Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole, a five-time Nā Hōkū Hanohano [Hawaiian Grammy] Award-winner, is the eldest child of Kekuhi Kanahele, the eldest grandchild of Pualani Kanaka‘ole, great grandchild of Edith Kanahele Kanaka‘ole, and great-great grandchild of Mary Keali‘ikekuewa. Since birth, Kaumakaiwa has dedicated her life to her family's practice and passion - the art of hula. As an ‘olapa (dancer) of Hālau O Kekuhi, she has been able to experience all aspects of hula, oli [chant], haku mele [poetry & lyrics] and choreography, qualities are nurtured within the family and the hālau [hula group]. In December 2014, she had an 'aha ni'o, an ascension ritual to inherit the role of kumu hula (hula master) of Halau O Kekuhi alongside her grandaunt and aunt. Her vocal performances are an outgrowth of the Hawaiian art of chant and songwriting, with deep roots in rhythms, metaphors, and authenticity of hula.
She grew up on the slopes of the volcano Mauna A Wakea and Mauna Loa, and in the daily influence of Kilauea, regarded as a family ancestor. The past seven generations and beyond have been maintained within a traditional family lifestyle dedicated to hula and the Hawaiian culture. Fluent in Hawaiian as well as English, surrounded by Hawaiian music and all types of Western music from classical to indie, educated in Hawaiian tradition and earning advanced degrees in Western universities, she defines what it means to be an indigenous intellectual in a contemporary world. Her vision is to engage indigenous thought and body of knowledge to address today’s issues and challenges through music, chant, and sharing of the spirit. In 2013, Kaumakaiwa began to identify female with the support of her family and Hawaiian cultural tradition (māhū wahine). In 2014, she toured with mother Kekuhi , the first mother-transgender daughter performance duo in Hawaiian music, and perhaps anywhere.
Kaumakaiwa has been involved with the prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula Festival since the age of 12. She has also appeared on stage and in film productions including Holo Mai Pele by the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation and Hālau O Kekuhi; Kamehameha Pai'ea; Kilohi: Nā Akua Wahine; Hānau Ka Moku, a collaboration with the Tau Dance Theatre; and the documentary about Hawaiian chant Mana I Ka Leo. She was the first Hawaiian performer to appear both at New York's globalFEST, in 2011, garnering a rave review in The New York Times, and at the prestigious indigenous cultures festival The Dreaming in Australia later that year. In November 2013, she her mother Kekuhi were each awarded the Martin Luther King Jr-Cesar Chavez–Rosa Parks Visiting Professorship of the University of Michigan. She was also awarded a Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Fellowship.
Kaumakaiwa has released 3 solo CDs to date, for which she has won multiple awards. Her debut album, Ha'i Kupuna, garnered her first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award (Hawai‘i’s music award) for Haku Mele (lyrics composition), an award revered by many in the Hawaiian community that traces its roots to its oral traditions. Kaumakaiwa’s second album Welo honored her kupuna [ancestors and elders], earning two 2006 Na Hōkū awards, for Hawaiian Language and Hawaiian Album of the Year. Her third album, Kaumakaiwa (2008), affirmed Kaumakaiwa’s place as a phenomenal world artist. Once again honored with Nā Hōkū Awards, she won for Hawaiian Language Performance and was named Vocalist of the Year. With mother Kekuhi and guitarist and producer Shawn Pimental, she is currently at work on a joint album.
With her passionate, unmatched love of her culture and the power that lies within her lineage, Kaumakaiwa is blazing a new trail in the 21st century while paying homage to those who have come before.
WHAT'S IN A NAME
“He ka inoa ‘o ia” Kaumakaiwa began as Lopaka
He was a namesake to his father
When he turned 13 (teen) it was decided
That he would be given a name
Reflecting the life style of a “hiapo” The oldest grandchild
A test of endurance was his challenge
When he proved to withstand the test
A ceremony of rites of passage was bestowed
And along with it
A name inclusive of skills, duty and direction
For the long breath of the family,
Kaumakaiwa – mysterious eyes alight
po‘ohala – upon the one to carry on the virtues, arts and skills of the family
kahi‘ipaka – instruction provided by
okanahele – the wilderness of the uplands
Keali‘ikanaka‘ole – foundational ancestral name.
“Amama, ua noa, lele wale aku nō.” There it is, it is free, it will fly.
- Pualani Kanaka'ole
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