Traditional Hawaiian music with a twist

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole on stage

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole brought an hour and a half show to the stage of The Triple Door that was wove stories, audience interaction and calls to action into Hawaiian traditional music with her own twist. She was joined onstage by Shawn Pimental on guitar, whose music provided a backdrop for the stories and whose voice joined Kanaka’ole’s.

Seattle was the last continental stop for the duo on a recent tour that included Canadian music festivals and a performance at Lincoln Center in New York. Wednesday’s show brought many return guests who had enjoyed previous performances.

Riane Olver, a lifetime hula dancer, was on her feet with tears in her eyes by the end of the show. While she doesn’t know Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole personally, she explained that her and her family are very important in Hawaii. “Their family is like keepers of the culture.” Throughout her show Kanaka’ole also mentioned her mother, grandmother and aunt who all have been leaders in the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s that brought a resurgence of appreciation and embracing of traditional Hawaiian culture. Olver said that the strength in her music and culture “what its all about, carrying on that power in the voice.”

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole on stage at The Triple Door.
Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole on stage at The Triple Door.

Kanaka’ole described her mother in the show as someone who kept “one foot in Western academia and one foot in traditional Hawaiian culture.” With advanced degrees from universities as well as a wide depth and breadth of knowledge on their own native Hawaiian culture, Kanaka’ole and her family are considered to be the “voice of the next generation” of Hawaiians.

Audience participation was a feature of the performance. As Kanaka’ole talked directly to the audience about anything from her past boyfriends to the island in Canada she plans to move to if Trump wins, Pimental carried and supported her through melodic strumming.

After giving the audience the back story to the song, her voice would soar from high falsetto to low. The songs ranged from slow songs about the birth of her niece and honoring elders and grandfathers to stories of “shenanigans” in Hawaiian history. The origins of her set came from her own invention, some traditional songs that were written to tell stories of a certain time and even some performances of her grandmother’s original music that she recorded in the 1920s.

Regardless of the music’s source originally, each song expressed the culture of Hawaii. In an interview after the show, she explained that singing in the Hawaiian language feels right because the language itself is so expressive of the land and the people from which it comes.