Melissa Moniz
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Friday - March 14, 2008
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The 411

It’s been a whirlwind year for Na Kumu Hula Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang and their halau,Halau I Ka Wekiu.

After taking home the prestigious Overall Winner award at last year’s Merrie Monarch Festival, the halau also celebrates its 10-year anniversary and the release of its third album, Listen To Your Heart.

Featuring 14 original compositions, the album is dedicated to all Hawaiian cultural practitioners, especially the kumu hula of Hawaii.

“We’re sending a copy to all the kumu hula because we feel sometimes no one else wants to do your songs because there is a sense of belonging. But we want to make clear that we want them to bring their own artistry and creativeness if there’s a song that inspires them,” says Casupang, who also teaches hula at Mid-Pacific Institute.

The album, which is released under Kumz - a nickname commonly used in place of the formal Hawaiian term for teacher, kumu - was chosen by Baker and Casupang because it’s a term used lovingly by their hula haumana (students).Although Casupang and Baker stand at the forefront of the album, the project is actually presented by the halau’s organization,Kauakoko Foundation.

“The CD project is really a fundraiser, so to speak, for our foundation, so nothing comes back to us,“adds Casupang. “It’s our way instead of selling Portuguese sausage and chili. Everything goes back to benefit the halau and help with expenses. It’s really a project that’s twofold, where we can share our music and help our halau.”

Casupang and Baker, both students of kumu hula Robert Cazimero (Halau Na Kamalei), have made it a priority to continue the traditions and to keep the hula lineage connected. This album celebrates the music they learned as haumana and the music now shared with their own haumana.

“With Halau Na Kamalei, we did a lot of singing, and so our singing together goes back to when we were hula brothers way back then,” says Baker.



Kumz: Na Kumu Hula Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang
Kumz: Na Kumu Hula Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang

Where were you born and raised?

Michael: I was born in Okinawa, Japan, because my father was in the Air Force. I was raised on the Mainland. I moved here when I was 16. I had been away from Hawaii for all of my childhood life, so when I came here, I was really thirsty to learn the culture.

Karl: I was born in Honolulu and I was raised out in the country in Nanakuli. I boarded at Kamehameha since the seventh grade, so that actually helped kick me out of the house to make room for my other brother and sisters.

What does your halau (Halau I Ka Wekiu) have planned to celebrate its 10th anniversary?

Karl: We always do a concert every year, and we normally do it at the Hawaii Theatre, but this year we are going to do it at Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall, which seats about 600 more than we normally seat at the Hawaii Theatre.And Aunty Ma’iki Aiu used to have her concerts there as well, so it’s like going back home again. So that’s on June 8, and then we’re taking an East Coast tour, and that’s why we’re not doing Merrie Monarch this year. We are also going to Japan in April and May.

Why do you think hula is such an integral part of Hawaii?

Michael: We go back to Aunty Ma’iki’s definition of hula, which is hula is the art of Hawaiian dance, expressing all that we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel. If that’s true, then hula is really what life is all about. It allows us to express all that we feel inside. I’m typically a shy person, and hula allows me to express, maybe, what I can’t say. So there’s that element for me personally. That’s just me on a personal level, and it really gave me more confidence. As far as a deeper level, it allows us to continue traditions of the past and make sure that those are carried on by the next generation. We have that responsibility as kumu to pass that on and not keep it for ourselves. Although I wish I could dance for the rest of my life, we take on that privilege and responsibility. It wasn’t my choice that my kumu said I need to take this on. And when a kumu says something, that’s it - you don’t question that.

What song on the album do you hold closest to your heart?

Karl: I would have to say that the first cut, which is the title cut, Ho’olohe I Ka Poli (Listen To Your Heart). Right now that song talks to me a lot. It’s written for a trip that we took to Kauai, and we wrote it with the haumana.

Michael: That’s a hard one. If I did have to chose one, it would have to be the very last cut, which is called Popohe Ka Pua. The reason is it’s my expression of love for my kumu.I took a class from Puakea Nogelmeier at UH, and it was a Hawaiian poetry call. The final project was to write a song, and so I decided to write a song expressing my gratitude and love for my teacher. So within that song are all the admirable qualities about him.


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