NACF 2018 National Artist Fellow and singer/songwriter Kalani Pe’a calls himself a millennial Hawaiian who loves to write Hawaiian music with his own innovative twist. This approach has earned him both a Grammy and a Na Hoku Hanohano (Hawaii’s Grammy equivalent) with his debut album E Walea, which won the hearts and minds of many fans. Pe’a will be touring the West Coast for the first time starting March 22 and his performances include Portland, Eugene, Sacramento and Santa Cruz. Make sure to check venues and dates here!
Kalani Pe’a started singing at the age of four to help with a stuttering problem, which speech therapy hadn’t been able to mitigate. “Music saved my life”, he says. He’s from Panaewa Hilo area and later graduated from the Hawaiian language immersion program at Ke Kula ‘o Nawahiokalani’opu’u in Puna, both located on Hawai`i Island, or more fondly known as the “big island”, the largest island in the state of Hawai`i.
Kalani is proud of his Native Hawaiian and Filipino heritages, and Hawaiian language is a big part of who he is. “I believe it is my kuleana (responsibility) to share Hawaiian language and chant through my music,” he states. He comes from an ohana (family) of singers and musicians and his mother, who is a big influence in his life, introduced him to music and singing. His father was a bass player, and in addition to his love for Hawaiian music, Pe’a grew up listening to Al Greene, the Temptations, and the Beatles, all of which influenced his musical style.
In February of 2017 Kalani won a Grammy Award for the Best Regional Roots Album. Later that year he received the Na Hoku Hanohano Award (Hawaii’s version of the Grammys) making him the first Native Hawaiian artist to ever when a Na Hoku and Grammy award for the same album. He is an exceptional vocalist and composer of mele (song) with a diverse choice of songs that range from Oli Aloha (greeting chants of appreciation) with four part harmonies, contemporary Hawaiian music, to popular songs that he translates into Hawaiian language.
The power and resources of his native land are what inspire Pe’a’s compositions. He starts with poems, that turn into lyrics, which become songs. He writes lyrics that “talk about our people, the way we thrive, how we live…our language, culture, places of beauty in Hawai`i”. That is how all of his seven original songs from his debut album E Walea came about. “I create music in my head,” he says, “I literally do not grab an instrument, even though I learned how to play ukulele and piano when I was a child.” For Kalani, the most important thing about his music is how it impacts people. The “golden ticket,” he says, is when after one of his concerts someone comes up to him and shares how his music touches and affects them. That’s what motivates him to write more songs.
Until recently, Pe’a was a teacher at Kamehameha Schools. He started in early childhood later moving on to middle and high school students, teaching science and arts with a curriculum that integrated Hawaiian culture and cultural practices. Though he is taking a break from teaching, he intends to use part of his NACF fellowship award to create a Hawaiian music composition camp/songwriter summit for kids grades 6-12. He is working on his second album and also plans to focus on developing a digital marketing campaign to help upcoming and independent artists.