The Sound of Ohana
Trained as a dancer by her kumu hula mother, and good enough to win Miss Aloha Hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival, Natalie Ai Kamauu turned to ukulele when the family halau needed a musician. Now this Hoku-winning entertainer is releasing a new, much-anticipated album
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She started out as a hula dancer, but taking up the ukulele to help her family halau turned out to be as much of a blessing as meeting her husband
Natalie Ai Kamauu is one of those people you’ve just gotta meet to believe.
Beautiful inside and out, she is captivating. Her voice is effortless and magical, and her spirit is equally as lovely. And although she no longer takes the stage as a dancer for her parents’ halau, Halau Hula Olana, this former Miss Aloha Hula can hold her own with the best of them.
But even beyond her talents, what’s most admirable is her commitment to her family and her faith, and her genuine understanding that it’s only through them is everything she does possible.
“My dad and my mom always teach us that family relationships are the most important and that you’ll have hundreds of friends, but you only have one family,” says Kamauu. “So it’s keeping the bridges up and working for what’s the best for our family. I have four brothers (Scott, Chad, Tai and Rhett) and one sister (Shelsea), and we have great relationships.”
The daughter of Howard and Olana Ai, Kamauu is the second born of five children. She grew up throughout the island of Oahu,having lived in Kalihi, Waipahu, Aiea and now Ewa Beach.When she was 5 years old her mom started Halau Hula Olana, and it has been hula and music ever since.
“I actually had another hula teacher when I was little,” says Kamauu.“It was like a community class, and one day I came home and my mommy said that she needs to open a halau so that her daughter can dance like her mom (my grandma). So that was the beginning of Halau Hula Olana.”
Kamauu was the first student at Halau Hula Olana and jokes that, of her siblings, she stayed the longest. She recalls that her childhood was always intertwined with hula.“We were and are a hula family,” she says.
As the halau and their ohana grew, their roles within the halau evolved. With more live performances came the demand for a regular band to sing for the dancers. The idea of creating the band with members of their family seemed to be the most natural choice.
“I was about 15 when it became almost a necessity to have musicians connected with the halau, so when it was time to have performances we wouldn’t have to put on a CD,” says Kamauu. “It was a Monday night, and my dad handed me an ukulele and he said,‘We have a show on Friday.‘It was for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, so it wasn’t a small party. And I was horrible. I was so horrible that when we were doing the sound check, my daddy told them,‘You don’t have to plug in her ukulele or turn on her mic.‘So yeah, I wouldn’t say that music came naturally, even though we were singing all the time at church.”
That day Kamauu took her place behind the dancers as a singer and musician with her father and siblings.She remembers hoping and wishing that she could still dance, but is now grateful to her parents for providing her with that opportunity.
“It took about three years before I realized I wasn’t going to be dancing in the shows anymore, and it was then that I realized that this is what I should be doing,” she says. “Without being given the ukulele I wouldn’t have started to sing, and so I credit my daddy for putting the ukulele in my hand and my mommy for requiring it because we had a show.”
While the structure of the halau is ever-changing, Kamauu explains that her mom is the kumu.
“It was her dream and her idea, and she did everything to perpetuate what my grandma taught her - that’s very important and precious to her,” says Kamauu. “And then comes Daddy. He does anything that she wants him to do and he is more the creative director, I think. For many years he was the one who did all the costumes, taught the parents how to make the lei, and did the music arrangements.”
He also released his first album earlier this year titled Kaleihulumamo.
Kamauu, who over the years has become more focused on the music for the halau, has handed over her duties teaching some of the classes to her “baby” sister Shelsea. Her brothers Chad, Tai and Rhett can all play the bass and were musicians for the halau, although
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