The five-time Na Hoku award winner offered a five-star performance last Saturday on Kahilu TV’s livestream broadcast.
In her one-hour set, Hawaiian singer-composer Kainani Kahaunaele shared a collection of songs from her three albums that focused on her life, travels, and tributes to various locations around the islands. Surrounded by lush tropical flower arrangements, and four talented musicians, Kainani’s outstanding virtual performance was broadcast to viewers via the Kahilu TV app.
Like most songwriters, Kainani is as much a storyteller as she is a musician. Early in her show, she talked about the inspiration behind the title track from her latest album Waipunalei. “The song comes from the forest of Waipunalei,” said the singer describing a beautiful area on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island. “Let’s imagine ourselves there with birds and flowers and remember the ali‘i from early on.” Her sweet but powerful voice sailed across the nearly empty venue of scattered stagehands and seated cardboard cut-outs who now occupy the auditorium during the Kahilu’s virtual concerts.
The singer’s top-flight band featured Zachary Lum (bass/vocals), Darryl Gonzales (guitar/vocals), Shawn Kekoa Pimental (guitar/vocals), and Michael Grande (Piano/Keyboard). All of the musicians appear on her current album.
Kainani’s delivery of “Lei Ho’oheno” was spellbinding. In her introduction to the song, Kainani spoke about the different types of rain we experience here on the island. “Think about the rain that drizzles when it’s sunny and it becomes sparkly and golden,” noted the musician. “That’s the rain that this mele is about.” Right on cue, Mother Nature responded with rain that could be heard hitting the theatre’s roof as Kainani sang the gentle tune and several others.
Kainani showcased her musical diversity with “He Lei Aloha No Mi Nei.” It’s a contemporary number with extraordinary keyboard work from Michael Grande. Kainani set her ukulele down for this one and gave the audience a Sade-like performance, complete with sultry vocals and elegant moves. Local radio should be playing this pop song in heavy rotation.
Before closing the show, Kainani sang “Ke Aloha No Waipi’o,” a tune about Waipi’o valley that Weldon Kekauoha has performed regularly and one that Kainani is now adding to her set.
As the final notes faded, the few of us in the theatre shouted for a hana hou. Kainani ended her musical journey with “Ka Hinano o Puna.” Kainani encouraged the folks watching at home to take a photo of themselves dancing to her show and tag her on Instagram.
Born and raised on Kauai, Kainani now calls the Big Island home and is currently promoting her new release Waipunalei. The 10-track collection (available on CD and a limited-edition vinyl pressing) features styles ranging from traditional Hawaiian, smooth jazz, and R&B, all sung in Hawaiian. When not performing, she lectures at Ka Haka Ula O Keæelikolani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.