Review: Kalani Pe’a’s Christmas Show

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Twenty-seven songs, twenty hula dancers, six band members, three oli, two wardrobe changes, and one Grammy winner in a white jacket and tie. Those are some of the many delights that filled Kalani Pe’a’s spectacular three-hour Christmas show at the Kahilu Theatre.

Kalani Pe’a made a grand entrance down the aisle to the stage while acknowledging local friends and family in the audience who came to see him perform at last Saturday’s sold-out concert. “Merry Christmas, my darlings,” Pe’a greeted the packed house.

Only a few days before the performance, Pe’a received news that his second album, No ‘Ane’i (We Belong Here), got an official nomination for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in the category Best Regional Roots Music Album. Pe’a also won a Na Hoku Hanohano Award in 2017 for Contemporary Album of the Year, making him the first Hawaii resident to win both a Grammy (2017) and Hoku award for the same album.


Bathed in constant purple stage lighting (his favorite color), and surrounded by a stage filled with hula dancers in lavender colored dresses, the Big Island-native musician sailed through a long list of songs, stopping briefly to joke with the audience and recall several heartfelt local memories.

Pe’a was born and raised on the Hawaiian homestead in Pana‘ewa, and reminisced about living with his family in a trailer house painted hot pink, and  filled with faith, love and aloha. “When you have poi and laulau on the table, a plastic-covered the couch no one can sit on, and bright orange carpet,” said Pe’a, “It makes you a proud Hawaiian-Filipino-English boy.”

In his introduction for “Kahnani No ‘Ola‘a,” he could not hold back tears. He wrote the song about his grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. “She doesn’t remember me until I sing to her,” he said. “What a horrible disease! Cherish your loved ones.”

During intermission, Kahilu’s Artistic Director Chuck Gessert invited two audience members on stage to compete for a prize by singing the “Barney Theme Song” from Barney & Friends– the 90s TV show with the “purple” dinosaur. The crowd declared a tie, and both contestants walked away with large purple bags filled with gifts.

Miss Aloha Hula 2006

The second half of the show kicked off with a powerful oli by Joshua Lanakilaoka`āinaikapono Mangauil of the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hāmākua. Many dancers were featured throughout the evening, including Miss Aloha Hula 2006, Bernice Alohanamakanamaikalanimai Davis Lim-Carvalho, who wore several stunning outfits. Pe’a also brought out his mother Pua Leonard who lives in Hilo, and dedicated the song “Ki‘u Poli‘ahu” to her.

In addition to the many Hawaiian songs performed, Pe’a acknowledged his love for 1970s R&B and pop music that was a major influence on his style. He included some Luther Vandross, Carpenters, as well as All-4-One’s 1994 hit “I Swear.” There was even a spontaneous medley during the encore that featured songs by Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and The Temptations.

This was Kalani Pe’a’s last concert of 2018, and there’s a rumor he could return for a Valentine’s Day concert next year at the Kahilu.

Act I
Oli (Aiau) | Oil (Kalani) | Hilo March | Kanakaloka | He Lei Aloha no Hilo | White Christmas | Ke ‘A ‘a o Na Lani | ‘Akaka Falls | Wewehi A ‘o Hilo | Superstar | Always & Forever | ‘Elala He Inoa | Mele Kalikamaka la Kakou

Act II
Oli (Lanakila Manguil) | Hi‘ilawe Band | Hanalei l ka Pilimoe | Kahnani No ‘Ola‘a | Pa’a Mau | Noho Paipai | I Swear | Ki‘u Poli‘ahu |No ‘Ane‘I | E Na Kini

Encore
I Feel Good | Medley: Let’s Stay Together/ Ooh Baby Baby/My Girl | Mele Kalikimaka la ‘oe | Hawai’I Aloha


For the latest music and tour news, please visit Kalani Pe’a’s official site: https://www.kalanipeamusic.com

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. 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: Steve Roby

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