For Holunape, Life Is One Big Luau

Forget that Jawaiian stuff - Holunape plays real ‘da kine’ Hawaiian music with a backyard party feel, a style that attracts fans of all ages

Melissa Moniz
Friday - October 20, 2006
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Whether formal or casual, Holunape sounds good
Whether formal or casual, Holunape sounds good

When people think of Hawaii, their thoughts often include luaus, white sandy beaches, lovely hula girls and sipping mai tais while watching pristine sunsets. Now, when I think of Hawaii - Holunape comes to mind.

As a local girl originally from the Big Island, I’ve been to countless luaus, practically lived at the beach as a child, danced hula, and had my fair share of mai tais and sunsets.

But none of those individual experiences encompass what I think Hawaii is really about.

It was when I sat with a few friends at Aku Bone Lounge to listen to Holunape perform that I truly felt I was witnessing and experiencing aloha spirit in its purest form.

I should have known what kind of evening I was in for when Kekoa Kaluhiwa, the group’s bassist and vocalist, yelled out after their first number, “Eh, Melissa, did Byron leave?” I was taken back, and timidly yelled back that he did. (Byron Lee, MidWeek‘s senior photographer, was also there that evening shooting photos of the guys on stage).

With the photo shoot done, Kekoa quickly lowered his bass and made himself more comfortable on his chair - all the while joking with the audience that the photographer was here from Playgirl taking pictures for his magazine spread.

It wasn’t long before Kaluhiwa kindly asked for his “better half” (Cheryl Kaluhiwa) to come up and dance hula to one of their songs. She was of course given a unanimous “hana hou” and kindly danced another song.

That’s Kanaia Nakamura on guitar, Kama Hopkins on ukulele and Kekoa Kaluhiwa on bass
That’s Kanaia Nakamura on guitar, Kama Hopkins
on ukulele and Kekoa Kaluhiwa on bass

Aside from watching a great band perform, at times it was like watching a comedy act, making it twice the fun to be in the audience. One of the many comical snippets was when the guys announced that they have Holunape T-shirts for sale, which were conveniently hanging on stage. After doing the Price Is Right hand gestures, the band’s ukulele player and vocal-ist, Kama Hopkins, quickly joked that they “only get size medium” because it’s the shirts that no fit them.

An especially touching moment was when 83-year-old Kupuna Roy Benham, one of the group’s biggest fans, was called on stage to do a number - singing the song Keawaiki. Watching him on stage proudly surrounded by the guys of Holunape was a sentimental illustration not only of the bond between generations in Hawaii, but also the circle of knowledge and admiration that is reciprocated from generation to generation.

“Kupuna Roy comes faithfully to Aku Bone every time we play, and most of the nights he’ll bring us a lei to wear that he always makes himself, such as the red hala we wore that night,” says Kaluhiwa, an aide to Sen. Daniel Akaka. “He is known throughout the Hawaiian community as a longtime community servant, and is always helping decorate floats for parades and making decorations and lei for special functions.”

It was an equally great moment when Holunape called Kimo Kahoano to the stage, who was there enjoying himself in the crowd. After raving about the band and singing Boy from Laupahoehoe, he concluded his time on stage with a rendition of his popular It’s Aloha Friday.

It was the first live version performed by the original singer that I’ve heard - and being that it was Monday made the moment even more classic.

It was the perfect end to an awesome night when two kane (male) hula dancers had a hula dance-off while the crowd cheered them on. It was so much fun watching these two friends duke it out on the dance floor with their elaborate hula moves and even a few winks to win the audience over. It was flirty, fun, entertaining and a total crowd-pleaser.

“I’m always honored to have hula dancers accompany our music because I feel that the type of Hawaiian music we play co-exists with hula,” says Kanai’a Nakamura, guitarist and vocalist. “We look forward to have dancers in the audience come up and be a part of the show because it makes it every-one’s show rather than Holunape singing in front of an audience.”

During their two-hour gig it was like watching a perfect real-life depiction of Hawaii life - where no one is center stage and everyone is equally appreciated. It reminded me of family parties where cousins and aunties dance hula, uncles sing and tell jokes, tutu plays her ukulele - and everyone no mo’ shame.

Holunape embraces the idea that Hawaiian music is much more than just melody - it’s the hula, the ‘olelo (language), the aloha, the customs and the mo’olelo (tradition) entwined with it that make it like no other genre in the world.

With all that aloha it’s no wonder that Holunape was awarded the prestigious Group of the Year award at this year’s Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. They even managed to take home another award for Hawaiian Language Performance on their CD, He ‘Olu.

While the awards are certainly a huge compliment and accomplishment, the guys

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