The Thousand-Kanaka Kanikapila

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Mana Maoli unites students and musicians with new Song Across Hawai‘i video debut

Mana Maoli’s first Song Across Hawaiʻi video collaboration in 2016, “Hawaiʻi Aloha,” transcended expectations by garnering over 5 million views, engaging viewers at The Smithsonian and on Hawaiian Airlines flights, and winning a Nā Hōkū Hanohano award.

Now the collective’s much-anticipated follow-up project, “Island Style – ʻŌiwi Ē,” is about to drop. Created to honor beloved and influential Hawaiian musicians lost this past year, and to raise awareness and support of the Mana Mele Project, the video features over 1,000 Hawaiian charter school students and 30 Mana Mele artists – local legends John Cruz & ʻOhana, Jack Johnson, Paula Fuga, Amy Hanaialiʻi Gilliom, Eli-Mac, Natalie Ai Kamauu, Taimane, Tavana, Josh Tatofi, Kamaka Fernandez, Glenn of Maoli, Nick of Ooklah the Moc, Lehua Kalima and more.

The video’s first song is the timeless anthem “Island Style,” dedicated to the Cruz ʻOhana, who lost Ernie Sr., Ernie Jr. and Guy Cruz last year. “Most would agree, no other family has influenced Hawaiʻi’s music scene more in recent decades,” says Mana Maoli Director Keola Nakanishi. “They’ve supported us countless times since the very beginning. We wanted to honor the ʻohana, if not contribute to the healing process in some small way.” The second song in the medley, “ʻŌiwi Ē,” is performed in celebration of the life of Kumu John Keolamakaʻāinana Lake, a leader of the modern Hawaiian Renaissance who actually created the song by writing Hawaiian lyrics over the Maori melody to celebrate the ties between Aotearoa and Hawaiʻi.

Though most people know Mana Maoli from their large-scale concerts and the five volumes of CDs released over the last decade and a half, the hui does much more than make music. The 501(c)(3) organization also spearheads the Mana Mele Project, where students learn their ABCs – Academics, Business and Culture – through music and multimedia. Mana Mele is currently in all 10 of the Hawaiian charter schools on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, plus a few DOE schools with high populations of Native Hawaiian students.

Photo: The Cruz ‘Ohana
The Cruz ʻOhana sings “Island Style,” dedicated to Ernie Sr., Ernie Jr. and Guy Cruz, who were lost last year. – Photo: Courtesy of Mana Maoli

The first Mana Maoli CD and concert came about “on accident” says Nakanishi: In 2001, six charter school youth ages 11 to 18 co-wrote a song called “7th Generation,” about how the prophecies of Native Americans and Native Hawaiians align. Several musician friends of Nakanishi’s were already in the process of burning CDs with clips of their jam sessions, to give to friends and family as Makahiki gifts. The creative ambition of these six students inspired them to record and add the song to the mix, and promote the album as a fundraiser for the Hawaiian Charter School Alliance. Mana Maoli created the Maoli Music Program and started bringing artists into the schools, which evolved into today’s Mana Mele Project that facilitates year-long classes, mentorships with pro artists on and off campus and on-site visits with their solar-powered mobile studio. “Music is already invaluable as a creative and emotional outlet to document stories and histories. Mana Mele takes it further by integrating academics, real world learning and a foundation of Hawaiian language, culture and values,” says Nakanishi. “Music became the lens through which students began to learn and appreciate all kinds of knowledge, from math to career readiness.”

To pull off such a large video collaboration, Mana Maoli partnered with Playing for Change, a multimedia music movement focused on inspiring, connecting and bringing peace to the world through music. With 17 scenes, around 20 takes per scene, two to eight microphones per location and hundreds of hours of audio and video mixing, the production of “Island Style – ʻŌiwi Ē” required a small army. Mentors guided Hawaiian charter school youth in every part of the process, from participating in on-location shoots to post-production. All students learned to sing the two mele and studied the wisdom embedded in the lyrics, and many learned to play the songs on various instruments. Now, the students are focused on getting the word out about their finished masterpiece through heavy promotion in their communities and on social media.

“Island Style – ʻŌiwi Ē” is set for release on Mana Maoli’s Facebook page and their manamele.org website on Sept. 25, but locals can view it early by joining their email list, or attending the video premiere concert scheduled for Sept. 20 in the Ward Village courtyard of the IBM Building. The event promises to be a special night of remembrance and celebration, with a full set by Amy Hanaialiʻi Gilliom and mini-acoustic performances from many other artists from the video, including Kamaka Fernandez, Pomai Lyman, Lehua Kalima, Taimane, Paula Fuga and a few surprise guests.

“This medley is about being proud of who you are and where you are from, but also about forging unity across all nations and ethnicities,” says Nakanishi. “The song “ʻŌiwi Ē” talks about the sands of your birth and being good stewards of Hawai‘i, but also calls out to all tribes to come together and initiate change… We thought it was a great message to have that balance.”

Join the email list at manamele.org to stay in touch with events, video releases and more. The concert is a free event, but RSVP is required, and a VIP option is available with donation.