Three award-winning Native Hawaiian performers have formed a new and exciting trio called Kulāiwi and made their Waimea concert debut last Friday at the Kahilu Theatre. Kulāiwi means “land of my ancestors” and many of the songs in their set focused on the Hawaiian Islands as told from a proud Indigenous point-of-view.
Kulāiwi features Lehua Kalima-Alvarez, Shawn Pimental, and Kawika Kahiapo. Kalima-Alverez and Pimental have appeared as a duo for eight years and decided to invite Kahiapo to form a trio. “We started just playing together, and it was magical,” Kalima-Alvarez said in our interview. “We’ve known each other for so long and have the same mindset. Music is our first love, and it makes my soul so happy just to be here singing with them.” Hilo native Kalima-Alvarez is one-third of the celebrated female vocal trio Na Leo Pilimehana, and one of Hawai’i’s best-known singer-songwriters.
“The songs we’re playing in this group are a representation of who we are,” Pimental explained. “The songs that we write are our life stories, and that’s intentional. We like doing love songs, yeah, but we want the new music to be empowering for us and our people. We want to talk about our history, what’s happening right now, and to strive and thrive for a better lāhui.”
Award-winning slack key guitarist Kawika Kahiapo continues the trio’s message. “Whatever musical entity that we were a part of seems like it was part of a journey that brought us to this point. We think through our music we can inspire and educate our people on what’s happening with our land, our people, and Mauna Kea… to keep pushing toward what we feel needs to happen for our people here in Hawai’i.”
Formed in 2019, Kulāiwi played a few gigs and then reverted to livestream shows when the pandemic hit last year. Their Kahilu concert was their first public appearance since then and they were spectacular. The Pimental/ Kalima-Alvarez harmonies on songs like “Peʻahi o Makana” and “When I Think of You” were breathtaking.
Kulāiwi’s Hawaiian roots were evident in many of the songs at the show like Kahiapo’s passionate song “Eō Kū Kia’i Mauna.” He even did a call-and-response part with the crowd. “When I say, ‘Kupuna warriors with their lives on the line,’ you say,’ Eō!’” The excitement on stage was shared with an enthusiastic audience.
The 90-minute performance was graced by award-winning hula dancer Pono Fernandez, who is also an educator and ethnomusicologist.
The new trio is looking forward to gaining more notoriety as its popularity continues to grow. “As more people come out to our shows, hear the music, and see what we’re delivering, I think it’ll open up an idea of what we can do with our platform and how we’ll continue,” Pimental said.
Kulāiwi has completed a new album with the working title Kulāiwi: Native Lands. The release will coincide with a five-city tour in September with various dates on the West Coast and Las Vegas.
Missed the show? Don’t despair. You still can catch Kulāiwi’s concert on Kahilu.TV.
Notes & Links
Mokihana Lullaby/Ua Noho Au a Kupa | Kuʻu Lei Puakenikeni | ʻO ʻOe ʻIo | Windward Side | |Peʻahi o Makana | Eō Kū Kiaʻi Mauna | When I Think Of You | Ka Makani Kāʻili Aloha | Waimānalo/Waimānalo Blues | Liliʻu Ē | Hiʻilawe | Ka Nani Aʻo Maunakea |
Hana ho: Kuʻu Pili
Concert Date: 2/July/2021
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About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby