Jawaiian in Hawaiian


POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2009

Call it Jawaiian or “;island music”; or local-style reggae. Call it what you will, musicians here have been writing and recording music with Jamaican rhythms for more than a quarter-century.

Henry Kapono rocked with “;Stand in the Light”; in 1981. Brother Noland hit with “;Coconut Girl”; in 1983. After that came the deluge!

What Hawaii hasn't seen is a local band that plays music with Jamaican rhythms and lyrics in the indigenous language of Hawaii. Tongans, Samoans, Tahitians, Fijians, Maori and the peoples of Papua New Guinea have all been playing reggae-style music in their indigenous languages, while Hawaiian reggae has remained English-only.

Lukela Keala, founder and leader of Ekolu, two-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winners and a longtime presence in Hawaii's reggae music scene, said his group is ready to step up and meet the challenge of recording Hawaiian-language reggae.

“;We're definitely looking to put out more Hawaiian-based stuff—maybe an entire Hawaiian language album, and maybe take it to the Hokus,”; Keala said as he and group members Makapu Hoopii and Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing signed autographs for fans earlier this month at the Road Runner Music Hall.





        with the Wailers, Third World and Ekolu

» Where: Waikiki Shell, 2805 Monsarrat Ave.


» When: 6 p.m. today


» Cost: $30 general admission, $35 reserved


» Info: 591-2211 or




The trio and their sidemen were at the hall for a live performance on Island 98.5 FM promoting their new album, “;Ekolu Music II: Anthem,”; and two upcoming concerts.

Ekolu joins the Wailers and Third World at the Rise Up Music Festival tonight at the Waikiki Shell. They'll celebrate the recent release of the album Nov. 6 at the Pipeline Cafe.

“;I don't think anybody expects us to do a full-length Hawaiian album,”; Keala said. “;For me it's a big pressure because I want to make sure that the music is right. But we know how to do it, (and) now we have Kamakoa to make sure that all the lyrics are right.”;

LINDSEY-ASING GIVES Ekolu an important edge with the language. He earned a B.A. in Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 2005 and is working on an M.A. in Hawaiian language and literature. He also teaches Hawaiian at Maui Community College.

Looking at reggae music as one of many ideas that Hawaiians have adopted and adapted since 1778, he described it as “;a vehicle to carry our language.”;

“;It's just another vehicle. We're not gonna sit around and say we're Rastafarian and that Jamaica is our culture, 'cause we're Hawaiians first and foremost, that's our roots.”;

As for writing and singing reggae lyrics in Hawaiian rather than local English or a pseudo-Jamaican patois, he said simply, “;It is possible and we're gonna do it.”;

After more than a decade of popular success, six hit albums, a DVD and those back-to-back Hoku Award wins for Best Reggae Album in 2005 and 2006, there's no question that a Hawaiian-language Ekolu album will be solid in terms of melody, rhythm and arrangements. As for the lyrics, Keala, the primary voice of the group, is ready to step outside his comfort zone to make the precedent-setting project a reality.

“;Doing island music, I feel comfortable. That's my thing, singing in English,”; he said. “;When you talk about (singing in) Hawaiian, I get kind of frozen up because I know that you have to make sure that everything gotta be right, (but) it's definitely gonna be in the works. Everybody is gonna be surprised.”;

The trio isn't looking at Hawaiian-language reggae as a novelty project. Not to jinx it, but why couldn't an album win the Hoku Award for Best Reggae Album and also the Hoku for Best Hawaiian Language Performance—and maybe have a song on it that might win Haku Mele, for the best use of the Hawaiian language in a first-time recorded song, as well?

They're not bragging about the music they're planning to write and record. They're not saying they expect to win. But they're serious about writing and recording a credible album. The two language awards aren't limited to a specific type of music, and Lindsey-Asing noted that Hawaiians have embraced ideas from other cultures for more than 200 years.

“;Who's to say what is what about Hawaiian music? The guitar is not Hawaiian. The ukulele is not Hawaiian, and neither is the bass, but it's how you play it (that makes it Hawaiian).”;