On Kalapana: Kainani Kahaunaele celebrates the mele and legacy of Kalapana

Music transports us to the past and roots us in the present. 

The music of Kalapana does just that — and so does the mele of Kainani Kahaunaele, whose craft is rooted not just in the past, but pushes the present forward into the future with progressive sounds that meld Hawaiian music with contemporary sounds of the 20th and 21st centuries. 


Photo from BigIslandMusic.net.

Born and raised in Anahola, Kauaʻi Kainani has lived in Hilo, Hawaiʻi for 27+ years as an advocate for Hawaiian language revitalization and the perpetuation of Hawaiian music through education and performance. While earning her B.A in Hawaiian Studies and Master’s degree in Hawaiian Literature at Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language and Literature of UH Hilo, she sang professionally and composed traditional songs (haku mele) as Hawaiian language curriculum for ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a pioneering Hawaiian language revitalization program. Her work promots the documentation of Hawai‘i's current history through mele and has garnered multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards along the way. Kainani certainly is one of the most notable talents of her generation.

Recently, shared with us heartfelt, touching stories about her experiences of and encounters with Kalapana and their music.


Kainani (second from left) with Malani Bilyeu (far right) at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. 

What is your all-time favorite Kalapana track? Why do you love it?

For You I'd Chase A Rainbow.

This mele takes me back to my childhood with my mom, her siblings, and cousins. Kalapana's music was heard in the house, in the garage, in the VW van, at the beach and everyone knew all the words. The sax intro leaves an indelible mark in the listener's ear and mind while Malani Bilyeu's tender and masterful delivery of his mele brings us right into the relationship. I wish I could have experienced Kalapana in their heyday at the Waikīkī Shell.

How has Kalapana and their music influenced you as an artist?

Mahalo for their influence!

Hawaiians and local boys making it big, reaching the youth especially with their songwriting, musicianship, and easy-to-connect-with persona. Their music endures through the generations. Songwriting skills are high level. I also like their fashion style as a band which was to wear a style true to each individual. And then, isn't Kalapana a beautiful name to utter? It's a long Hawaiian name, easy to pronounce, belongs to a band who plays contemporary music, and is known all over the world!

Tell us your best classic Kalapana story — whether you knew the band personally, met them in person, or are just a fan of their music.

When I got to see a Kalapana show as an adult in Honolulu, it was so exciting to sing along with the crowd as they reminisced their youth and memorable moments. I wished that my uncles and aunties on Kauaʻi could have been there too with me so I could hear their moʻolelo and reminiscing through Kalapana songs.

Another story goes like this: Long ago, I was playing music with my band Kahikina at Cronies Bar and Grill in Downtown Hilo and on that same weekend, we got notice that Mackey Feary was coming in to play, with hardly any time to advertise it. Advertising took time and money, not like the way we instantly and freely share the news of our gigs nowdays.

We were absolutely starstruck to meet Mackey and witness his life through his and Kalapana's songs. No camera handy, no packed house. It turned out to be an intimate show and I remember just about everyone who came in the door had the same reaction. His voice greeted each patron before they got a good look. What?!! Mackey Feary?!?! Fo real?!?!? No, no can be!! Well, it was indeed Mackey Feary and twas a great musical night. Not too long after that, he passed away.

Learn more about Kainani Kahaunaele's music at www.kainanikahaunaele.com and @kainanimusic


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