For the Love of Hawaiian

She comes from a family of Kaua’i musicians, but it was Hawaiian language that inspired Kainani Kahaunaele to a music career

Kainani Kahaunaele was raised in Anahola surrounded by generations of musical talent, but it wasn’t until she pursued her degree in Hawaiian language that her passion to create Hawaiian music grew.

“My family is very musical, and my mom (Lady Ipo) is a local entertainer. My grandparents and great-grandparents all were musically talented, so we always had music around,” says Kahaunaele. “Whether in church or my high school choir or at all the family parties, we always were doing music.

Kainani (right) with her ohana (from left) Kaniaulono Hapai (3), Marianne Ayau (17), Keonaona Hapai (11), Halealoha Ayau and Ha'enaala Hapai (2 months)

“When I went off to college, that’s when I knew that music would be a career path for me, but prior to that it was just part of family life and I didn’t look at it as a career.” Kahaunaele says as a kid she wanted to be a chef and a teacher. Well, all seems to have fallen into place: Kahaunaele is now a Hawaiian language teacher at UH-Hilo and admits that she’s a pretty good cook.

Her schooling took her from Kapa’a High School to Kaua’i Community College and finally to UH-Hilo, which she currently calls home.

Her plans, however, are to eventually make her way back to her Garden Island home.

“I think I’ll be in Hilo for a while and on Molokai for a while, but I will end up on Kaua’i,” she says. “I’m committed to serving my home community, whether it’s through music or education.”

Just last month, Kahaunaele released her second album, ‘Ohai ‘Ula. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she and her husband Halealoha Ayau also celebrated the arrival their baby girl Ha’enaala in May.

Kainani Kahaunaele

For the mother of two – her oldest is 3-year-old Kaniaulono – family life remains at the core of all her endeavors, including her music.

“My family definitely earned some of the songs on the CD,” she says. “I have songs for my daughters, songs for my husband, songs for my best friends and their mothers. They’ve definitely played a very important role in the outcome of this album.”

Seven years after the release of her first album Na’u ‘Oe, which garnered her three Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in 2004 for Most Promising Artist, Hawaiian Language Performance and Female Vocalist of the Year, Kahaunaele says she hopes her new album will show growth and maturity. And to ensure her vision was executed perfectly she teamed up with Na Hoku award-winning producer Shawn Pimental and engineer Michael Grande.

Kainani says her ultimate goal is to again live on Kaua‘i

“I want to show that I’ve progressed and my vocals are better now, as well as my songs,” she adds.

As with the first album, ‘Ohai ‘Ula captures Kahanauele’s passion for Hawaiian language with original compositions that connect traditional and contemporary musical styles.

“I think the albums are the same in that they both are written to document current events, but contain a lot of old information,” she says. “That’s one of the ways I compose my songs. I take old stories, places and people and try to connect it to what’s happening today. I want the songs to reflect now because my goal is to create songs that mark my time.”

Kahaunaele penned nine of the album’s 12 tracks, which include Eia Ke Aloha, Ho’omake’aka, Ka ‘Oahi Nowelo, Mahinakauahiahi, ‘Ohai ‘Ula, Pua’ala, Nani Wale Ka’uiki, Ke ‘Ala ‘Iliahi, Waiku’auhoe, Lei Pukana and Standing In The Rain.

“Olelo Hawaii to me defines Hawaiian music. It’s something that I love, it’s my lifestyle, my career, the olelo to me is very important. On the CD we’re trying to show that Hawaiian language doesn’t have to be limited to one kind of sound. There are some people who are purists who feel it should be only one way – and that’s good, because they maintain that part of Hawaiian music history and perpetuation. But I like other kinds of music. I have things to say, and I think it works.”

Kainani’s sophomore album ‘Ohai ‘Ula

Kahanauele’s childhood was the foundation not only for her music, but for her passion for the Hawaiian language. The songs she learned as a child and the prayers she rehearsed in church are what introduced her to Hawaiian language. She hopes that her music and teaching will inspire others to share her passion of perpetuating the language.

“I became a teacher for a Hawaiian language revitalization movement, and through that movement I became more involved with music. I’m trying to encourage the Hawaiian community and my community – the Kaua’i people – to incorporate more Hawaiian language into their life. If my music touches them, if they learn the song, right on. If their children learn it, even better. It’s just a matter of encouraging Hawaiian music, and if it’s to a different beat, that’s OK. What’s important is if the olelo is part of the song.”

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