When Kainani Kahaunaele releases a new album, the entire island chain of Hawai‘i pays attention.
Despite a year's worth of covid-related restictions and lockdowns, her 2020 release, Waipunalei, saw a massive outpouring of support and interest, most notably seen during the December 2020 live streaming release party event on Facebook. Comments flooded the stream with no end in sight, the entire Hawaiian music community awash with her adoring fans.
The following year, Waipunalei would earn her an unprecedented seven (7!) awards at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano ceremony. In short: she swept the place!
When we first heard her CD (Waipunalei was originally released in full on CD and digital, accompanied by a 4-song EP on 12" vinyl), we instantly fell in love. But it wasn't until the very last song on the album that we found a truly head-turning track (to our AGS-attuned ears, at least!) — this was "He Lei Aloha No Mī Nei", and the opening bars immediately drew us in for a surefire R&B ride.
The song, or mele, is a Sade-inspired take on Hawaiian music. melding the beauty of the Hawaiian language with a heavenly R&B groove.
For Kainani, mele is rooted in the lyrics, which come from a Hawaiian worldview.
“To me, that’s the most important part. And when that part is set, there really is no limit to what kind of music you can put around it to support the mele.” With “He Lei Aloha No Mī Nei”, she achieves that with a shining example for generations past and present to carry the Hawaiian language into the future.
Reminiscent of Nohelani Cypriano’s “Lihue” — the 1979 cult classic that expanded the sound of Hawai‘i with its unexpectedly funky, tropical flavor — “He Lei Aloha No Mī Nei” charges forward into the 21st century with the same spirit. Kainani’s gentle voice and lyrics float across shimmering vocal arrangements and soft touches of piano, accompanied by tasteful drum programming, acoustic guitars swaying like palms against the calming warmth of the bass line.
Known throughout Hawai‘i as one of the archipelago’s greatest advocates of the native Hawaiian language ('Ōlelo Hawai’i), singer-songwriter and educator Kainani Kahaunaele finds music is one of her best methods for perpetuating the language. “I have to be the example that Hawaiian is a living language that you can apply in all facets of your life,” she told the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in a 2021 interview.
As the closing track on her award-winning album, Waipunalei, “He Lei Aloha No Mī Nei” stands out from the rest of the album with its modern R&B style. Instead of composing in a familiar “cha-lang-a-lang” style, Kainani and her collaborators deliberately placed the song, or mele, outside the box of what might typically considered “Hawaiian music”.
We are honored to have Kainani's blessing to press this mele to vinyl, accompanied on the flip side by the "minus one" version — aka the instrumental. Who knows, might be the next song you hear at karaoke!
AGS-069 is available on May 27, 2022 on 7-inch vinyl and housed in a full color jacket with full color labels. A special violet colorway is availble exclusive on Bandcamp for sound waves members.