Kūpuna

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.”

 

 

 

PBS HAWAIʻI PRESENTS
Hawaiian Voices: Bridging Past to Present

HAWAIIAN VOICES: 
Bridging Past to Present

 

This documentary honors the role of kupuna in preserving Hawaiian culture, and taps into the valuable memories and perspectives of three respected Hawaiian elders whose lives bridged the transition from older times into the late 20th century.

 

 




HIKI NŌ
Lokahi Program

 

TOP STORY

 

“Lokahi Program”
Students from McKinley High School on Oʻahu feature their school’s Lokahi Program, an outreach activity in which students bond with senior citizens at the Kulana Hale Senior Apartments in Honolulu. The students organize an annual senior citizen prom for the residents and lead activities such as arts and crafts and karaoke. Friendships between kupuna and teens, such as the one between resident Faye Kubo and student Regina Nguyen, blossom. Says Regina, “The way I see Faye is the way I see my friends at school. We can literally talk about anything.” Faye says that through her interaction with Regina and other students, “I learn that there’s hope.”

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

Students from Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului profile a married couple that wanted to start a family and ended up turning to adoption to find their bundle of joy.

 

Students from Waiʻanae Intermediate School in West Oʻahu discover the values a judo instructor teaches his students.

 

Students from Kalākaua Intermediate School in the Kalihi district of Oʻahu introduce us to a local sculptor who uses invasive tree branches to create a replica of an ancient voyaging canoe.

 

Students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kauaʻi feature a singing nun who uses music to teach her students valuable lessons.

 

A violinist from H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui presents us with an introspective video self-portrait.

 

Plus—a public service announcement from students at Kealakehe Intermediate School on Hawaiʻi Island raises awareness about human trafficking.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ also features students’ profiles on their HIKI NŌ teachers.

 

 

 

The Films of Eddie & Myrna Kamae,
From the Heart

All 10 films are available to watch below until April 6, 2018.

The Films of Eddie & Myrna Kamae - From the Heart

 

The Films of Eddie and Myrna Kamae, From the Heart is PBS Hawai‘i’s on-air and online film festival that showcases all 10 award-winning documentaries in the Kamaes’ Hawaiian Legacy Series, released between 1988 and 2007. Eddie Kamae, who passed away in January 2017, was well known for his contributions to Hawaiian music. With his wife Myrna, he also made films that perpetuated Hawai‘i’s cultural heritage for future generations.


 

Liʻa: Legacy of a Hawaiian Man

Liʻa: The Legacy of a Hawaiian Man

(1988)

This documentary celebrates the music and spirit of Big Island performer and composer, Sam Li‘a Kalainaina (1881-1975). It is also about a place, Waipi‘o Valley, and a life shaped and nourished by that place. This film’s world premiere opened the 1988 Hawai‘i International Film Festival.

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Those Who Came Before
: The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae

Those Who Came Before: The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae

(2009)

The Kamae’s final documentary pays tribute to the music of Hawaiians, whose gifts of knowledge helped guide Eddie Kamae. His pursuits led him to some of the most respected gate-keepers of the Hawaiian Renaissance: the author and translator Mary Kawena Pukui, the “Songwriter of Waipi‘o” Sam Li‘a, “Aloha Chant” author Pilahi Paki, and Hawaiian cultural resource Lilia “Mama” Hale. One by one, they entrusted him with key pieces of Hawai‘i’s musical heritage – inspiring him to understand, perform, and pass on to the children of Hawai‘i.

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Lahaina: 
Waves of Change

Lahaina: Waves of Change

(2007)

In 1999, Eddie Kamae visited Lahaina, only to find that Pioneer Mill, the center of Lahaina’s sugar industry, was closing down. It was the end of an era – a simpler, more innocent time that Eddie remembers from visiting his grandmother during childhood summers in Lahaina. Eddie leads us through many of the changes Lahaina has undergone, both historical and personal. And despite all of the radical changes and tumultuous times Lahaina has experienced, it remains a sacred Hawaiian place, not because of what has been built upon it, but because of what is in the hearts of people who live there.

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The History of the Sons of Hawai‘i

The History of the Sons of Hawaii

(2000)

This documentary tells the story of the charismatic band that helped launch the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. Spanning 40 years of Hawai‘i’s rich musical tradition, the film offers an intimate look at a unique group of performers and composers: their songs, their humor and their devotion to a sound that continues to convey something essential about the Hawaiian spirit.

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Kī hōʻalu Slack Key: The Hawaiian Way

Kī Hōʻalu: Slack Key, The Hawaiian Way

(1993)

Kī hō‘alu (slack key) is the Hawaiian way of making music. Performers and composers reveal how this unique style of playing conveys something essential about the Hawaiian spirit and the Hawaiian family tradition.

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Luther Kahekili Makekau: A One Kine Hawaiian Man

Luther Kahekili Makekau: A One Kine Hawaiian Man

(1997)

This documentary pays tribute to the untamed spirit of a colorful and controversial Hawaiian man. Known throughout the islands, Luther Makekau was part philosopher and part outlaw, a chanter and a singer, a fighter, a lover, a cattle rustler, a rebel and a poet. Born on Maui in 1890, during the reign of King Kalākaua, he lived nearly 100 years, shaped by a century of turbulent cultural change.

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Listen to the Forest

Listen to the Forest

(1991)

This environmental documentary speaks of the widespread concern for rainforest preservation, while reminding us of traditional Hawaiian values. Interviews, chants, and original songs and dances give voice to an older form of ecological wisdom summed up in the phrase “mālama ‘āina,” to take care of the land.

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HAWAIIAN VOICES
: Bridging Past to Present

Hawaiian Voices: Bridging Past to Present

(1998)

This documentary honors the role of kūpuna (elders) in preserving Hawaiian culture. It focuses on the legacies of three respected Hawaiian elders whose lives bridged the transition from older times into the late 20th century. They are Ruth Makaila Kaholoa‘a, age 93, of the Big Island; Lilia Wahinemaika‘i Hale, age 85, of O‘ahu and Molokai; and Reverend David “Kawika” Ka‘alakea, age 78, of Maui. Each is a living archive of invaluable lore and recollection, a treasure whose stories, memories and perspectives need to be shared as a way of bringing the healing wisdom of the past into the often fragmented world of the present.

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WORDS, EARTH & ALOHA: The Source of Hawaiian Music

Words, Earth & Aloha: The Source of Hawaiian Music

(1995)

In Hawai‘i, music has always been much more than a form of entertainment. Through the centuries, it has been a primary means of cultural continuity. This documentary pays tribute to a wide range of composers who flourished between the 1870s and the 1920s, and for whom Hawaiian was still a first language. The film explores the poetry and play of Hawaiian lyrics, as well as the places and features of the natural world that inspired songs still loved and listened to today.

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KEEPERS OF THE FLAME: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women

Keepers of the Flame: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women

(2005)

This documentary chronicles the lives of three Hawaiian women who helped to save the Hawaiian culture, which was in serious peril. The combined artistry and aloha of Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Iolani Luahine and Edith Kanaka‘ole “helped to revive the flame of traditional Hawaiian culture – a flame that had almost died,” says Eddie Kamae in his on-camera introduction to the film.

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