immersion

Ahumanu
Maui-based Trio

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Ahumanu on Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song

Members of Ahumanu: Kekai Robinson, Marja Lehua Apisaloma and Liz Morales

 

Like the latest smartphone or computer software, Ahumanu founding member Liz Morales calls the band’s third and current lineup of band members “Ahumanu 3.0.”

 

It’s not unusual for bands to see lineup changes. But Morales, a former radio personality, is confident that this version is something special.

 

“We have our own sound, and that comes from working with what we have,” Morales says. “Since we had so many different players, each version of Ahumanu sounded very different, so I think it’s only until Ahumanu 3.0 that I realized, hey, this is kind of different, I like it.”

 

Marja Lehua Apisaloma and Kekai Robinson round out the Maui trio, whose name translates as “a gathering of birds.” Each member brings her own contributions to the Ahumanu table.

 

Ahumanu on Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song

 

Apisaloma says her day job as a registered nurse helps add some level of authenticity to the group’s music – a reminder of how much they have to be thankful for, down to the most essential details.

 

“We can breathe and we can use the bathroom on our own, we can walk on our own, we can speak,” she says. “You see all of that as a nurse and see people at their most vulnerable times. It’s such a drastic difference from the entertainment industry because you put on a face and it’s all a show.”

 

Robinson, who heads Hawaiian immersion school Ke Kula ʻO Piʻilani by day, says Ahumanu is an extension of the community work that’s played an important role in her life.

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN MUSIC - Ahumanu airs Monday, February 24 at 7:30 pm. Sponsored by: Hawaiian Airlines and First Hawaiian Bank“I practice Hawaiian oli (chants), and those are the messages and the voices of our ancestors coming through,” she says. “The messages that they give us are relevant now, so there’s a great sense of responsibility there to do the same in our music.”

 

That responsibility shows in songs like “Kahi Aloha,” one of several songs that Ahumanu performs on an upcoming episode of PBS Hawaiʻi’s Nā Mele: Traditions in Hawaiian Song. Originally written as a wedding gift, “Kahi Aloha” has taken on a larger meaning in Robinson’s eyes.

 

“Aloha has become a big part of this contemporary move towards protecting our environment, protecting what we have,” she says. “When you stand in aloha, you can come at me and bring whatever it is that you are to me, but I am going to stand here and remain respectful towards you. It’s a discipline, and so, I understand it now. It’s not our normal state. We want to work towards aloha being a normal state.”

 

Through their weekly pau hana performances in Kahului, Ahumanu has a regular platform to share their messages in song, with authenticity, respect and love. Ahumanu 3.0 is on a roll, and Morales ponders what’s next.

 

“I’d like to be a resource for the next generation of musicians that would like to do this,” she says. “Growing up in this field, it was such a mess. I didn’t know how to get where I wanted to be and those lines were so unclear … [now] I’m living the life, having a great time and very happy that I’m able to help perpetuate what we’ve known forever: Hawaiian music.”

 

 

NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG
Kalani Peʻa

 

For a young Kalani Peʻa, music wasn’t just a hobby he enjoyed – it was also therapy, as he worked through a childhood speech impediment. On a new NĀ MELE: TRADITIONS IN HAWAIIAN SONG, the Grammy and Nā Hōkū-winning singer and his band perform selections from his albums, E Walea and No ʻAneʻi in the PBS Hawaiʻi studio. Discover Peʻa’s humble beginnings in Panaʻewa, Hawaiʻi Island, his creative drive and how music changed his life.

 

More from Kalani Peʻa:

 

Music Saved Me

 

There’s Beauty Everywhere

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Hawaiian Language

 

Ka ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, once forbidden in schools and nearly lost, is flourishing again in these Islands. In 1978, it became the official state language along with English. It lives in song, in books, in the daily lives of Hawai‘i residents and in schools dedicated to perpetuating native culture. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll discuss the Hawaiian language with guests Christopher Kaliko Baker, Assistant Professor, Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa; Manu Boyd, kumu hula, musician, Cultural Consultant at Kamehameha Schools; Kamalei Krug, a graduate of the DOE’s Hawaiian Language Immersion Program; and Amy Kalili, Director at Mokuola Honua Global Center for Indigenous Language Excellence.

 

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