The singer-songwriter and Grammy Award Winning Recording Artist shares how he became a musician, where he gets his signature ties and his enduring love of Hawaii.
Q: Tell us a little about your career path.
It really started at age four when I was diagnosed with a speech impediment. My mom introduced me to singing and music as a way to help me pronounce my words. By the time I was 8, I fell completely in love with music and was being acknowledged on a statewide level. I continued singing and doing competitions, and when I was 18, I won Brown Bags to Stardom and first place in the National Association Teacher’s of Singing Competition in Colorado/Wyoming chapter, placing first in the men’s category in classical and musical divisions.
I received my bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis in public relations/ news editorial and a background in early childhood education from Colorado Mesa University. From there I went on to also work on my master’s degree focusing on early childhood education. While in college, I was heavily involved in musicals and acting productions. I acted in Tony Award Winning musicals like George M, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Amahl & the Night Visitors and To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Hawaiian language and culture is very important to who I am both as an artist and an individual. I have been speaking Hawaiian for 28 years and have taught Hawaiian culture for almost 10 years. In 2001, I became a graduate of Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u, the Hawaiian Language School in Kea‘au, Puna, Hawaii. I illustrated and published 5 Hawaiian language children stories from Hale Kuamo‘o at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. I was a preschool teacher on the Big Island of Hawai’i for 4 years before deciding to focus on my music full time.
I released my debut album in 2016 titled, E Walea. People responded to it better than I could have ever imagined, and that February it won the Grammy Award for “Best Regional Roots Music Album” and I became the first Hawaiian Recording Artist to ever win in the category. That same year, E Walea also received the NāHōkū Hanohano Award (Hawai’i’s version of the Grammys). This year was incredible because I received my second Grammy Award nomination for No ‘Ane’i. I am nominated in the “Best Regional Roots Music Album” category.
What are some of your favourite projects that you have worked on?
My sophomore album titled No ‘Ane’i has given me the opportunity to tour the world. I released my album on August 10, 2018 (my mom’s birthday) and we hit the Billboard Charts at number 11 on the World Music charts and number 1 on the iTunes World Music charts. No ‘Ane‘i (We Belong Here), reflects on the importance of playing a part in the foundation of Hawaiian culture and the preservation of Hawaiian identity and the values that keep Hawai’i thriving.
My second album encourages all to know that you’re an important resource for anything and everything. Know your skills and know that we all must be a prominent and profound resource for the communities we serve. I’m a singer/songwriter and educator and I’m a resource in this particular career pathway. We all must own up to our skill set and share our resources.
My intention behind this sophomore album is to educate people about the importance of knowing your identity and being true to yourself. Don’t mimic or be anyone else. Be yourself and stay true to yourself. Be that resource and share the resources that you possess. The foundation of Hawaiian cultural values and practices start from home. We must become the pouhana (pillar) for our families and the communities we serve. We must seek courage and thrive together by becoming the kumu waiwai (primary and profound resources) for our people. That is essential. We can only thrive this way. But first, the Hawaiian language is the foundation to everything thinking and being Hawaiian. Now this album is up for a Grammy award nomination in Best Regional Roots Music. What a huge honor.
Tell us about your charitable endeavors and why it is important to give back.
My home island which is the Big Island holds a special place in my heart. Last year, 2018, the Puna area was affected by a lava flow. Many people’s homes were taken from them. A few other entertainers and I got together and teamed up with Salvation Army to do a benefit concert for those affected by the flow. We were able to come up with enough funds to feed those temporarily displaced in shelters for a short period of time. It was a small contribution but it was important for me to come back home to Hawaii Island and give back to the local community I grew up in.
- On my playlist. Ku’u Poli’ahu, Kahunani No Ola’a, Hamoa.
- I can’t live without? Paleo desserts haha! Yes, I love food, but I try my best to stick to a paleo diet.
- Always in your luggage? Doterra oils, my wireless MIC, neck ties and bow ties from Pineapple Palaka.
- When I am not working I am… Relaxing on the west wide of Maui at Kaanapali beach with my toes in the sand.
- Most memorable travel moment. It would be the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. It is the event when it comes to music and entertainment. Being surrounded by all of the music makers of the world is so inspiring and uplifting. You get to see everyone all in one single weekend.
- Best advice that you have received? If you don’t do it well, don’t do it at all – Kumu Hula Nani Lim-Yap.
Favourite Hotel? Travassa Hana – this hotel is the true Maui experience. They don’t have TVs and you can hear the ocean from any room on the property. It takes two hours to drive to but it is worth it. They also offer flights into Hana, Maui as well. If you have not yet been to Hana, I would highly recommend it.
Favorite city? This is hard, I would have to say heading back home to Hilo is always special. Another place my partner Allan and I often travel to is San Francisco. Hilo would be to go back home and see my family. Something about being in Hilo is so grounding and peaceful. It is a much slower pace than Oahu which is where I work a lot. When I want some of the city life I head to the Bay.
Favorite dish at a restaurant worldwide? Pork n Peas and Guri Guri on Maui at a new spot called Lineage at the shops at Wailea.
This original travel article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.