man. And I said: Well, my ideal man is a global thinker. He thinks three hundred sixty degrees, all the way around, his vision goes out. You know, it’s infinite, and it goes three hundred sixty degrees; he can see both sides of the story no matter what the issue is. He has to be a global thinker, he has to be a big thinker with big ideas. He needs to have a big heart, and he needs to have big hands. In other words, generous. I want somebody who is generous in their thinking, generous here, and generous here. And that’s what I ask for. I said: I want a life that … watch out what you ask for. I want a life that goes up, that does down, that goes sideways, that whirls around like a Mad Mouse ride. I don’t want flat-line; I want highs. I want highs, I want desperate lows. I want to turn to the side, I want to go on two wheels, screaming. You know. I got that.

 

JOHN: So, I renewed my efforts. I was down there that night, you know, a trying to ask her if she would go out on a date with me. You know. And I told her that I had read this article, and that I thought that she was describing me.

 

KANOE: And I was like: Stalker.

 

JOHN: Yeah. And she was thinking: Oh, my god, how do I get rid of this stalker?

 

Did you feel any attraction to him?

 

KANOE: Oh, yeah; immediately, soon as he came up to me. I was like: Wow, this guy is really cute. Wow, he’s really attractive, but I am engaged to someone else. And I really like him, but no. I’m engaged to someone else; no, no, no, no, no.

 

JOHN: So, I asked her if she would go on a date. And she said: No.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: So, I just thought: Okay, how can I bridge this gap? So, I asked her: Well, how about if I come here and just walk you to your car? Now, this is the old Halekulani, where you drive in, and you parked on the grass, right in front of the old building. So, all the cars were parked right there on the grass; everybody parked there. And where she danced was just out at the House Without A Key. So, I knew that the walk would only be like, thirty steps or so, you know. But I asked her: How about if I come and walk you to your car; would that be okay? ‘Cause that way, maybe you could get to know me.

 

KANOE: Yeah; actually, what you said was: I read that article, and I think that if you got to know me, you would see that I’m the guy you’re talking about. So, I said: Okay, you can walk me to my car. Okay.

 

JOHN: So, I guess she felt safe. You know, there was lots of people around. I didn’t look too creepy, I guess. Had my hair cut like a pilot, you know. So, I would go every night, and wait until she got off, on the nights that I could go. Sometimes, I had to fly. But she would let me walk her to the car, and we would just talk about a little something.

 

KANOE: Oh, but the walk would only take, you know, thirty seconds.

 

JOHN: Yeah; the first week, the walk was like, just thirty steps. But after the first month, I think it was probably taking about an hour to get to the car.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And we could talk about anything. You know, we weren’t in a rush. She wasn’t in a rush, and of course, I wasn’t in a rush.

 

KANOE: And I really enjoyed talking to him. And we had a lot of things in common. You know, lot of interests that were the same. Lot of almost kinda the same dreams. You know, which every time after I’d leave him, I’d go: Gosh, he and I have the same dreams, same ideas, same visions, but I don’t have that with my fiancé, as much as I love him. You know, we don’t have the same ideals, I think. So, anyway, I looked forward to him coming and walking me to the car.

 

JOHN: I think I had been coming for about two months, and she was letting me walk her to the car. And one night, I just told her: You know, I think I’m in love with you.

 

KANOE: Of course, I was really afraid. Terrified; terrified. Because I knew he was right, and I knew he was the right person for me. But now, I had to break off this six-year engagement to someone that I thought I loved, away from his family that I love so much. So, it was like, you know, seeing this giant maw open up in front of you, like a giant crevasse that you know you’re just gonna go plummeting down into. It’s very frightening to break off from people you know and you love, a lifestyle that is comfortable to you, to go off with somebody you’ve only known for maybe two months. And he’s from the mainland, he hasn’t lived in Hawaii very long, he doesn’t know us as a people yet, he’s totally from Colorado. These are things that are frightening to me.

 

Kanoe Kaumeheiwa had feelings for John Miller, but was conflicted because of her six-year engagement to another man. In turn, her fiancé did not appreciate John’s sudden appearance in her life. John asked to meet with Kanoe’s fiancé at a church in Kailua, Windward Oahu, to sort out the difficult situation. John sought the advice of the church’s brand new priest, and after several hours of counseling, the priest had some advice for the three of them.

 

JOHN: He came up with the solution and he said: Okay; I want you to not see either one of these guys for a month, and I want you to go and date. I want you to go out there and date as many people, and as many dates as you can, and all different kinds of people.

 

KANOE: And I want you know, that’s hard for me, ‘cause I’m not a dater. You know, I’m really a one guy kinda woman. And I don’t like to date, and I feel very uncomfortable. But I did it. And he also told me: I want you to go on Kailua Beach, and I want you to take these long walks, and I want you to spend a lot of time by yourself, and I want you to think about things. So, I followed his advice. And one of the things I realized is—oh, and the priest also said: I’ve asked both your suitors to stay away from you, and give you space and give you time. And I said: Okay. So, I did; I spent one month totally by myself. Ooh; I lost a lot of weight, ‘cause I was very stressed. Oh, I looked great. One of the things I noticed is that he was honorable, and he stayed away. And my fiancé did not. And I did date for a month, other people. And when that month was over, ring-ring-ring-ring-ring; called him up.

 

And said?

 

KANOE: And said: Let’s get together.

 

So, you were clear.

 

KANOE: I was clear.

 

You were clear at that point.

 

KANOE: And I had to say to my fiancé, it’s finished, and I had to break it off.

 

A year later, in 1979, still facing skepticism and opposition from family and friends about their relationship, John Miller married Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa. Kanoe said that in the early days of their relationship, only one friend and one coworker supported their decision. Without wavering, the couple set out on their dream honeymoon across the U.S. continent, visiting more than thirty states.

 

JOHN: We were both gonna take three months off, and drive around the United States. And I had an old Corvette, and so we decided, let’s do this Route 66 thing.

 

KANOE: Well, we grew up watching Route 66; yeah? In the 60s. And for the two of us, we found out that was like our dream life, to be vagabonds, to be in this open convertible, to travel untraveled roads, or highways or paths that had never been taken. If you look on the map of the United States, it’s all these main highways and other main roads. But then, there’s these blue highways. The blue highways are the path that nobody takes; it’s the ones that go through the back areas. We were quite interested in taking those roads. And that’s what we did for three months.

 

JOHN: So, we planned that. And the wedding came, we took care of all that. And then I shipped my car over to the mainland, and then we headed out.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

Life was good, and the marriage seemed ideal. So much so, that friends would often call them Miss Hawai‘i and Captain Aloha. But life has a way of not going according to plan, and the couple confronted a series of major financial and personal challenges, including the 2008 collapse of John’s employer, Aloha Airlines. However, Kanoe and John say the obstacles they faced made their relationship stronger.

