When the nominations for the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards were announced in May, Maui’s Ka Pilina was thrilled to experience her debut album. “Na Wahi Pana,” had received three nominations – for Hawaiian Music Album of the Year, Hawaiian Language Performance and Most Promising Artist.
“When we heard the news for the first time, the three of us were shocked” said Shania Lee, 19, who plays bass with the female trio. “We were hoping to be considered, but we were in categories with more experienced nominees than us. We didn’t expect to be nominated in as many categories as we were.
In the Hawaiian Music Album and Hawaiian Linguistic Performance categories, they compete with previous winners Hoku Kainani Kahaunaele, Ho’okena and Kumu Hula Kamaka Kukona. The most promising nominees include Makamae Auwae from Maui.
Yet they hope for some triumph.
“We all have a lot of hope of winning” Lee said. “I hope for three” she added, laughing.
“We are so grateful for the opportunity to record and share and consider music.”
Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, plans have been canceled for a live Hoku ceremony in September with the 2021 nominees. Now it will be held remotely on October 7.
“We were all quite excited to be there in person”, she said. “But it’s really important for all of us that we’re protected, especially with COVID so high in numbers. “
Resplendent with three beautiful voices, the trio sounds so confident and accomplished on “Na Wahi Pana,” listeners would imagine they have been recording and performing together for years.
Founded only at the end of 2018, the group also includes Kamakana Kawa’a, 19, on guitar, and Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Maui ma Kekaulike senior, 17, Emalani Kekauoha-Schultz, on ‘ukulele. Kawa’a and Kekauoha-Schultz are fluent in Hawaiian.
“The three of us grew up in Wailuku, but it wasn’t until 2018 that we connected and formed Ka Pilina”, Lee explained. “In 2016 Kamakana and I started performing together in a pop group with some of our peers. After this band ended, Kamakana and I continued to play together and we started to focus on Hawaiian music.
“By Kamakana’s parents, we were introduced to Emalani.”
A former member of the Maui High School Marching Band, Lee plays the piano, trumpet, guitar, ukulele and bass.
“I’ve always wanted to be a musician since I was little” she said. “Initially, I was just playing the ‘ukulele and the piano, but when I started playing with a band with Kama in college (Iao School), I had to be really versatile. We were changing instruments and I learned a lot from Kama. I love to arrange music and have a lot of experience as a school orchestra and have performed on my own. So I had the opportunity to arrange and create the music and help the other girls with their skills.
Initially playing together for fun at small private concerts for family and friends, they were preparing to take on the world when the pandemic struck.
“In 2020 we had a lot of concerts coming up that would have put us in the public eye, but due to COVID the performances were canceled,” she noted.
For their first album, these gifted young musicians carefully selected compositions that would express their love for Hawai’i.
“As much as we want to share our music with the world, we understand that in our music are the stories of our home here in Hawai’i, and ultimately we share our music to serve the Hawaiian community and culture as a whole,” Lee said.
These special songs include those of Queen Lili’uokalani “Paoakalani”, with Kaulike Pescaia on piano and steel guitar, and a nice version of the classic “Puamana”, celebrating the Lahaina house of the Farden family.
“The theme of our album is centered on connecting to our roots”, she explained. “The melee we have chosen is about different places and characteristics of Hawai’i. One of our favorites, “Paoakalani”, has special meaning as it was written by Queen Lili’uokalani while she was imprisoned in the “Iolani Palace”.
Other highlights include Aunt Helen Lindsey Parker “‘Olu O Pu’ulani,” with Nuff Sedd’s Joshua Kaluha on guitar, which was composed for his sister’s guesthouse overlooking the Kalaupapa settlement on Moloka’i.
Two new songs have come from Kumu Hula Hokulani Holt, such as vocals arranged by Liz Morales. “Na Kanaloa” honor Kaho’olawe, and “Hinaulu’ohi’a” refers to the goddess who brings rain ua loku, especially when ‘ohi’a lehua is plucked. Both songs are embellished with the traditional sound of the ipu heke and the ‘ili’ili played by Pohai Dias. Morales also contributed to the album’s title track, co-composed with Joni DeMello, which pays homage to the beauty of Waikapu, Wailuku, Wai’ehu and Waihe’e.
“During the process of creating our album, we had the opportunity to work with Kumu Hokulani Holt”, Lee said. “She graciously provided us with two of her oli, which Aunt Liz Morales arranged and made into mele for us to learn and play. Kumu Hoku provided us with his mana’o so that we could better understand melee and better present them with that knowledge in mind.
As a manager, Morales mentored the women and encouraged them to register in time for the 2021 awards review.
“This opportunity came as a surprise as we expected the check-in to occur later in our trip after gaining visibility,” Lee said. “She has contributed to our growth by teaching us various styles of play and performance techniques.”
Looking to the future, Lee said, “The three of us are interested in sharing our music with people from different cultural backgrounds, but at the heart of what we as a band want to accomplish is to serve as curators of the culture, the language, the Hawaiian history, values and traditions through our music. Our goal is to share and perpetuate our Hawaiian culture not only in our own communities but in the world with our music. “
The 44th Annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards will air on K5 on October 7, KGMB on October 9 and KHNL on October 30. All broadcasts will begin at 7:00 p.m.