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Band outgrowing clothes
The band, whose kaona-laden name translates into "simple island people," while still a work in progress, has already distinguished itself on the local island scene.
Kupa'aina is a collection of multigenerational musicians that met at impromptu jams at home garages and backyards from Kahaluu to Waianae. A year-and-a-half in the making, the band's just-released CD fearlessly mixes up contemporary Hawaiian music with blues, reggae, slack key and funk to create a fresh-sounding hybrid as forward-thinking as its own future business plans.
That's not surprising, considering that key member and Castle High grad Kevin Chang was an entertainment law and business major at the University of Oregon. It was there he met Kamehameha Schools grad Keao Cockett, and the genesis of Kupa'aina began there. (Chang calls the multi-instrumentalist Cockett "the virtuoso of the band" who also plays in three other bands, including his dad's band, Na Pali, on Kauai.)
When the two jamming partners returned home, they hooked up with Tongan-born Lau Aloua to become a trio. Chang is the main songwriter of Kupa'aina, his offerings often done with the help of Kanalu Young, a professor at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Besides co-writing some of the album's highlights with Chang -- "Karl's Lullaby," "Pomaika," the Spanish-tinged "The Light" and the blues-rock of "Kupa'aina" -- Young also wrote the album's introductory liner notes.
Older band members like Aloua, Anson Pang and Stanley Diego Tibayan bring a grounded, more mature sense to the music. Aloua contributes a delightful, old-timey instrumental, "Holoholo Mai Slack," that showcase his slack key guitar skills, while Tibayan offers a self-penned tribute to a mom-and-pops business, "Jane's Store," that he remembers fondly from his kolohe, small-kid-time years when his family lived in the then-named Kuhio Homes project.
Tibayan brought that song to the band the second time they met in the backyard of the Chang family home in Kahaluu for Sunday practice, and it's been part of Kupa'aina's repertoire ever since.
Chanter/singer Kalama Cabigon rounds out the band with his effusive spirit, integrating his chant and poetry slam skills.
Gathered with his bandmates on a grassy hill in Palolo District Park last Saturday afternoon after performing an abbreviated set as part of the Palolo Pride festival, Cabigon states that Kupa'aina "is not just a musical group, but a movement, a community."
The latter two involves Kototama Productions, the music business venture started by Chang, fellow attorney Derek Kamiya, recording engineers Brian Chun-Ming and Tunji Heath, and fellow singer-songwriter Kelli Heath (no relation), and their involvement and support for the Hawaiian charter school Halau Ku Mana, which just recently moved out of its University Atherton YWCA location and further back into Manoa Valley to the former Paradise Park grounds.
(One of the album's songs, "7th Generation," was produced and arranged by Kelli Heath with students from the school.)
The members of Chang's marketing group took it upon themselves to send press packets to all local media outlets, and to follow up on the distribution. With Kototama Productions as the band's startup label, they've also honed their own mixing and recording studio skills, even to the extent of buying their own audio equipment.
This happened after an original studio producer suggested that Chang record without the band's help.
"Derek and I decided then to do the album on our own," Chang said, "and other people and friends took an interest in helping us out. The final album has exceeded my expectations. Everyone delivered more than I thought could happen."
"There's a feeling of kanakapila there," said Aloua about Kupa'aina and its ethic. "It's not only about music, but we enjoy life and each other. It's a warm feeling, of friendship. All the families know one another and our first priority is to love each other."
"We tell people who we are through our music," Chang said. "It shows that we can take good things and create our own. Hawaii has a lot of talent, and we can also bring the good things in the world into our own. That may sound real idealistic, but that's how we work."
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