 

KANOE: I thought: I’m marrying an airline pilot, life is grand, I’m going to have children. Someday, he’ll retire at age sixty. We’ll take up golf, we’ll go on cruises. Oh, this is lovely. Right? And lots of things happened along the way that didn’t happen, and we didn’t have children. Lots of things fell apart. But not us. I think one of the turning points in our life was … well, the main thing is when Aloha Airlines went down. Basically, everyone was out of a job, including him. And we had losses. We lost pensions, healthcare. Let’s just say we were living here; everything dropped. The level of our revenue stream went from here to … there. And we didn’t know what we were gonna do. All he knew was to fly; he was an airline pilot. All I was, was a hula dancer. He was about fifty-five years old; he was not at an age where airlines might want to pick him up. Mandatory retirement age at the time was sixty; he was fifty-five. I highly doubt an airline would pick him up. We were faced with who are we, and what do we want to do? And we decided that we were gonna stick together, and we were gonna put our talents together, and we were going to do a business together. And that’s what it is. And the business is that we became a digital entertainment company. And that was hard because, you know, I don’t know anything about business; he doesn’t either. We really had to teach ourselves.

 

JOHN: It’s storytelling. It’s what you do. What she does is with the compositions, the musicians, and through the art of hula. And there is such a wonderful history in Hawai‘i ever since David Kalakaua got interested in the ukulele, up until, you know, Kui Lee wrote I’ll Remember You. There’s just a huge repertoire of storytelling. And it shouldn’t be lost; it should be perpetuated and continued.

 

Lovely hula hands, telling of the rains in the valley, and the swirling winds over the pali. Lovely hula hands.

 

There’s a feeling deep in my heart, stabbing at me just like a dart. It’s a feeling heavenly.

 

KANOE: We created the DVD to preserve that kind of storytelling through hula. So, I had to choose ten of my favorite hulas to dance to from that Golden Era. I have many, but I had to focus it down to ten. So, we created the DVD. And then, the next thing we noticed is that DVD sales several years later started to drop off, and people now wanted downloadable things. Okay?

 

So you have to learn that.

 

KANOE: So, we have to learn that. And that’s where he taught himself, and he also went to all the outreach classes, the Pacific New Media classes at the University of Hawai‘i. He taught himself websites, and he taught himself how to write an app.

 

So, you had to learn about yourselves individually, and then what you could deal with as a couple.

 

KANOE: Yes. We both wear different hats. Sometimes, he wears the creative hat, where he’s doing layouts and editing. And sometimes, I wear the bean-counter hat. You know, I do all the accounting and the bookkeeping. And then, sometimes, we switch; he becomes the CFO, where he thinks about the large picture of our finances and which way we’re going, and I do the creative, which is choreographing dances or writing articles for our magazine. So, we switch all the time. You’re asking: What are the challenges there? To communicate. Constantly. And to share roles, and to, I think, respect what each person brings to the table. That, I think. We don’t do anything, unless we pass it by each other. Emails where we must answer somebody, a business question; we both discuss it first at length, and then he usually composes the email, and then I have to approve it. So, everything we do is done with complete communication.

 

Any tips for people who are about to set off into the unknown land of marriage?

 

KANOE: You’ve gotta really count to ten before you speak.

 

JOHN: If you’re mad at each other.

 

KANOE: If you’re mad at each other. I didn’t do that so much when we first got married. I’ve learned to do that. You know, just take a deep breath and count to ten, leave the room. You want to say something, but you don’t. You just don’t say it. Wait. And it’ll calm down, and then it’ll go away. Respect the person. Very important.

 

JOHN: That’s the most important thing.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: Even if you’re mad, and the person is doing something you don’t like, you still need to back off and remember who it is that you fell in love with.

 

KANOE: Yeah.

 

JOHN: And that that’s still there, that person is still there. And that’s more important than you winning your argument.

 

KANOE: Uh-huh.

 

Do you still think of each other the way you used to when you were courting?

 

JOHN: I like more things about her now than I did when I fell in love with her. When you find out that someone also has determination and courage, and stick-to-itiveness, and a bunch of other characteristics that you really weren’t thinking about when you’re like, going on your first couple dates, it’s just a bonus.

 

KANOE: When we have gone through the hard times, which we certainly have, to see his gumption, his positive thinking, his optimism, his drive, is something I really like. Which I didn’t know he had that.

 

As I speak in early 2018, you can still see Kanoe Miller grace the outdoor stage twice a week at Halekulani’s House Without A Key. And Kanoe and John Miller, who have always defied the naysayers, have expanded the reach of their live hula productions with performances in Japan. With digital storytelling, they continue to share the charm and beauty of old Waikiki and Hawai‘i with the world. Mahalo to this dynamic and committed couple, Kanoe and John Miller of Kāne‘ohe, Oahu. 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.

 

JOHN: When you are confronted with the naysayers or the negative personalities, or people who say you can’t do that, I think that gives us the strength to show them.

 

It’s inspiration.

 

KANOE: It’s inspiration.

 

JOHN: It’s inspiration, you know. You can get beaten down by naysayers, or you can become more strong. And I think that’s all the way through our lives together.

 

 

NĀ MELE
Weldon Kekauoha

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.

 



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Melveen Leed

 

Melveen Leed’s music career spans over five decades and has taken her around the world. However, in many ways, she says she’s still “da tita from Moloka‘i.” She opens up about life’s challenges: a childhood spent in two households and on two islands, a “nightmare” performance in Russia, and why she’s found a new sense of peace and personal happiness in her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Melveen Leed Audio

 

Melveen Leed Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We know what your nickname is.

 

The Tita?

 

Yeah; The Tita.   Now, tita means …

 

Sister.

 

Sister.

 

Yes.

 

Does it mean that, or fighter?

 

Both.

 

And both are true.

 

Yeah; both are true.  Yeah.  But you know what?  In those days, you know, we didn’t get—I know, I didn’t, I never got into real big trouble.  Yeah. And I fought for my rights.  Yeah; we all did, yeah?  But it made me more confident.  You know what I mean?  Because there were a lot of bullies in those days.

 

Melveen Leed has made good use of that confidence, entertaining audiences for over fifty-five years, from Waikīkīto Carnegie Hall, and around the world.  Melveen Leed, 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.  Melveena Ku‘uleipuanani Leed, better known as Melveen, is an icon in the local entertainment industry.  As a young girl, her first performance venue was kanikapila night at her grandparents’ home on Molokai.  Since those childhood days, life has dealt Melveen Leed her share of highs and lows, but the one constant, the unwavering achievement, is a talent that moves easily across musical genres, from Hawaiian to Jazz, to Gospel, to Country.  She can sing and perform all of them, and at high level.  Melveen Leed, the vocalist, musician, and composer, grew up in the 1940s and 50s, having the best of both worlds with her family on Oahu, as well as with her grandparents on Molokai.

 

 

I was born here.  My mom was very young; she was only seventeen years old, and she was a child herself, you know.  And so, she couldn’t really, you know, mother me as much as she should have, you know, because she had her career and her life to think about.  And I don’t blame her.  So, my grandparents came and took me away, and raised me on Moloka‘i.

