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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
THE MUSIC LOUNGE
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Transgender performer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole and mother bringing native Hawaiian sounds to Seattle

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

KEKUHI KANAHELE
KEALI'IKANAKA'OLEOHAILILANI
& KAUMAKAIWA KANAKA'OLE
'HULA: OUR WORLD
CONSCIOUSNESS'
TOWN HALL
February 13 & 14


Hawaii is known for many beautiful things. The weather, the beaches, the culture, the people. And, also for its music. The islands are home to thousands of skilled artists who cover a multitude of musical styles, from reggae to folk to contemporary jazz, all fused with the sounds of ukuleles, slack key guitars, and ipus. Some performers, however, are deeply devoted to preserving the most ancient traditions of Hawaii, passed on from their forebears, that combine music, dance, spiritual teachings, and maintaining the native language. Kekuhi Kanahele Keali'ikanaka'oleohaililani and Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, a mom and daughter duo from the Big Island, are musicians who intertwine traditional elements of song, hula, poetry, and cultural practices into unique concerts around the country and world. They are scheduled to perform back-to-back nights at Town Hall, on February 13 with a performance called 'Hula: Our World Consciousness,' and February 14 as part of the venue's ongoing Global Rhythms series. Tickets for both events are available at www.townhallseattle.org. By phone, I spoke with Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, who is openly Transgender, about her lifestyle and about details for the upcoming show. Here is what she shared with me inside The Music Lounge.

Albert Rodriguez: Can you describe your sound, so that anyone not familiar with Hawaiian music or your work can get an idea of what they'll be listening to?

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole: I think it is the perfect harmonic relationship between nature and man. If nature in all of its sounds and vibrations had to communicate in a language, I think that it would be Hawaiian music and Hawaiian language that would be its closest relative.

Rodriguez: Is it acoustic, or a cappella? Or, do you have a band?

Kanaka'ole: I guess the music would be considered acoustic. We have a guitarist, Shawn Pimental, who is also our producer, and we travel with just him on guitar. We use a few samples and effects pedals, and my mother and I are on vocals most of the time. We have dancers, as well, that we've invited.

Rodriguez: Yes, I was going to ask if you are including dance in your performance.

Kanaka'ole: We are. My mother and I come from a rich hula tradition and we will be sharing hula, both the kahiko and ancient genre, as well as the contemporary genre done with Hawaiian music or instrumentation.

Rodriguez: Have you performed in Seattle before?

Kanaka'ole: Many times.

Rodriguez: Have you performed at Town Hall?

Kanaka'ole: I have, I was a soloist then. It was a year, maybe two years ago. Shawn Pimental, our producer who will be with us, and myself, we were both there for a concert that I headlined and it was amazing. I've also performed at Benaroya Hall before and in other various places in Seattle.

Rodriguez: Outside of your performances, is your music available for anyone to download or listen to on iTunes, Pandora, or Rhapsody?

Kanaka'ole: All of the above. It's on iTunes and another (retail) outlet called CD Baby; on iTunes my mother and I are available individually and our joint works as well.

Rodriguez: You're very open about your Transgender lifestyle. Do you get a lot of support when you're on the road?

Kanaka'ole: I was into my third album and having had a public profile especially in the genre of world music and in Hawaiian music, and I was touring around the world already, as a male. It wasn't until two years ago that I was going to make the transition complete and begin my hormonal treatment, in addition to living a consistent lifestyle of a female both personally and professionally.

Rodriguez: Has that been met with support from the music community?

Kanaka'ole: It really has, yes. I can't say that for everyone, but from my own experience it's been amazing. From the local press to the international press we've dealt with, since embracing my Transgender experience it's been amazing. I've been on the cover of a few magazines here in Hawaii, where the focus was actually Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual relationships, as well as Transgender identity. So, they've been very supportive, music venues included. I can't say that about everybody and everywhere we've played at, but thus far it's been great.

Rodriguez: The Transgender community has gained exposure in the mainstream media with TV shows like 'Transparent' and actress Laverne Cox. This helps enhance the awareness of the Transgender community, right?

Kanaka'ole: Of course, I think they do help. Not 'I think,' I know they help. I think that it's our prerogative and up to us to fill in the blanks. Defining the multi-faceted shades and subcultures within our community, that's equally as important, in addition to bringing awareness to the general public.

Rodriguez: The music you'll be performing in Seattle, is it a mix of original material and covers, or all original?

Kanaka'ole: Yeah, actually it is. The covers that we choose to do are compositions from our grandmothers, or great-grandmothers. So, they're still familial, but covers nonetheless. But a good majority of the performance will be original compositions done in our native Hawaiian language, as both my mother and I are native speakers, and then we do have one or two original English compositions that we may add to it as well.

Rodriguez: Do you pay attention to pop music trends? Do you like pop music?

Kanaka'ole: I do! I actually don't listen to a lot of Hawaiian music.

Rodriguez: Who or what do you listen to specifically?

Kanaka'ole: If you were to flip on my iTunes account, you would see Mahalia Jackson, Tina Turner, and a little bit of Edith Piaf, and then mixed in there would be people like Hozier, or some indie/alternative rock and singer-songwriter types. My mother raised us on classical music, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff.

Rodriguez: Since you've been to Seattle before on multiple occasions, are there any places you like to see or go back to when you are here?

Kanaka'ole: We're nature people (laughs). We're born and bred nature girls from Hawaii, so we are more inclined to the primieval forests and the beautiful Northwestern wilderness that you have. So, we tend to gravitate more towards the natural features of Seattle and Washington. We love to go and walk down to Pike Place (Market) and get whatever's fresh, have a little urban experience, and then head out to the countryside, or as 'country' as the greater Sea-Tac area will provide.

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