Waipunalei Album Cover

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By Kainaniokalihiwai Kahaunaele

Sincerest greetings to all in the Hawaiian universe!

Last November, my new CD Waipunalei was released consisting of 10 songs based on my travels to many special places in Hawaiʻi and abroad. This project included over 20 of Hawaiʻi’s finest musicians who worked with me on this legacy project producing a collection of authentically Hawaiian compositions for all to enjoy. One of the unique things of Waipunalei is that I chose to pair a few songs with other genres of music, specifically jazz and RnB.

Incorporating other music genres into Hawaiian music is nothing new. It is the continuum that began when Hawaiians first heard music from new lands that struck their hearts, delighted their ears, and inspired them to produce it themselves. Hawaiians loved jazz and quickly incorporated it into Hawaiian music. Richard Kauhi was one of the notable Hawaiian artists to present traditional mele such as Lei Kaʻahumanu and Kona Kai ʻŌpua in the jazz style with his dynamic voice and deft piano playing. I also admire Cindy Combs’ jazz vocal styling on Maile Swing fusing Hawaiian slack key and jazz in a fabulous arrangement.

I wrote Kaulana Versae as an ode to the prominence of the Eiffel Tower of which I nicknamed “Kauleopalisa.” I designed the mele as a jazz song since Paris is renowned for jazz. I was thrilled that Hawaiʻi’s finest jazz artists would find my mele worthy to record with me. It was imperative that the mele be well written in Hawaiian and authentically jazz, honoring both sides.

As for RnB, there are hardly any Hawaiian mele of today that are composed and fashioned specifically for the RnB experience. I composed He Lei Aloha No Mï Nei with the intention that it would be an RnB song. We can hear the complementary nature of both the Hawaiian and RnB side because of its context, imagery, and groove. I delivered it in my signature Hawaiian style and learned to add some RnB flavor. Another compelling factor in pulling this whole thing off was the phrasing. It matters in Hawaiian, jazz, and RnB.

I remain accountable for all my songs. Enjoy!


Kainani Kahaunaele is a composer, Hawaiʻi language teacher, and mother. She is from Anahola, Kauaʻi, and lives in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, with her family.