 

What part of Molokai?

 

‘Ualapu‘e; it’s the eastern part of Moloka‘i, God’s country.  And so, every vacation or anything, my grandparents would put me on the plane. It was Cockett Airlines at that time, small little airline, rubber band airline, we call it.  And they’d send me to my mom, to spend vacations with my siblings. I have my sisters and my brother who was children of my stepfather; yeah?  And so, we spent time like that together on Easter and Christmas, and summer vacation, and all that.  And then, she’d send me back to go to school on Moloka‘i, at Kilohana School on the eastern part of Moloka‘i.  And I was brought up a real, real old-fashioned way, and I’m so glad I was. Washing our clothes in the streams, you know, growing up like that, growing our own vegetables and fishing, hunting, you know.  And we knew how to work hard.

 

What did the family hunt for?

 

Well, my uncles and them, especially.  I went on just a few, but I would never do that again. As I said, my grandfather used to say: You carry down what you shoot.  Oh, shucks.  You know, no, I’m not going carry the deer down by myself.  Uh-uh.  So, I wasn’t interested in that.  I was more interested in fishing.  And my grandfather taught me how to make fishnets, from scratch.  Yeah.

 

Did you try to throw them, too?

 

Oh, he taught me how to throw.  And so, we had a needle to make the nets; that’s called a hia. Okay?  And then, we had the rectangular wood, and that was the size of the eye of the fishnet.  And that was called the ha ha.  See? So, my grandfather would teach us how to patch the nets, and he had a pocketknife that he used and we made the hole, and we patched the nets, you know.  And so, things like that.  My grandfather was a remarkable man, and he was the one that actually made an ukulele for me when I was only about three years old.  And so, I played the ukulele and sang for all my grandparents’ guests.

 

How did you learn; did you watch somebody else?

 

My grandfather; yeah, I just watched him. For some reason, I’d watch someone play an instrument, and I’d grab the instrument and I’ll play it.  You know?

 

From the beginning?

 

Yeah; by ear.

 

From an early age?

 

Yeah; early age.

 

Did your family teach you all kinds of songs?  ‘Cause you’re good at all kinds of genres.

 

Well, my grandparents, you know, they had kanikapila nights, you know, and so, they’d have people come over, and they all played music, and I would watch and I’d grab the ukulele, and I’d play with them, you know, and everything, and learn all these beautiful songs.  And Lena Machado used to come over to the house, and of course, you know, we had musicians friends that came over, and our family.  You know, everybody knew how to play the ukulele and guitar.  You know, my auntie could play slack key, and it was really nice. And so, I learned all this.  And plus, my mom now, in Honolulu, she had those 78s.  And so, I’d listen to all of the jazz music, so I was raised with jazz music; yeah? That old music, and I love it. And so, I’m so glad that I learned how to sing jazz; I learned by myself.  And then, I was very fortunate, years later, to hang out with Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.  You know.

 

How did that happen?

 

Because I was working the SS Lurline.  You know, the ship.

 

Yeah.

 

And they were the main stars in on there.

 

And what were you doing; you were singing too?

 

Downstairs; yes.

 

Oh, different—

 

Yeah.

 

Different floors.

 

Yeah.  So, we hung out together.  So, we went off the boat, and I took her all over, and you know, we hung out and I’d sit and watch her, and I learned a lot just by watching them.

 

That’s a great opportunity.

 

They were so professional.  Yeah.

 

You were in two households.  You were in your grandparents’.

 

Yeah.  And my mom.

 

Oh; and so, you’d go on the rubber band airline.

 

Yes; the rubber band airline to Honolulu.

 

Okay; now, where did your mom live?

 

Halawa Housing; you know, where the Aloha Stadium is?

 

Yes.

 

That’s where we stayed.

 

Halawa Housing; bit of an urban tone there.

 

It was a very rugged district.  It was; yeah.  But we all took care of each other; we watched each other’s backs, you know, all the children.  You know, so they all knew me, ‘cause I went on vacations, yeah, and stayed there. And then, I went to fourth grade. My mom decided she wants me to go to fourth grade to Halawa Intermediate, or whatever.  And I got kicked out of the school because I got into a fight.

 

With whom?

 

With a girl.  I went on detention.  I’ll never forget that big Peterson Field.  We had to crush all the white chalk, and then we had to pour the chalk, ‘cause it was a baseball field; yeah?  So, we had to put the chalk in.

 

Now, what was the fight about?

 

I’m so embarrassed to say that.  But yes, I was a naughty girl.

 

What was it about?

 

Oh, well, this girl was rocking her chair, and she kept bumping to me, and I was sitting in back of her.  And she had long braids.

 

Uh-oh. 

 

And she kept telling me to shut up.  You know, kept telling me to shut up, and she kept banging me.  So, I grabbed her hair, and went boom, right down, and I finished her off.  And then, I got into big trouble.  Oh, my god, I got called in.  And then, a note was sent home to my mom, so my mom sent me right back to Molokai, which is what I wanted anyway.  I wanted to be with my grandparents.

 

And you didn’t really mind the disruption?

 

No.

 

When you went back to the school, did you worry about another run-in with her?

 

Oh, no; it didn’t bother me.  She was scared of me already.  I don’t even remember her name.

 

Well, what about a bigger bully; did you ever have to deal with that?

 

Yes, I have.  Yeah, I have.  But the problem is, I’m not afraid of anybody.  You know what I mean?  So, I got into trouble, yeah.  But it’s okay.  You know, it’s cool.  Yeah.

 

I remember one story, when I was going to Radford.  And this one girl got into a phone conversation with me, and she was from a bad district.  I won’t even say where.  And so, she wanted to meet me in Foster Village, ‘cause I went to Radford; yeah? So, I told my friends, I said: Hey, you folks coming with me, there’s gonna be a big fight.  And they said: Yeah, okay, okay, we’ll come.  Nobody showed up; only me.  So, was waiting on the corner.  I wore my sweater and, you know, put my hair in a ponytail, I made sure I was—

 

You were ready.

 

–all ready; oh, yeah.

 

Can’t pull it; right?

 

So, I thought to myself: Yeah, okay.  So, I waited and waited, and nobody showed up. Years later, I was performing at the Garden Bar, Hilton Hawaiian Village, and the waitress comes to me: Oh, Melveen.  I was really skinny at that time, but before, I used to be hefty; yeah?  And I used to lift weights and I took, you know, martials arts and stuff.  But anyway. And so, she said: Oh, Melveen, there’s a couple over there that wants to see you, and they want to say hello.  And I said: Oh, okay.  Was dark; yeah?  So, I went up and I saw this massive woman in the dark, and her skinny little husband next to her.  And I said: Yes?  And she said: Eh, you remember me; my name is so-and-so.

 

 

I said: Let me see, the only name I know, I said, was long time ago.  She said: Yeah, that was me.  And she had tattoos on her arms.  And I went: You?  And I said: You know, I showed up that day.  She said: Yeah, I know; we saw you.  And she said: I told my friends, Anybody can show up by themselves, they must be good, they must be, so we took off.  She said: We just left, we left you alone.

