Photo Above: In an exciting collaboration, Hawaiian recording artists and kumu came together to produce the first professionally recorded version of Kū Haʻaheo e Kuʻu Hawaiʻi. – Photos: Courtesy
By: Chad Takatsugi
Inspired by the dramatic events taking place at the base of Maunakea since mid-July, many kānaka maoli have experienced an undeniable awakening. There is a palpable buzz in the atmosphere that is inspiring action to degrees not witnessed since the aftermath of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Images of peaceful demonstrations flood our social media feeds, armies of red-clad kānaka maoli bringing their immutable voices to the streets and through it all, our mele serve as rallying cries sustaining the movement.
Music holds power. Lyrics capture untranslatable emotions and melodies tug at the vulnerable parts of our souls. It is no surprise then that music, as personal and intimate as we know it to be, has long been a powerful tool in transformational social movements.
Inspired by the courage of our kūpuna and kiaʻi, some of Hawaiʻi’s most renowned artists joined forces to show their support for Maunakea through mele. The result is Kūhaʻo Maunakea, an album featuring 18 original compositions documenting the events and swell of ʻōiwi pride associated with the Kū Kiaʻi Mauna movement.
As the project’s producers, Zachary Lum, Shawn Pimental and I, with support from Kanaeokana, saw the role such a project could play in this history-making saga. Many people are looking for ways to support the movement. Not everyone is able to physically stand with the kiaʻi on the mauna, but we can certainly find ways to take a stand in our own spaces. Teachers, medical professionals, politicians, legal experts – everyone is doing what they can to help. For musicians, the power of mele is our contribution.
Mele is a powerful way to facilitate intergenerational learning and celebrate the connection between the ancestral wisdom and practices of our kūpuna and the commitment we make today to future generations.
“English does not have a word that encapsulates both man and nature. Hawaiian does: ʻāina. Aloha ʻāina, thus, is the undeniable bond between man and environment. Every moment we dedicate to aloha ʻāina is a moment we dedicate to our keiki. These moments are the little pebbles that will form a new foundation. It will be a new reality for our keiki, the rebirth of a new lāhui consciousness,” reflected Lum, project co-producer and music educator.
On July 17, 2019, law enforcement officers came face-to-face with protectors rooted defiantly among the lava fields at Puʻuhuluhulu at the base of Maunakea in one of the more tense confrontations since the beginning of the conflict. Within weeks after that encounter, 17 of the 18 compositions featured on the album were written in response to the events of that day. Some of the mele capture a specific moment like a musical snapshot. Others pay tribute to key figures of the movement. Some marvel at the feeling of activation that kānaka maoli are experiencing. All, however, are personal journeys fastened together by a commitment to aloha ʻāina.
Kanaiʻa Nakamura, formerly of the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award winning group, Holunape, recounted personal trauma and wove it into his contribution to the compilation. He Lei Wāhine is a tribute to the line of women who, arms linked in solidarity, stood fearlessly blocking progress up Mauna Kea Access Road as law enforcement officials approached. Nakamura’s own wife stood in that line demonstrating the personal investment in the ongoing battle.
Music veteran Del Beazley also felt a personal responsibility to help with the project. His song, titled Rize, calls out to the multitudes of kānaka maoli across every generation to stand hand-in-hand in support of our ʻāina. Beazley’s granddaughter is featured on the track, a reminder that we fight today for the generations of tomorrow.
Perhaps the most well-known composition on the album is the one song that was not originally inspired by Maunakea. Kū Haʻaheo e Kuʻu Hawaiʻi was written by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu when she was a kumu at Hālau Lōkahi Public Charter School as a way for her students to express themselves as modern day kānaka maoli.
Her song has since become an anthem and rallying call for our lāhui to aloha ʻāina, and was part of the medley (along with the chorus of Hawaiʻi Loa, Kū Like Kākou written by Liko Martin in the 1980s) featured in the August 11, 2019 “Jam 4 Mauna Kea” event and sung simultaneously by tens of thousands of mauna supporters around the world.
A partnership with ʻŌiwiTV resulted in a music video of Kū Haʻaheo e Kuʻu Hawaiʻi which features some of Hawaiʻi’s most celebrated recording artists, lifting their voices in unified support for the struggle. The music video has enjoyed viral success on social media with about one million views since its since its release on September 2nd, inspiring people all over the world with its genuine message of pride and aloha for our ʻāina and lāhui.
“Here, in perhaps one of the most important recording projects in recent history, we lift our collective voices in tandem with thousands of others here in Hawaiʻi and across the globe in support of Mauna A Wākea. Everyone donated their time and talent to be a part of this fine aloha ʻāina tapestry. Every day we are on the mauna. And every day we are writing new chapters of our own story,” said award-winning artist and kumu hula Kealiʻi Reichel, a featured guest artist on Kū Haʻaheo.
The entire album is a testament to the passion and commitment of the Hawaiian music community, as all artists and composers waived compensation for their work with 100% of proceeds being donated directly to the Hawaiʻi Unity and Liberation Institute (HULI) which provides logistical support to the frontline protectors on Maunakea.
Our hope is that the impact of this compilation will be felt for generations; that 100 years from now, when people look back at this moment, they will see the struggle that kānaka maoli faced while trying to protect our piko. It is important that we have an active role in telling this story because it will serve as a reminder that our kuleana toward our ʻāina has always been what defines us and will forever do so.
No ka lāhui by Taylor DeLorm-Doane
After returning to Oʻahu from Maunakea on July 18, the day after the notorious kūpuna arrests, artist Taylor DeLorm-Doane drew this digital art piece entitled No Ka Lāhui. The drawing depicts kiaʻi on the mauna, all of whom are real people, with Taylor’s self-portrait in the foreground. “I was using art as an outlet for the ʻeha I was feeling at the time, while also showing how amazing it feels to be on the mauna, surrounded by the lāhui,” shared Taylor. “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
Taylor, 20, was born in Hilo, grew up on Oʻahu and currently attends the University of San Francisco. Not content to simply create a piece that would honor the movement, she decided to use her artwork to support the protection of Maunakea. “I wanted to find a way to support from Oʻahu, and now from college,” said Taylor, “so I made T-shirts and hoodies with the design and donated the profits from my sales to the Kānaka Rangers on Maunakea.”
Like the mele birthed as an outward expression of the passion and intense emotions this movement has inspired, Taylor’s striking artwork is yet another example of the way that the mauna is moving ʻōiwi artists to create.
Search for the Mauna Mele playlists on Spotify and YouTube
Be a part of the movement. Please visit kanaeokana.net/Maunakea to download Kūhaʻo Mauna Kea, to view lyrics and album information, or to upload your own compositions to add to the story.
Chad Takatsugi is an award-winning ʻōiwi musician, celebrated composer and advocate for an empowered lāhui.