Evidently the feeling is mutual. In 2017, Kalani, now a Maui resident, received a Grammy Award for his debut album, E Walea. Winning a Grammy, especially with a debut album, is no small feat, and this victory is even sweeter because E Walea is the first Hawaiian-music recording to receive the Best Regional Roots Music Album award since the category was created five years ago. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences combined the Hawaiian, Native American, polka, zydeco and Cajun Grammies in 2012, and the Regional Roots category has been dominated by Cajun/zydeco artists ever since. Until this year, when the self-described “big boy” with the lauhala bow tie and jaunty flat cap burst onto the Grammy scene.
The eclectic taste Kalani’s father instilled in him shines on E Walea, which includes seven haku mele (original compositions in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i — Hawaiian language), and covers of a few of his favorite Hawaiian standards and pop ballads, including Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” — with lyrics in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.
In his live performances, Kalani stretches musical boundaries even further, artfully blending smooth R&B, soft rock, and Hawaiian — both classic and contemporary. With a bluesy, ZZ Top flavor, Kalani’s treatment of “Noho Paipai” (“Rocking Chair Hula”) really does rock! By the time he has the audience singing “Ooh, Baby, Baby” with him, everyone in the house truly understands the meaning of e walea.
Watching him light up the stage with unbridled joy, you might assume that Kalani not only loves a crowd, but needs one; that he is happiest when performing. Not so. His interests are deep and varied, and each arouses the same bubbly enthusiasm.
Fluent in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, he is an ardent supporter of Hawaiian language immersion school, which he attended from the third grade. A 2001 graduate of Ke Kula o Nāwahīkalani‘ōpu‘u in Kea‘au, Puna, Kalani received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. He has worked as a television news assignment editor, a print journalist, a teacher, and an illustrator. For the past eight years, he has served as a Hawaiian resource coordinator for Kamehameha Schools, combining his lifelong interest in science with his dedication to Hawaiian culture. His creative pursuits range beyond music to visual arts; he enjoys sketching and pointillism as much as songwriting and composing; he illustrated and published five Hawaiian-language children’s stories while still in high school. “I have no favorite hobby or activity. There are so many things I love. They’re who I am.”
Music as an art is one thing; music as a business involves a great deal more. Kalani is quick to credit his business and life partner, Allan Cool, as the key to E Walea’s success. An award-winning makeup artist, Allan is the managing and marketing half of Kalani Pe‘a Music. For months before the Grammy ceremonies, he tirelessly reached out to high-profile producers and artists. “It’s all about building relationships and networking. Allan works so hard for us. He is my best friend, my manager, my confidante, my backbone . . . my fiancé,” Kalani beams.
The singer is just as lavish with praise and appreciation for his parents, “who sacrificed everything for my siblings and [me].” At thirty-four, Kalani retains a childlike wonder at the many turns his life has taken. “I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Winning the Grammy has opened a lot of doors; so many exciting things coming up: tours, collaborations with major artists . . . it has changed my life.”
Happily, national acclaim hasn’t changed him. “It’s so unbelievable, I pinch myself every day,” he giggles.’
To learn more about Kalani Pe‘a, visit kalanipeamusic.com.