 

That’s right; you kept the date and stayed there, even though you didn’t—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–have any backup.

 

Yeah; knowing I was gonna get beat up anyway. You know what I mean?  But oh, that was something I never forgot.  And we became good friends.  You know, it was really nice.  Like, whew.  Oh, god.

 

You’ve had a chance to meet a lot of people again; right?  You’ve met them at different stages of your life.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

You must have had some surprises about how people turned out.

 

Oh, yes; of course.  And you know, especially because I’ve been singing all over, and for everything, and doing a lot of charities, you know, and people that I haven’t seen.  But I remember … my classmates, I remember their names, and I remember their faces. Yeah.  And the kids that I grew up with, you know, I remember them.  And they’re amazed that I do, you know.

 

Some of them have changed a lot, so that is really surprising.

 

Oh, yeah.  Oh, listen; there was one—I must tell you about this one.  Okay; I was at a class reunion.  Now, in high school, I wasn’t that popular; yeah?  I mean, I sang and everything, you know, but because my stepfather, he was quite strict with me; yeah?  And it’s understandably so, because they don’t want me to get into trouble, you know.  So, my mom and her husband, they were really strict.  When I had to go and perform, you know, it didn’t bother me to sing in school.  And we used to go to different schools and perform.  But the thing was, this one guy I had a crush on in high school, but he never knew I was alive.  And we used to walk down the hallway, and the guys used to stand on each side of the hallway and look, and hey, and whistle at us, and we don’t pay attention.  We wanted them to pay attention, but we just walked.  And then so, years later at the class reunion, I was standing with my friends and they said: Eh, there’s so-and-so over there.  And I said: Where?  I looked, and I went: What?  He was kinda bald, and he was big, he had a big belly.  And I went: No; really?  And they said: Yeah.  I said: Follow me.  We went there, and I knew that uh, he would call me; yeah?  So he says: Eh, Melveen.  And I said: Yes?  And he says: You remember me?  And we all had our little patches on with our high school picture on; yeah?  And our little buttons, yeah, big buttons, you know. And I said: Um …  I already knew who he was.  I said: No.  I said: I’m sorry.  And I looked at his.  He said: Yes, you remember me, I was, I played football.  And I looked at his picture, I went to his face, I went to look at his picture again, I looked at his face.  I said: Oh, yes; what happened?

 

Oops. That’s the last reunion he went to.

 

I said, that’s the ultimate revenge, you know.  I was terrible but, oh, we laughed, we all laughed and it was so funny.

 

So, your mom was seventeen, but along the way, she—

 

Yeah.  My mom had a career.  Because she was working.  Oh, she had to work; she worked two jobs, you know.

 

Did she finish high school after having you?

 

No.  But she went to Farrington for a while, and then they finally gave her, her diploma. Yeah; years later, yeah.  So, it was nice.  But anyway, so she had to work.  She moved to Honolulu from Molokai.  Because in those days, it was a disgrace to have a child when you’re young. You know what I mean?  And all your family’s out there; you know that, yeah? But my mom held her head up high, and she went to work.  I give her credit; she worked hard.  Yeah. And then, she had all these children; yeah?  And she still worked.  Yeah; she worked until she retired.  And even when she retired, she went back to work again, you know.

 

What did she do?

 

Well, she was a cashier hostess at the Hilton Hawaiian—well, it was the Hawaiian Village, Kaiser Hawaiian Village before. And so, she was a cashier hostess, and then she went to the front office cashier.  And then, she went to the main office, accounting.  And so, she was always working with figures; yeah?  And she was good at that.  And then, she finally retired from that.  And then, she was working also at Leed’s Shoe Store. Yeah.

 

She was very—

 

Yeah.

 

And to have a lot of children.

 

Yeah.

 

How many children?

 

She had five; yeah, with me, five.  Yeah.  But she had four from this man; yeah.  And then with me, five; yeah.  But she was a great dresser.  I think that’s why I like to dress up, you know, because my mom was like that.  She never left the house not looking nice. She was a beautiful woman; very gorgeous.

 

Tell me, did you know your biological dad?  Was he in your life?

 

I learned about him only when I was about fifteen years old.  That’s when I knew who my real father was.  ‘Cause it was kept a secret from me.  Walter Chun Kee; that was my dad.  He was from Maui.  And then I found out I had siblings on Maui.  So, I have one sister and three brothers.  And so, one brother, we lost; that’s Jimmy.  So, I found that we have siblings, siblings there.  And then, we found one more sister in Puerto Rico.  My dad was busy.  My mom never married my real father.

 

I see.

 

So, she married Palmer Leed.  He was from Tacoma, Washington, and he was in the Navy.  So, my mom married him.  And I was named after his brother, and he had a high official position in the Navy, and they named me after him.  His name was Melvin.  So, my real name is Melvina.  And my grandmother gave me my Hawaiian name of Ku‘uleipuanani, and then they took the name Leed.  So, that’s how I got that name.

 

Did you find it confusing to have two different families, two different islands, or did it all seem normal?

 

It was normal to me.  Yeah.  I was looking forward to seeing my mom, and my sisters and my brother, yeah, every trip that I took, yeah?  And I was lonesome for my grandparents and my uncles and aunties, you know.  And so, I’d go back home, you know.  It was like that, so I had the best of both worlds. Let’s put it that way.

 

Melveen Leed started her professional singing career when she was invited to the stage to sing with the band at the Garden Bar of the old Hawaiian Village Hotel. She soon left her secretarial job and became a fulltime entertainer, singing, recording albums, producing music shows, and traveling the world.  Yet, while Melveen’s career was hitting high notes, her personal life often too a different direction.

 

You’ve been married several times.

 

Yes.

 

Do you have stepchildren and …

 

Oh, yes.  They’re all like my children, still, you know.  Yes.

 

Lots of family, all along the way.

 

Yes.  And you know, it was a learning time for me, too.  Because I had gone down to the bottom.  I picked myself up, you know, every time and I said: I can do this. Yeah?  And I’d start from scratch.  I’d leave everything behind, and I’d start from scratch.  I mean, everything; my clothes, everything behind.  I just walked out and started from scratch.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  It’s not easy to do, but you gotta have that willpower.  All you women out there, you can do it.  You know, you have one life to live; you push your own buttons. That’s what I say.

 

So, each time, you could have packed, you could have taken some things.

 

Yeah.  But I’m not like that.  Because they had children, so I didn’t want to take anything away from them.  And they could have my stuff.  It doesn’t matter; it didn’t matter.

 

So then, what did you do when you walked away?

 

I just started from scratch again.  I was still singing, working, making good money, you know, and I had to go on my own and find my own jobs; yeah?

 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve been through up ‘til now?  And we’re talking in March of 2018.

 

When I had to leave my daughter, and I had to move to Tahiti.  That was the hardest thing I had to do in my whole life.

 

How old was she then?

