Songs of Legacy: Weaving the Threads of Hawaiian Heritage


Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

Hawaiian music, mele, and hula resonate within me, intertwining memories and cultural heritage. Growing up under the guidance of my kupunahine, Tūtū Mona Kaʻapana Medeiros from Molokaʻi, I discovered that these art forms are not just entertainment but a sacred vessel for our moʻolelo, a profound “passing of the torch” of generational wisdom.

In Tūtū’s home, we spent hours learning the ʻukulele, guitar, piano, and bass – each note carrying on the stories of our kūpuna. This intimate connection with the cultural practices ingrained in oli and mele solidified my dedication and discipline to master our moʻolelo, a commitment I carry forward to preserve their teachings for the generations to come.

In this journey, one individual emerged as a guiding light: the esteemed traditional Hawaiian artist, Kawai Cockett. During the early stages of my musical career, I was privileged to perform alongside Uncle Kawai. His one-of-a-kind ‘ukulele strums and beautiful tenor voice left an indelible mark. Childhood memories of watching his trio at my mom’s hula performances under nā Kumu Hula Alicia Smith and Puanani Alama at the Kapiʻolani Bandstand were my inspirations.

The song Leo Kamaʻāina holds a special place in this narrative. Crafted by my dear friend and mentor, Kumu Hula Keawe Lopes, its lyrics pay tribute to a day filled with warmth and hospitality during a visit to Kawai Cockett’s home.

Upon Uncle Kawai’s passing, Keawe asked me to compose the music and perform it at his funeral, honoring his memory and the profound impact on my musical journey. These pieces, or threads, of my musical journey, the moments shared with Tūtū, the influence of remarkable artists like Uncle Kawai, and the contemporary musicians who inspire me, all weave together to create a rich collection of experiences, offering valuable lessons I’m eager to pass on to future generations.

Through music, I discovered not only who I am but also the profound impact I can have on others. Composing the music for Leo Kamaʻāina and performing it at Uncle Kawai’s funeral was a transformative experience that showcased the power of music to honor, connect, and preserve memories.

This connection to my identity through music has fueled my commitment to preserving our cultural heritage and sharing its lessons with future generations. It’s not just about playing notes; it’s about embracing who I am, where I come from, and where I hope to guide others on this journey.

I’ve noticed younger generations, frequently captivated by social media’s allure, missing the priceless cultural wisdom held by kūpuna. I feel lucky to have received guidance that nurtured discipline and instilled a deep sense of responsibility. This discipline not only shaped me as a student and athlete but, most importantly, as a person.

Recognizing our kuleana was a driving force in my decision to run for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It is our duty to make pivotal decisions for the lāhui, decisions benefiting future generations of Native Hawaiians. I’m immensely grateful for the privilege of connecting with the voices of our Native people through the medium of mele.