Kupaoa’s music magic

  • Photo by Cat Frazier

    A young audience member stands to get a better view of Kupaoa at the Waimea Public Library.

  • Photo by Cat Frazier

    Lihau Paik and Kellen Paik make up Kupaoa, and have been playing together for 14 years.

  • Photo by Cat Frazier

    Kellen Paik and Lihau Paik perform at the Waimea Public Library.

It’s Wednesday evening at the Waimea Public Library and the quiet space practically hums with felicitous anticipation. The internationally-recognized musical duo, Kupaoa, is preparing to present a 45-minute set in honor of the Waimea branch’s summer reading program, Libraries Rock.

Chairs have been arranged in neat pews leading up to a niche serving as the stage. Nestled beneath streams of brightly colored paper cranes, the scene looks more like a makeshift wedding ceremony than town concert. The analogy is apt. Husband and wife team, Kellen Paik and Lihau Paik, have been performing together for 14 years and their songs are often an homage to stories — their own and the island’s.

Beginning the program with the soothing plucks of his tuning guitar, Kellen says a warm aloha and sheepishly apologizes for the delay due to technical difficulty.

“Who would have guessed batteries erode?” he jokes.

Michelle Young, branch manager, takes the stage and thanks the pair for driving all the way from Kilauea, a testament met with much applause. After the brief presentation of a gift supported by Friends of Waimea Public Library and leis made by the organization’s VP, Cinthy Kagawa, we are underway.

Their first song, “Kananaka,” opens with soaring harmonies and a gentle duet that encapsulates the imagery of fragrant trade winds and sunlight strummed through flickering palm fronds. Children mingle, huddled within the crook of familiars and sway, their arms mimicking the intonations of hula dancers.

Entranced by some ancient rhythm, the Paik’s adoration for their craft, home, and each other is apparent.

“Of course, Hawaii is very beautiful,” Kellen says. “But it’s the stories and history that add that depth to the islands.”

In between songs they impart some of these sagas, learned through dedication to research and life. Each memoir is a union; personal anecdotes suffused in heritage, dispelled by love of place.

Indeed, romance seems to color most of their interactions throughout the set and the couple’s ease is remarkably buoyant.

“People sometimes ask if our banter is scripted,” Lihau says. “It’s not.”

The pair met while attending classes at the University of Hawaii in Manoa and after friends asked Kellen to perform at their wedding, he began teaching Lihau how to play the bass. She, in turn, taught him how to sing.

“I think one reason we blend so well is because we learned together and taught each other,” she says.

They were booked for another gig at the ceremony and it snowballed from there leading to careers as full-time musicians; four albums filled with original and traditional compositions; international performances and collaborations in Japan; and multiple Na Hoku Hanohano awards (Hawaii’s equivalent to the Grammys).

In what is surely a story for the history books, Kellen and Lihau fell in love over music, which in turn brought them even closer as a couple. They’ve been such for 13 years.

“Tomorrow is our eighth wedding anniversary,” she confides with a smile.

To learn more about events like this one at your local public library and participate in National Library Card Signup Month in September, visit librarieshawaii.org. Additional information about Kupaoa’s upcoming events and online store can be found at kupaoa.com.

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