 

She was just … senior, high school.  Junior or senior.  And I had gone away to start a new life.  And it was a big mistake in my life, of course.  I realized that after, yeah, I’d gone there.

 

You were getting married.

 

Yeah; I was getting married, yeah, there.  And she came for the wedding, and I could see her face; she was so sad through the whole time, you know.  And I thought to myself: Okay, Melveen, you know, you gotta make this work.  So, what happened was, when I moved to this island, this desolate island; it was an atoll, it was called Aratika.  Because my ex-husband was the luna, the boss of that island.  And it’s a black pearl farm.  He built a house for me on that island, and there was no running water, no electricity.  So, I had to leave all my beautiful gowns and nice clothes, everything, my beautiful things back in Hawai‘i and move there with only pareaus and shorts and tee-shirt. Which I didn’t mind, because I grew up like that on Molokai.  You know what I mean?

 

Yeah; I was thinking before, you were washing your clothes in the stream.

 

And they were all amazed.  The Paumotu people there; they were amazed, even my ex-husband, that I could just adjust immediately.  Then, when I started patching their nets and throwing my net and catching my fish, they were like: Where’d this woman come from; yeah?  So, the Paumotu women would come up to me and say: How come you’re doing this; us women never do that.  And I said: Well, us Hawaiian women do back home.

 

I said: You do what you do, and if you don’t want to watch, you just go away.  So, I’m busy working.

 

Did you pull her braid?

 

No, no, no.  No. And I caught my own fish.  And then, I realized that I couldn’t stay on the island with all these twenty-seven men, alone.  It’s dangerous, you know.  So, he said: I’m gonna teach you how to free-dive, ‘cause we gotta go out fishing.  So, he had a floater on the top, and a rope with knots every so many meters, and down to fifty feet where the big block of cement was on the bottom, sat on the bottom. And my graduation was to go down fifty feet and grab that sand, and bring it up to him, before I could go and fish. ‘Cause I wanted to spearfish so badly. So, I went, and my last day he said: I’m gonna pull that up, and you can’t go out fishing with us.  I was determined.  I went down; I didn’t come back.  And he says: Okay, pull it up.  I said: No, wait; give me one more chance.  He says: You Hawaiian girls can’t do it.  I said: Oh, yeah?  Watch me. I went down, got the sand, came up, and I threw it in his face.  And then, he had a special spear made for me, and he taught me how to spear fish.  And we only caught what we ate.  And so, it was really a wonderful whole year, though, that I learned and I lived there, because I loved the cleanliness.  The water was so pristine, you know, and oh, the air was fresh, and it was wonderful.  It brought back memories of Molokai.

 

You seem like a very hopeful and optimistic person, because you got married again.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, again.

 

Yes.  I probably was looking for like, my grandfather’s image.  You know, ‘cause he was a perfect father, grandfather, husband to my grandmother.  You know, he was a great caretaker, and he was an inspiration.  And I could sit and talk to him.  He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, they were words of wisdom. You know, I look up to him.  And I finally found that man, and that I’m married to now.  Yeah. And he reminds me so much of my grandfather; very dignified, you know, and very caring, and puts me on a pedestal, puts me first like how my grandfather put my grandmother on a pedestal first.  She always came first.

 

Okay; you have to tell us how you met him, then.

 

My husband?

 

Yes.

 

Mike?

 

Mike.

 

We knew each other when I was fifteen years old. When we lived in Halawa Housing, when I was on my vacation, I was only fifteen, and his sister lived right next door to us.  So, that’s how we met.  And then, we didn’t see each other until years later.  I was singing at Chai’s, and he walked in with all of his siblings; yeah?  And his family, and they sat there.  And he was well-dressed.  He’s always well-dressed.  And so, we said hello, but nothing, you know.  I said: Oh, hi.  You know, he came, and I was setting everything up.  He comes on stage, and he says hello to me, you know, and hugs me, and I said, oh, okay.  So, after the show, I usually go and eat at a place; this cook always cooks for me in this small little bar.  And so, I said: Oh; what are you gonna do?  You know.  No; I think he asked me what I was gonna do after the show.  And I said: Hang out with you.  I think that’s what I said.  Yeah?

 

So, that means you made the first move?

 

I think so.  So, I said: Well, I’m gonna go eat; you know, you folks can come out, you know. So, I jumped in his car, and so we went to that place, and we sat together, and we laughed and everything. And then, we started emailing each other.  We exchanged emails, and stuff.  So, that’s how it started.  Yeah. Was really nice.  And after a year, then he proposed to me on one knee.

 

Tell me; was Michael wary of you because there had been several husbands. Three others.

 

You know, I think because he’s so mature, and he’s a smart, very intelligent man, and he had a very good position—he’s a retired quality assurance director for the nuclear subs for the Navy and federal government, and he had a very high, important position.  So, he had a thousand people working under him.  You know, he knows exactly what he wants, and he’s very consistent.  And not only that, he’s very clean and he doesn’t leave a stone unturned.

 

Even if your career had ended twenty-five years ago, you would have had an illustrious career.

 

Yeah; I did.  Yeah.  But you know what?  Getting to where I am now, yeah, if it weren’t for all those curves that I’ve had in my life, I would not be the person that I am today.  Yeah.  And what I love about now is that I have the love that I’ve always wanted, from my husband. You know?  He truly deeply loves me, for me.  And I love that.  You know.

 

You feel like you didn’t really have that before?

 

Not fully.  Something was missing.  But now, it’s just all there.  Everything in the puzzle is there; that last piece is there.

 

In her mid-70s, Melveen Leed confides she worries about losing her voice someday. Yet, at the time of our conversation in the Spring of 2018, the former Miss Molokai says as she’s gotten older, her voice has actually become stronger.  She says she’s able to hit high and low notes that were never part of her register before.  Mahalo to Melveen Leed of Mililani, Central Oahu for sharing part of your life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, 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.

 

For all you Molokai people out there, this is for you. Yee-ha!

 

MOLOKA‘I NUI A HINA
Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu

Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E hoʻi no au e pili

Woo-hoo!

 

 

NA MELE
Genoa Keawe & Family

NA MELE: Genoa Keawe & Family

 

The late Aunty Genoa Keawe, beloved for her aloha spirit and her legendary falsetto singing, was joined in this performance by her sons and grandchildren to kani ka pila in the old-time, good-fun family way. Aunty Genoa plays with sons Eric K. Keawe on guitar and vocals, Arthur Keawe on ukulele and vocals, and Gary Keawe Aiko on upright bass and vocals. Granddaughter Pomaika’i Keawe performs on ukulele and vocals. Two other granddaughters, Kawahineu’iokalani and Sanoe Keawe, provide hula artistry.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Manaola Yap

 

Kohala native Manaola Yap grew up processing dyes from native roots and plants, while helping his mother, kumu hula Nani Lim Yap, create elaborate hula costumes for performances. These early experiences now inform his brand of Hawaiian luxury clothing, Manaola Hawai‘i, which made its New York Fashion Week debut in September 2017.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 27, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Manaola Yap Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

At a MAMo show, I wanted to make underwear, and I actually started with men’s underwear. And that’s a touchy subject. I mean, even at that time when we had first started moving into that space, I did get a lot of backlash. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why is that a touchy subject? I don’t get it.

