Comprised of Jonah Kahanuola Solatorio, and brothers Nicholas and Zachary Lum, the musical trio of Keauhou prides itself on the preservation of both the land and the traditional music of Hawaiʻi.
The members of Keauhou are best known for making music, or mele, influenced by their love for their surroundings — an ideology known as Aloha ‘Āina — with an emphasis on the conservation of a sense of place for Hawaiians.
“Thinking back to those times of our youth, of our family, every Saturday, we would drive down the street right … to my grandma’s house just for family dinner,” says Nicholas, referring to the land where the non-profit agricultural organization of Papahana Kuaola sits and where this special episode of “Live From My Den” was filmed.
“It was a very normal thing for a ukulele to pop up and everyone to start singing. And it was also a very normal thing for us to go to karaoke in town. It never really dawned on me but everyone in our family could sing, and pretty well.”
While the Hawaiian language offers myriad meanings to a name, Keauhou can be translated as “the renewed generation.” However, the actual sentiment behind the moniker is much deeper.
Says Zachary: “The only Hawaiian tradition is change. That’s the only tradition we have. Which seems almost blasphemous today to think that all we do is change because ours is a culture that depends and relies so much on the idea that we know where we’re going because we know where we came from. But at the same time, as we look and as we walk back into the future, we also inherently and implicitly do things inspired by the past but now. And that is a very subtle change I think. It’s very subtle.”
All three men are graduates of the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, where they participated in the concert glee club and played in the Warrior Marching Band — eventually going on to continue their higher education, having graduated with master’s degrees in the fields of education, ethnomusicology, and Hawaiian language, respectively, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
“I think we can start looking at mele as this database from which we can learn so many things and so many stories, names, it goes on and on,” says Nicholas. “And that’s not to say that we can’t enjoy it for the face value and the beautiful music and whatnot. You could actually catalog these songs and learn so much about a place just by learning the songs associated with it.”
The band traces its musical inspiration to influences from the 1900s through the 1970s — otherwise known as the decade of the Hawaiian renaissance. Keauhou list composers John Kameaaloha Almeida, Charles E. King and Lena Machado as touchstones and share a laugh when remembering that a lot of the kūpuna (elders), “always tell us we remind them of Kahauanu Lake, an older trio, or people from their era. And we’re happy because that’s all a part of our name, bringing that current back, bringing that style back.“
Through music and education, the trio has managed to bridge the gap between older and younger listeners. As a doctoral student, Nicholas says he’s focused on observing innovation in music as a form of inspiring the younger generation “to learn their language, to get deeper into their culture… Perfect example of this is the whole K-pop music is becoming very big in America, right? I don’t understand a bit of Korean but I can still listen because of the musical value. … So if we can create Hawaiian music that is very catchy to a younger generation, it might inspire them to go, ‘Hey, this is my culture. I am Hawaiian. Maybe I should understand what’s being said.'”
Solatorio teaches Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at the school of Kamehameha Kapālama, where one of his exercises involves having students write their own songs about the places that they’re from or about their elders. As a PhD student in indigenous politics, Zachary spends his time learning how music creates community. “I think that education is major in us being able to — not just understand and articulate its value — but actually to put it to practice. And I think that’s what we strive to do.”
Watch the full video above.
This Live from My Den Special Edition is made possible by The Hawaiian Islands with additional support from Creative Industries Division – Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), and Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association (NaHHA).