Kainani Kahaunaele, UH Hilo alumna and Hawaiian studies lecturer, wins big at 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards

Kainani Kahaunaele’s third album, Waipunalei, won seven awards in six categories at the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

Kainani Kahaunaele walking in Honolulu.
Kainani Kahaunaele. Courtesy photo.

The Star Advertiser reports Kainani Kahaunaele’s third album, Waipunalei, won seven awards in six categories at the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Kahaunaele is an alumna of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and is currently a lecturer in Hawaiian Studies at UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

Kainani Kahaunaele’s first album, “Nau Oe,” won three Hokus, including female vocalist of the year, in 2004. Her second, “Ohai Ula,” won both the adjudicated Hawaiian-language categories in 2011. Her third, “Waipunalei,” more than doubled that total tonight — winning seven awards in six categories — as the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) announced the winners of the 2021 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.

Kahaunaele’s wins included album of the year, which goes to the producer of the album as well as to the artist. Since Kahaunaele is the album’s producer the win earned her two awards — one as the recording artist, one as the producer. Kahaunaele also won female vocalist, Hawaiian music album, song of the year, haku mele and Hawaiian language performance.

From a previous story at UH Hilo Stories:

Educator, musician, advocate, Kainani Kahaunaele does it all. A proud alumni-turned-employee of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, she credits much of her success to former mentors and peers who have fostered her knowledge of both Hawaiian language and culture.

Kainani Kahaunaele pictured.
Kainani Kahaunaele

Born and raised on Kaua‘i, Kahaunaele graduated from Kapa‘a High School. Immediately after, she enrolled at Kaua‘i Community College, at which her steadfast interest in her Kānaka Maoli heritage manifested into a membership in the school’s Hawaiian club.

“At the time, the Hawaiian club would take an annual excursion to UH Hilo to attend the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program,” says Kahaunaele. She credits this conference as being her first experience at the university and the one that ultimately inspired her to move to Hawai‘i Island. “It took one weekend for me to decide that I wanted to be around this energy, that I wanted to be around those people, and I wanted to learn from those people at the Hawaiian language college at UH Hilo.”

Being from a small town herself, going to school in a place like Hilo was a fairly easy shift. Kahaunaele enjoyed the country-esque vibes, but was also excited to take advantage of the island’s unique landscape. She felt that living and learning in a place that has everything from lava to snow truly enriched her experience.

But what really set the tone for her educational prosperity were her educators at UH Hilo. “Some of my earliest influences were Kauanoe KamanāTaupori TangarōLarry Lindsey Kimura, and many of the Native Hawaiian speaking elders that were brought in,” says Kahaunaele. “To have access to them through our college was one of the best benefits as young Hawaiian language learners.”

She went on to earn a bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies and a master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature.

“As a teacher now, I often remember my teachers, their expectations, their practical knowledge, and how they made us fall in love with them,” she says. She remembers them as the “best instructors” who offered the “best opportunities.” Emulating those same qualities is a goal she continually strives to provide for her own students.

Despite being labeled a solo artist, Kahaunaele’s music is the product of a highly collaborative process, one that takes into account Hawaiian history, language, and people. “Paying attention to classic Hawaiian mele, including chants, therein lies the best examples of how a Hawaiian song is experienced or seen,” she says. “I also often consult with some of my favorite song writers, cultural experts, and language experts.” This creative undertaking also involves fellow musicians who contribute to a song’s arrangement and lyric writing.

Read the full story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura:

UH Hilo alumna Kainani Kahaunaele’s primary goal is to teach ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and all things Hawaiian