Navigating through song

KILAUEA — Kellen and Lihau Paik have been nominated for so many Na Hoku Hanohano awards over the years they’ve lost count.

But for the musical duo from Kilauea, the seven nominations they received this year — including the coveted Group of The Year award — is validation of their dedication and love of Hawaiian music.

“The whole process is a really nice way for our peers in the industry to celebrate each other’s work,” said Lihau Paik, one half of Hawaiian musical group Kupaoa. “When we get nominations, it’s really such a nice feeling that our peers have recognized the work we are putting into our music.”

At the 40th annual Na Hoku Hanohano awards on Saturday, the list of awards Kupaoa is nominated for include Island Music Album of the Year, Favorite Entertainer and Hawaiian Language Performance.

In addition to producing and making their own music, Kupaoa produces music for other artists.

“We’re full-time musicians, so we’re always working on the next project — whether it be collecting songs, writing new material,” Kellen said. “It’s always with the goal of the next CD in mind.”

As a group, producers and individuals, Kellen and Lihau have won 11 Na Hoku Hanohano awards.

The title track of Kupaoa’s third album, “Bumbye,” written by Puakea Nogelmier, was awarded the Haku Mele award in 2014.

This year, Kupaoa’s album “Ho‘okele” is being recognized for its traditional Hawaiian sound, poetic lyrics and use of Hawaii olelo — many of the songs are reminiscent of music from the Hawaiian monarchy.

“Ho’okele is a collection of songs that we really liked listening to,” Lihau said. “We put a lot of effort into selecting the songs and arranging them. On every album, there’s a little bit of a different focus. This album we decided that we wanted to put music on what we enjoy playing and listening to.”

The songs honor those who are helping others, the couple said.

“As we’ve grown up listening to Hawaiian music, as we become students of Hawaiian language and started to compose our own music, we looked to these types of songs to guide us and make sure we’re headed in the right direction,” Lihau said.

Kellen and Lihau combined talents over a decade ago for a wedding performance and have been married for seven years.

“I called a bunch of friends of mine — Lihau was one of them — and after a couple of rehearsals, it was just me and her,” he said. “We practiced for a year, and we performed at the wedding. At that wedding, we got asked to play at another thing. What was supposed to be a one-time show, it just kept rolling forward.”

Born and raised in Kilauea, Kellen has been listening to and playing Hawaiian music since high school.

“We used to carry our ukuleles around. As a group of friends, we used to play music during, before, after school,” he said. “I had a group with classmates and we played for a bunch of years. I had one friend who was very adamant on playing Hawaiian music. I’m glad I stuck with it.”

For Lihau, Hawaiian music has been part of her life since she began dancing hula at age 3.

“I started to learn the words and tunes,” she said. “I didn’t play Hawaiian music instruments until I got together and started playing music with Kellen.”

In an industry where mainstream music is focusing more on singles, Kellen and Lihau stick with a more traditional approach.

“We’re still music lovers where we like the whole album experience,” he said. “It’s finding the right songs in the right order, so you can listen to an album from start to finish. In the end of listening, you get this greater story.”


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