LIHUE — When Kalani Pe‘a was 4 years old, music became his salvation.
“I had a really bad speech impediment when I was 4,” Pe‘a told The Garden Island in a previous article. “Music saved my life.”
Speech therapy in preschool didn’t work for him, so his mother turned him over to music and singing in order to pronounce words. It didn’t take long for Pe‘a to find his calling as a singer, and sometimes he would get lost in his music.
Literally and figuratively.
“My mother lost me at JC Penney in Hilo, a long time ago, before it closed,” Pe‘a said. “She ended up losing me because I was singing and serenading mannequins. And she was like ‘What the hell are you doing?’ She realized that music would become a huge part of my life when I started singing in public.”
She was right.
Pe‘a went on to win Brown Bags to Stardom when he was 18 and produced his debut album “E Walea,” which got the musician a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday.
Pe‘a’s music goes beyond its melodic tones and lyrics. Singing in Hawaiian and English, Pe‘a feels that it’s important for those who listen to his music to understand the meaning behind his words and feel the power of Hawaiian music.
“I do this because there’s a legacy factor. I’m not here to write music, I’m here to ensure the stories and mele that I’m going to share will impact the lives of many, sharing who I am and what defines me and what describes me through these songs,” he said. “People around the world have never heard Hawaiian music. But once they hear it on SoundCloud, once they meet me or Facetime me, they realize that music is my life and music is life to many of us.”
Classically trained with a background in contemporary and soul music, Pe‘a’s debut album crosses borders and defies the natural order of genres.
While he has enjoyed a moderate level of success before he came out with the album, Pe‘a never imagined that he would be nominated for a Grammy.
“All I did was cry when I got that nomination,” Pe‘a said. “I had no idea that I would be the sole Hawaii artist at the Grammy’s this year, with my debut album.”
When asked if he feels nervous about performing in front of an audience that might not be aware of Hawaiian music and culture, Pe‘a laughed and dismissed that notion.
“I am confident, but knowing that I am modest and rooted, knowing who I am and having a sense of identity, helps me as a person to network and shake someone else’s hand and give them a hug,” he said.
Pe‘a plans on bringing three dozen lei to share his aloha with people with whom he has spoken and networked. Going to the awards ceremony, win or lose, will be a positive experience for him.
“We’re here to share our stories through our music. And that’s what matters to me,” he said.
Pe‘a spoke with The Garden Island prior to winning the Grammy.