A Promise Fulfilled

Bill Mossman
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July 20, 2011
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Kuana Torres Kahele’s vow to his mother is accomplished with the release of his first solo project, Kaunaloa

He was just 10 at the time, a fifthgrader at Ernest Bowen de Silva Elementary School in Hilo, when Kuana Torres Kahele first realized the impact a particular ancestral-given talent of his would have on others.

Sitting in music class one day, Kahele watched as his teacher tried in vain to prepare several classmates for an upcoming performance of Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai. And inside, his voice made up of equal parts of a lineage of musicians that includes George Holokai, Bill Aliiloa Lincoln, Victory Kala and the Lim family was eager to be heard.

“The teacher was trying to show these girls how for sing this certain part that was really high, but all the girls were either too shame or they just couldn’t hit (the notes),” he recalls. “So I had my music book with me and I covered up my face and started singing the parts really softly. When I finally figured out that I could do it, I raised my hand and the room went quiet.”

Kahele stopped briefly to laugh at the memory. “I was so shame because I could hear people whispering, ‘Ai, Kuana goin’ sing ‘em and not the girls!’”

Fortunately, Kahele’s young heart did not lose courage. He opened his mouth and out of it came a falsetto that not only left his classmates with chicken skin, but his teacher’s jaw on the floor. Kahele got the gig that day and immediately taught those in attendance what the rest of the world would eventually learn: Braddah can sing.


Appearing first in the mid-‘90s with the traditional Hawaiian supergroup, Na Palapalai, and more recently as a solo artist, Kahele has been a driving force in the traditional Hawaiian music scene and particularly among hula practitioners worldwide thanks to his rich, velvety voice and considerable song writing abilities. His just-released debut solo album, Kaunaloa, is a collection of mostly original compositions that includes the heartwarming single Waikahuli; Na Vaqueros, an ode to his paniolo roots; and the newest version of his classic, Ke Anu O Waimea, the first song he ever wrote as a tribute to his late maternal grandmother, Lulu Kelohilani Kahele, who he fondly refers to as “Ma.”

Most impressively, the album has not disappointed his legion of followers, who recently made Kaunaloa No. 1 on the World Music charts and the ITunes World Digital chart.

Musical Notes caught up with the Hilo native shortly before he left for another tour in Japan and asked him about his latest project, the status of Na Palapalai and his penchant for getting teary-eyed on stage.

Kahele’s new CD features mostly original compositions.

MN: This is a new experience for you as a solo artist. Does this project mean the end of Na Palapalai?

Kahele: No, this album doesn’t affect my work with Na Palapalai at all. It’s just something I had to do to fulfill a promise to Ma.

MN: The first song off your album is a children’s favorite, Ulili E, which you added a few verses to. Why did you decide to reinvent, so to speak, a Hawaiian classic?

Kahele: Growing up, I would see other kids or groups dance the song and I would always think, the song’s kinda short, yeah? One day, I went to Kauai and I was watching a whole bunch of kolea and ulili, and I just started playing and adding the verses. Later on, people started asking me, eh, where you got the other verses from Bishop Museum or something? And I was like, no, I wrote ‘em myself!

MN: You’re heading back to Japan shortly for another tour. Are the Japanese still eating up your music these days?


Kahele: Pretty much. They’re always hungry for something new, and Kauanaloa, I hear, is already going like wildfire there. When I’ve gone there in the past with Na Palapalai, we were treated like rock stars.

MN: You can get emotional during your performances. Is that why you often wear shades on stage?

Kahele: Yes. People always tell me that I should have those glasses permanently removed from my forehead. And I tell them, no, I wear them for a special reason! But it’s for those stupid, emotional moments especially when I’m singing a song about my family and using deep poetry. At that point, it’s just a crying game for me.

Natural Vibrations

SMALL-KINE notes:

The summer party known as the KCCN FM100 Birthday Bash features performances from many of the hottest musical acts over two nights July 29 and 30 at the Waikiki Shell. Groove with artists Katchafire, Natural Vibrations, Fiji, Manao Company, Kapena, Anuhea, J-Boog, Ekolu, Rebel

Souljahz and others beginning at 5:30 p.m. as event organizers celebrate two decades’ worth of great island contemporary music. Also, pay close attention to the added visuals this year that include an extended light show and larger video screen, perfect for those sitting way back on the lawn ... Don’t forget to go online at vh1.com and vote for “Kokua For Japan” the Clear Channel Radio Honolulu benefit concert that raised $1.6 million for earthquakeand tsunamirelief efforts. The benefit has been nominated for The Do Something Awards’ concert category, which includes other benefits from artists such as Taylor Swift, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton.

Voters have until 3 a.m. Aug. 14 to cast their ballots. Results will air on the VH1 show at 8 p.m. Aug. 18.


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