A Word With Two-Time Grammy Award Winner Kalani Pe’a

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Singer-songwriter Kalani Pe’a is a two-time Grammy Award winner for Best Regional Roots Album. The classically trained tenor with a charming and dynamic onstage presence has won praise for his dedication to Hawaiian language fluency, and a musical range that runs from traditional chant to Hawaiian classics, original songs to R&B. Pe’a’s Grammy wins have led to sold-out concerts in Hawai’i, Japan, and the West Coast. On Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, the Hawaiian musician will offer a memorable Valentine’s Day concert at Waimea’s Kahilu Theatre with very special guests.

I caught up with the popular Hawaiian songwriter/vocalist in a recent phone interview.

Your upcoming Valentine’s Day show at the Kahilu Theatre looks very special. How did that come together and what can fans expect?
Hopefully, I can make this an annual event. It was an honor to be invited back to the Kahilu after two-sold out concerts; one was my debut in 2018 and then my Christmas concert that year. I wanted to do something special event and have my first Valentine’s concert. I love to do Hawaiian contemporary soul music, my originals, as well as new original music. I’m working on my third album.

I’m bringing Kohala’s very own Lim Family and Kumuhula Kaʻea Lyons and Kahelelani Lyons of Konaʻs own award-winning Hālau Kaʻeaikahelelani. They’ll be dancing a few songs. This is the most exhilarating thing for me because I get to produce a show and then bring in talent and collaborate at the same time. When we collaborate in the Hawaiian music industry, that’s how we survive!

The interesting twist, my friend, is I am singing Motown music also in Hawaiian. “I’m going to singing “Just My Imagination.” It was the first song I learned with my family at the age of eight. But with “Me and Mrs. Jones,” [sings the first line in English and then follows in Hawaiian] I’ll do it in the Hawaiian perspective, but yet with love and a Motown feel.

After the Valentine’s Day concert, I’m heading out to Minneapolis and the Lincoln Center in New York. And then Kalani Pe’a is taking a two-month vacation in March and April. I haven’t had a vacation in five years because I’ve been on the go. It will be a time to be creative and write music about people and places I love.

Last year was a monumental year for you with two Grammys, and this year you’re part of it again.
I’m grateful for the opportunities the Grammys gave me to perform and sell out shows across the world, from Japan to the USA. The red carpet allowed me to meet all kinds of people from big labels to small labels, from independent musicians, producers, engineers and so forth. Oh my gosh! And now I’m a contributing artist to the Grammy-nominated album Hawaiian Lullaby [by Haku Collective]. The producers, Imua Garza & Kimié Miner, should they win, they will receive the Grammy. I translated Anuhea’s “True Colors (Kou ʻano Kūʻiʻo)” [Cyndi Lauper cover] and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds (‘Ekolu Manu Li’ili’i).” I was honored to sing “ʻŌpae ē,” which I did in my style, Hawaiian R&B format. I won’t receive the Grammy, but if we win, it’s a win for all.

What projects are you working on this year?
It’s a secret, but I really want to push the envelope again. I’m all about vocals, arrangements, and melodies, and I’m working on a third album, which is focusing on, let’s say, ‘adventures.’ That’s a hidden message. I won’t specify. I also want to do a Christmas album alongside that. And, perhaps mimic the ‘O Holy Night” version in Hawaiian like Uncle Willy K. I’m a vocalist and I look up to the legends.

Your performances are so powerful. Where does that energy come from? What inspires you?
Coffee! (laughs) No, I’m kidding. I love drinking cold brew. That’s part of my hospitality rider. Going back to the question, what keeps me going is people. People in my small close-knit circle of friends and family. Those who come into my home are considered family too. I am who I am because of my family. My husband inspires me too. We just got married after 11 years! What inspires me most is the outcome of concerts. When fans, friends, and family come to me and tell me that my songs and my music play a pivotal role or made an impact on their life, or helps them recollect some fond memory of someone. That to me is more rewarding than just awards and the spotlight.

I’m an entertainer that’s not going to just sing. I will entertain and educate you about my songs. Why do I have music about my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s? Why am I donating concert proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Association? I want to emphasize that I’m going to give some concert proceeds from my Valentines’ concert to my No. 1 charity the Alzheimer’s Association to pay for research and study. I’m doing it because my grandmother suffers from it. My grandparents on my dad’s side died from it. So, it’s hereditary. But I want to inform the public about the importance of not being ashamed that their loved ones have this disease and it’s OK to love them no matter what.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
I’m just so excited to come back home! I’m just a Big Island boy from Hilo. I’m proud to have come from Hilo and to be with people from my birth home. I just want people to come and enjoy the music, the love, and the Aloha.

Music brings us together. Our music allows us to heal. Music allows people to step away from the problems of the day, the hour, the minute. I just want people to have fun! I want people to stand on their feet and just enjoy music at my concert. If you want to clap your hands, if you want to laugh with me, or cry with me, do that! That’s all part of why music moves us.

If You Go… Have A Good Show!

Event: Kalani Pe’a’s Valentine’s Day Concert
When: Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $65/$35
Info: Tickets can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela.
Visit Kalani Pe’a’s website.


Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Antonio Agosto

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