 

Because it’s kind of promiscuous, and it’s sexy, and a lot of—

 

It’s too personal.

 

It’s too personal. And not only that; they’re like: Oh, you know, it’s exposed, and this and that. And I was like: Okay, well, let’s look at our kupuna. I mean, they were topless. You know, the body was celebrated, all these things. A lot of the mindset that comes from ignorance, and the ignorance of being schooled in the traditional concepts of the missionary mindset.

 

He’s a fast-rising star in the international fashion scene, while he remains firmly rooted in Native Hawaiian culture. The phenomenon known as Manaola Yap, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Top New York fashion houses learned a new name in 2017: Manaola Yap. The name belongs to a young Hawaiian from Kohala, who dazzled with his first runway collection at the prestigious New York Fashion Week. He wowed the audience with bold and modern designs inspired by his knowledge of Native Hawaiian culture. Manaola Yap was born on Hawaii Island to Edward Yap and Nani Lim Yap, who are both Hawaiian music teachers and entertainers deeply immersed in their cultural heritage. In addition, mother Nani, from the renowned Lim musical ohana in Kohala, is a much respected kumu hula. These parents gave their son a powerful and eclectic name, Manaola, which mean life force. It’s just part of his name.

 

First of all, there’s your name.

 

Yes.

 

And I’m not talking about Manaola. [CHUCKLE]

 

Okay. So—

 

How did you get your name? And what is your name?

 

My full name. Okay; so my full name is Carrington—

 

Carrington?

 

Yes; Carrington first.

 

Where did that come from?

 

So, Carrington actually came from Dynasty.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The soap opera. So, my mother and her friend loved Dynasty, and they loved Blake Carrington. And at that time, I think all women did at that time. [CHUCKLE] So, when they were in the hospital, they were watching … or during just that whole time through their pregnancy, they were watching Dynasty, the show. And they and they had a bet that whoever would give birth first would be Blake, and the second would be Carrington. So, her son is Blake, and I’m Carrington.

 

And has anyone ever called you Carrington, really?

 

Yeah. It’s kind of funny, because I feel like my name changed throughout my lifetime thus far. So, I have people that still call me Carrington from, you know, certain events and circles of my mom’s social circles that she has. And then, some call me Manaola, some call me Mana, some call me Bubba. A lot of people call me Bubba.

 

Why Bubba?

 

My sister used to call me Bubba when she was small. And a lot of people in our hula halau, and that’s close to the family. In my family too, they call me Bubba. So, it’s definitely changed. So, Carrington is my first, Edward is my middle name. Well, one of my middle names; that’s from my dad, got that from my dad. So, Carrington Edward, and then Manaolahoowaiwaiikaleikaumakalani. [CHUCKLE] It’s a long one.

 

Now, if Manaola means life force, what does the rest mean?

 

The whole idea, because the name can be read in many different ways. Manaolahoowaiwaiikaleikaumakalani is heaven’s power of life enriching the beloved child. And my aunt, who named me, she’s a late kumu hula, her name was Joan Lindsey, she’s ohana on my mom’s dad’s side. And when she named me, she named me with the intention that everyone that will look upon Manaola in his lifetime will be looked upon with love, with eyes of kindness and love only.

 

Do you think names shape you?

 

Definitely; I’m totally a firm believer in the belief of a name and the energy that a name has once it’s borne into the air. Totally.

 

I know your mom is part of the Lim family, which is legendary. Would you tell us about her family, and then your dad’s family?

 

Yeah.

 

The Yap family.

 

My mom’s family is the Lim ohana. They used to live up on Puu Hoi Ranch. My grandfather was the foreman for Parker Ranch; he’s one of the original cowboys. They grew up in a very, very country style traditional home. My grandpa on my mom’s side was also very Chinese, as well.

 

And there are members of the family all over the Kohala side, generally performing, generally music.

 

Yeah; lots of music and dance, too. My cousin Namakana, she’s actually a Miss Aloha Hula. She’s a really, really beautiful dancer, as well. And aside from our main family, my mom’s also graduated a bunch of kumu that have passed on her legacy of dance. And not even just dancing alone; my mom has also shaped them into beautiful women.

 

And is your father on the creative side, as well?

 

My dad’s super-creative. So, Edward Yap; he’s from Honolulu. My dad and his whole family; very, very loving as well.

 

Your father is Chinese, or Chinese Hawaiian?

 

Chinese Hawaiian; yeah. So, my dad’s Chinese Hawaiian side, he grew up doing a lot of kung fu, martial arts, and all of that, and then, passed that on to me, as well.

 

From a young age, Manaola Yap gravitated toward performing arts and design. By age thirteen, he already started one of several businesses that would help him express his passion for the arts, and put money in his pocket.

 

I always also had a fascination in Asian art and artifacts. Actually, all kinds of ancient artifacts from all over the world. I was also known in my community in Waikoloa. Still yet, they still kinda know me, the old-timers; they know me as the boy that did the garage sale. So, I used to have this big garage sale in our garage, and in our whole lot, actually, full of muumuu, old costumes, fabric, kitchenware, old furniture. All kinds of stuff.

 

And did people negotiate with you?

 

Oh, all the time.

 

And did you like that part?

 

I loved it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But in the midst of all of this, ‘cause I know how collectors work, I would put one artifact. Like, I’d put a bunch of, you know, junky things, tchotchkes and all that, and then in the middle of that, I’d put like a Ming Dynasty sculpture in the middle, and just see. Because you can tell if a collector has an eye. And they’ll kinda like pick it right out of the bunch, and they’ll just walk by and be like: Oh, my god, like, they probably don’t even know what it is. [CHUCKLE] And the first piece I sold was a wooden Kwan Yin statue. And I think I sold it for like, six hundred bucks. Should have been sixteen hundred, at least. Sold it for six hundred bucks. And my dad’s like: What are you doing? He’s like, You’re not gonna sell that here. You know, he was like: I don’t think people are gonna buy that kinda stuff. And this guy came out; he was like: How much is that? I’m like: Six hundred bucks. And he pulled out cash, and my dad was like, whoa.

 

And how old were you at this point?

 

At that point, I was like thirteen; twelve or thirteen. Yeah. And a lot of people would come in. And at that time, you know, purchases with designers that were coming in were already spending around seven to eight thousand dollars at a time, in my house.

 

On the Kohala Coast of Hawaii Island, Manaola Yap’s mother, Nani Lim Yap, creates hula shows based on Hawaiian mythology. As a keiki, Manaola would assist in the creative costuming, which would set him on the path to fashion desing.

