Maui’s Ekolu once again triumphed at the annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, winning Band of the Year and Reggae Album of the Year for their album. “2020”, while the group’s co-founder and lead singer, Lukela Keala, also won Male Vocalist of the Year and Island Music Album of the Year for her self-titled debut album.
The 2021 ceremony was broadcast Thursday evening on K5, without an audience, due to the pandemic.
“I was already very grateful for the nominations, but to take the victory in these categories was simply breathtaking” Keala got excited on Friday. “I’m still excited. I am very proud to represent Maui. It’s my house. This is where my inspiration comes from. It’s in the mountains when I look out the window. It’s in the air as I walk past my door. I am honored to be able to represent this island.
Particularly happy to have won Group of the Year, he said, “It’s a prize we’ve been chasing for years but never got. Reggae bands just don’t touch that price tag, but ultimately here we are in 2021. We’re honored to bring it back to Maui.
His first recording in the Hawaiian language, “Lukela Keala”, is a project he has been considering for over 20 years.
“It has been one of my goals from the very beginning”, explained the Maui-born musician. “But I was never able to do it because I was always recording Ekolu albums.”
Ekolu has already won the Hoku Awards in 2020 for Anthology of the Year for “Timeless 20-year anniversary” and Single of the Year for their powerful song “Desecration,” on the Mauna Kea protests. One of Maui’s most popular bands, their hits include “Glued to you,” “Just like that” and “Someone loves you honey.”
Ekolu will then play Maui at 8 p.m. on October 15 and 5 and 8 p.m. on October 16 at Da Playground in Maalaea. Tickets cost $ 40, available at www.daplaygroundmaui.com.
Other Maui Hoku 2021 winners included Kaleo Phillips, who won the Contemporary Acoustic Album of the Year award for “First dance.”
“I feel very blessed” Phillips reported. “It’s a long time coming, and I’m very happy and proud. We have so many talented musicians and engineers who come from our beautiful island, so it’s really special.
Nominated for his last two albums, Phillips’ “First dance” captured this versatile Maui musician through an array of styles ranging from island pop soul and reggae to traditional Hawaiian. As a highlight, it featured a new song with the late Willie K.
“It was really special to have a little ode to Uncle Willie”, he said.
Two-time Grammy winner Kalani Pe’a won Christmas Single of the Year for her unique version of “Oh holy night.” Pe’a said he was in tears watching the prices on Thursday night, as his recording of “Oh holy night” featuring uncle Aiau Koa, who has just passed away.
“I cried so much because of Uncle Aiau”, he said. “He was one of my mentors and best friends and my guitarist. I did my version of ‘O Holy Night’ with Damon Williams to recognize the pandemic that is affecting us.
“Michael Casil, who won a Hoku, designed this song, and he will be playing cajon for me at my CD release concert at ProArts. And Kalani Miles, who won the Hawaiian EP of the Year, will play guitar.
Pe’a will be performing two shows at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei at 7:30 pm on October 16-17 as a CD release show for her latest recording “Kau Ka Pe’a.” Places are limited and attendance is by vaccination or negative COVID test. Tickets cost $ 50, available at www.ProArtsMaui.com.
“It will be an acoustic evening full of contemporary Hawaiian soul music and an evening in honor of Uncle Aiau Koa”, he said.
Maui was also represented by Miles, who won the Hawaiian EP (Extended Play) for his first recording. “He Mele No Papa,” (Songs for Dad) which he released in tribute to his late father. And Casil won the Hawaiian Engineering Award for his work on Makamae Auwae “Lei Makamae.”
Miles, a 20-year Maui Police Department officer, said he spent Thursday night in the office because he was too nervous to watch the awards show.
“I worked so hard on the project and didn’t want to let my dad down” he said on Friday after receiving an avalanche of phone calls and texts congratulating him on his first Hoku.
Miles grew up listening to his father play Hawaiian music on the radio or on his guitar or ukulele, and he hoped to make a recording with him before he passed away. Although they couldn’t, Miles said he found a video of his father singing in the background and was able to use the audio for his album.
“If you listen to the first track on my album, I actually have my father’s voice singing at the start of the song” said Miles.
“I put songs on the project that I know he would like, or that he would like if he was still around.”
Miles, who dedicated his victory to Hoku to his father and uncle Aiau Koa, recently teamed up with a young musician from Maui, Kason Gomes, to release a CD two weeks ago and said he was also working on another EP.
Presented by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts, the 44th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards aired Thursday. It featured 12 live performances and 40 award categories, celebrated virtually with the theme of “Ho’ala Hou – A new awakening.”
“It’s been almost two years since the world stopped and many of our beloved HARA members have had to navigate their careers after canceling gigs and gigs,” he said. HARA President Amy Hanaiali’i reported. “To recognize the resilience, grace, creativity and innovation of our artists, we have chosen the theme of” Ho’ala Hou – A New Awakening “as a rebirth for the industry.”
The awards show will be rebroadcast at 7 p.m. tonight on KGMB and 7 p.m. on October 30 on KHNL.
* Editor-in-chief Colleen Uechi contributed to this report.