 

Being in the entertainment business in the Kohala Coast, it was important for us to figure out a way to engage the audience, because they didn’t understand much of what we were doing, or dancing about. So, what Mom started to do, a lot of different people started to do is, create little hula dramas, even in her productions. So, hula dramas where we would explain, you know, the storyline. We’d read a story, tell you what the story is about, and then dance the dance, so that you could make the reference of: Oh, she’s pulling something or, Oh, a volcanic explosion happened. Those kinds of things, so that they could see us becoming the dance, and really make that connection and help them be engaged in the story. So, when that happened, that lent for creative costume. It gave us the creative freedom to be able to step outside of the box, and really start to be expressive in our costume. ‘Cause we were able to look at mythology and say: Oh, she wore a skirt of flames, or Oh, she wore a skirt made of lightning bolts.

 

As the person who’s gonna come up with this costume, how do you do that? What comes to mind?

 

That was the most exciting part of my childhood, the fact that every day, like, my mom was putting together a show, she’d be like: Okay, we have to make a headpiece for Namakaokahai. Okay, she’s the sister of Pele, she’s the sea goddess. Okay, so we’d go to the ocean and we’d find things and be creative.

 

How fun.

 

Yeah.

 

And deep.

 

And deep; definitely. Or we’d go to the forest and be like, okay, Hiiaka, she had pau palai, which is a skirt made of palai ferns.

 

M-hm.

 

So, we’d go and, you know, gather those kinds of things, or look at, Okay, how can we imitate this fern through this fabric, how can we texture this, how can we, you know, add a train that looks like a lava flow. That whole thing really was a start of me getting into costuming and fashion. And what would happen is, after the show was done, even with our myth show, we had girls that were like: Oh, my god, could I borrow this top to go out after? Like, I’m just gonna put jeans with it. And you know, they would go out, and they’d use it. Or they’d be like: Oh, you know, I have a red carpet event, or I’m going to this fancy dinner, can I wear this outfit? And that whole thing started a conversation with other artists or other friends, dancers that would be like: Oh, you know, I’m going to the Hokus, can you make me this outfit; this should be at the Hokus, you know, not just in a show. So, I was like, okay. So, I would create different looks for them, but everything was always done by hand; you know, the concept. I’d draw the concept, we’d cut the patterns, me and Mom would cut the patterns. And Iwa; Iwalani too, she was a really, really important part of my journey, Iwalani. She has her own line, Iwa Wai. But she also was a very close friend that helped me with my construction in summer.

 

You had crossed that divide. You had decided, I’m now gonna charge for costuming, for clothes.

 

Not even yet.

 

You’re doing this for free?

 

I was still doing that for free, even for the Hokus. I didn’t know how. You know. I think the first person I charged … even that was really hard for me.

 

Well, they were your friends, too.

 

They were my friend, too; right? And the way that we create is, I want to know them first. I want to know what is something that they’re missing, or are they a very aggressive person, what can I do in this design to soften that, or help to balance them. That’s what our job is.

 

Well, that sounds a little spiritual, right there.

 

Yeah; totally. So, that’s actually what the brand is based off of, that concept of balance for lifestyle.

 

And somehow, you worked through your feeling like: I can’t charge for this, this is spiritual, this is mana.

 

Definitely. Because what I was able to do is, I was able to see that this piece created … one thing for sure, it’s definitely a different time. Yeah? So, one thing is the times have changed, and there’s that adaptation to time. And also, that the piece itself has been able to change someone, and create more money to create more products, to change more people, and to move our mission forward to help to sustain indigenous culture.

 

Manaola Yap began creating fashion pieces for the Maoli Arts Movement, or MAMo, a festival that celebrates Native Hawaiian art. In 2014, he decided to make a bold statement at MAMo with his very first clothing line.

 

When we did the underwear, that was the scary one for me. Because I was like: Mom, I’m gonna make an underwear. My theme was Kumulipo, we did all the first wa, which is all the animals and the sea creatures. And there was this boy, and he really was an aspiring underwear model, so I was like: Okay, you’re perfect, we’ll do him. He had a great body and all this. And my mom sewed the underwear. So, we cut the underwear, we printed it, we sewed it. And I just remember, you know, we’re in the back, and … it was a big move for us, you know, to even put him out there. We were just like: Oh, my gosh. First of all, even the whole collection itself was artistically very beautiful. Some things were a little sexy. And you know, we had gone to the rehearsal, we had seen the regular muumuu, the traditional beautiful arts, tattoo, and all these different things. And … I literally went in the back, and I was like, freaking out. I was like: Mom, they’re gonna think we’re crazy. I was like: I can’t do this, we gotta pull out of this, we can’t even present. And she’s like: Oh, absolutely not. [CHUCKLE] She’s like: We just came all the way over here.

 

She’s a rock, isn’t she?

 

Yeah, yeah. She’s like: No, no. She’s like: What is your intention? You know, I had listed my intention, this is what I want to do. And then, even with the underwear, I was like: Should we take it out, should we not do it? She’s like: What’s your intention? I was like: Okay; well, I’m trying to think like a smart Hawaiian here. Okay; a smart Hawaiian businessman, we’re looking at underwear. Okay; first of all, Hawaiian underwear is sexy. Right? And that’s what drives this marketplace, whether you like it or not. And any marketing advertising is gonna tell you that is the main attraction, human attraction to sales. It’s a sexy thing. Two, I’ve always wanted to see a Hawaiian man underwear model ad, big. We’re still working on it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I also looked at the underwear being something we need every day. You know, that’s something we use every day, and it makes you feel good. I love a good pair of underwear; they’re always under my basketball shorts and my tank top. But, that is something that we always want to use. So, she’s like: Well, if that’s your intention … there’s your intention. And we’re like, freaking out in the back. Of course, now things have changed, ever since we’ve opened that gap. But if you look at it before, we’re just like: Oh, my god, like … you know, should we like, do a reveal, or should we like, have him just be like, boom, he’s in his underwear. You know, like, what do we do?

 

What happens is, you feel naked.

 

Yeah, yeah; exactly.

 

And you’re exposed.

 

Exactly; we’re exposed. So, we’re like: No, you know what, do all your traditional protocol, do your oli like you normally do, and then on the end, we’ll put him out. So, he had a tie on, he had like a wrap on. And you know, he’s just walking out, and everybody’s just like, watching. And all of a sudden, he just drops his wrap. And all the forks and everything, you could just hear go, clank.

 

Clatter. [CHUCKLE]

 

And just dead silence, and everybody was just like … looking at him. And then, I was like: Oh, my god, they’re gonna kill us. And it was so funny, because I had a lot of traditionalists that were in the audience, too. We had, you know, a lot of kupuna, too. But the funny part was, when I was outside, you know, like taking pictures with my gang, so many people too, that were … I won’t mention their names, but very, very influential people in the Hawaiian community, they came up to me and they were like … Oh, my god, brother, don’t tell anybody, but that was awesome. I can’t believe you did that; that was the most amazing thing that ever happened.

 

So, private approval.

 

Yeah; private approval, you know. And then, later on, you know, I even had some artists too that later on did buy my underwear. And they’re like: [GASP] I have your underwear on right now, they’re so cool. But don’t tell anybody. You know, that kinda thing.

 

But I mean, you want to create something that will be useful.

 

Exactly; useful, for sure, and comfortable and fun. And that’s why with that underwear, I feel like you could feel as that whole wrap dropped, that the whole history of Hawaii changed that day.

 

Manaola Yap learned traditional Hawaiian clothing techniques through his kupuna, and he picked up modern design through experimentation with his mother’s creative hula costuming. He knew early on that college and fashion school were not for him.

 

My background in design, and everything that I do, comes from hula, from dance. You know, I do not name myself to be a designer that went to school and did all of that. I never really pursued going to fashion school. And it wasn’t really necessarily because I know it all, and I knew it all, and all that. It was more so because I also didn’t want to tamper with the organic nature of my mind and my creative mind, and how it was nurtured in that space, especially being on the Big Island. I didn’t want anything to interfere with it, so that I could keep it as authentic as possible. Because that is something in the industry that … corporations at large have the hardest time to develop, especially when selling to a consumer or to even make that exchange, you know, in business. So, that was my choice; from a long time, I was already thinking ahead.

 

Pewa, for me, was created … it’s a very traditional design, and this sample can actually be found, the original sample can actually be found in the Bishop Museum, where a lot of the native artifacts are kept. I chose pewa because for me, it spoke to me on a different level. Pewa are the fishtail repairs that are used in woodwork, in traditional woodwork. And I bent the patterns back and forth because in today’s time, we’re open to a lot more new ideas.

 

Just three years after launching his Native Hawaiian inspired clothing label, Manaola Yap was able to establish a retail store called Hula Lehua at Ala Moana Shopping Center. Then came the national spotlight; he received a coveted invitation to showcase his collection at the prestigious New York Fashion Week 2017.

 

They actually came upon us by reviewing Honolulu Fashion Week, which is a production that’s done by Lynne O’Neill and Honolulu Magazine. But they went online, and they watched that whole, you know, Honolulu Fashion Week, and watched all the designs. And then, they had sent us the invitation. So, out of the eight thousand, there’s about twenty-four designers that show throughout four countries, which is London, Paris, Milan, and New York. And out of those twenty-four designers, only ten designers get exclusive shows. We were very honored to have been able to show a full collection, which is super-crazy, especially for our first time in New York.

 

How much time did you have to get ready for this?

 

We had about three weeks.

 

Three weeks?

 

M-hm.

 

What did you have to do, to get ready?

 

Everything from … we textiled everything from scratch, we had to print all the fabrics from scratch, cut and sew. We had to fit, we had to silhouette all the pieces. And I’m a crazy, so we actually had more than the amount of pieces that we put in. We finished at about forty pieces; we did forty looks in that collection. It was actually the largest collection Oxford had ever shown in all four countries. Period. Which was kind of crazy. [CHUCKLE] But that’s always how I’ve been. I just love creating things, so yeah; it was definitely a crazy journey. We also broke some of the rules, because we really, really wanted to share some of the local talent, especially with the models. ‘Cause we had been working with these models that have supported us all these few years.

 

Normally, you would use the models up there.

 

It’s usually only industry models.

 

Oh; so how did you get the local girls in?

 

So, when they looked at us, they loved the fact that we’re based in indigenous culture, and that we’re a cultural label, which is something that they had only really seen a lot in African designers at the time, Indian designers, Chinese, Japanese, those kind of things. But nothing in the context of looking on the Polynesian side, for couture especially. So, when they seen that, they thought that that was super-interesting. But I was like: Okay, if that’s the thing, then you have to have some Hawaiians then, because that’s the uniqueness of the brand, and that’s what makes us who we are; it’s the people. We also had some that were native-speaking, which was very, you know, important to us, as well.

 

And I understand you had a Go Fund Me campaign.

 

We had a Go Fund Me campaign.

 

You didn’t have a bunch of money lying around to go to New York with all these people.

 

Oh, no; not at all. Yeah; we did not have the the means to go. ‘Cause even when we first did it, I was like: There’s no way we’re gonna go to New York. You know. ‘Cause our company is based on organic growth, completely.

 

Were you behind stage, or next to the runway? Where were you?

 

Oh; I stood on the side of the runway so that I could watch. It was an intense moment. Even the people in the audience, I think, a lot of them were pretty blown away, because especially how we started the show. We started with protocol. That’s usually how we always start. I always start with a hula. And for me, that’s creating the ceremony for us as a label for this time as a brand is, I always set hula first. Because like I said, hula is where I come from. That is my world, that is what I know. You know. And that’s where my source of inspiration, and everything is borne from that place. So, I use that ceremony and that dance to start um, our runway shows.

 

Does an individual garment tell a story?

 

So, it depends. Some pieces have different inspiration. So, some things are basic silhouettes that are, you know, flattering, comfortable, especially to what the market is bearing at the time. I have one top that is very special to me; it’s called the Hihimanu top. The Hihimanu top is inspired by the Hihimanu, its namesake, which is the big stingray, manta rays. You know how they have those big wings, and their tail. Then, some of them, I get really, really intense with. And then, that was the last piece that was on the runway, one of our finale dresses. That piece was dedicated to Liliu, Liliuokalani, our last reigning monarch. So, creating the mourning garment to mourn the loss of the lahui, of the Kingdom, in remembrance of Liliu, and in remembrance of the Kingdom, but also to show the forward movement in that garment. So, the garment is actually all black, and it’s the only piece that was all black in the whole collection.

 

Did you get a good crowd for your appearance?

 

Yes. Our show was actually over sold out. But yeah, I think it was great. And it was really good for us to go up there, especially for Hawaii.

 

[DRAMATIC MUSIC]

 

Anything that we do outside, our heart’s always here first. And you know, whether it be New York or London, Paris, wherever we may go next, it’s always making sure that we have that sense of pride at home, because that’s our home base.

 

Because of his selection for New York Fashion Week, Manaola Yap gained the opportunity to showcase his work at the other fashion weeks in London, Paris, and Milan. In 2016, Hawaii Business Magazine celebrated Yap as one of its 20 for the Next 20, and Honolulu Magazine named him Islander of the Year in Fashion. It’s quick and high ascent for Manaola. At the time of our conversation in Fall of 2017, he was just thirty years old. Mahalo to Kohala native Manaola Yap, now living in Honolulu, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, 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.

 

I used hula as a … example. I looked at hula, and I looked at … ‘cause I always go back to the dance. Any time I’m stuck, any time I need an answer, I always go back to the dance. And sometimes, I even just dance, myself, because it gives me that clearance and that space for me to think.

 

[END]

 

 

FAMILY INGREDIENTS
Lānaʻi, Hawaiʻi ‐ Venison

 

Cultural pride can be found everywhere in world but on the tiny island of Lanaʻi, one woman makes it a way of life. Hula dancer and sustainable hunter Anela Evans is remarkable in many ways but it is the memory of her father and her love of all things Hawaiian that keeps this young woman committed to championing the land she walks on.

 

 



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