Love and Legacy with Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole Coming to Vancouver this January

By Rachel Rosenberg

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole is an award-winning singer and hula dancer, who has appeared on stage with her family since the age of three. Descended from seven generations of activists and artists, all of whom continue to inspire her, her love-infused performances utilize an incredible range that blends baritone chanting with Hawaiian-style falsetto. As a modern transgender Hawaiian, her spellbinding performances unify traditional Hawaiian culture with contemporary sensibilities. We spoke to Kaumakaiwa about what inspires, recharges, and excites her.

You come from a family full of artists and activists who have been at the forefront of efforts to revive and celebrate Hawaiian culture. Did you always know that you wanted to continue that tradition with your own career?

“I hadn’t ever ‘considered’ or ‘intended’ to make a career of either aspects of my cultural practice, genetic memory or nurtured culture. Do I acknowledge that both nurtured culture and genetically inherited ability have an equal part in creating the modality of my cultural contributions thus far? Emphatic and grateful YES!”  

Who or what has inspired you?

“Familial legacy. [My] great-great-grandmother, for her sacrifice becoming the ancestral portal that her future generations might benefit from the continuum her actions ensured.

Her daughter, my great-grandmother for being the consummate bridge of multi-generational, socio-ecological, socio-political, cultural and spiritual wisdom.

Her daughter, my grandmother for recognizing that genetic or ancestral memory is our power.

Her daughter, my mother for her resilience and her love. 

My siblings and their children, for going the journey with me in unconditional love.”

Do you ever get stuck in the songwriting process? If yes, how do you recharge and break free to create new work?

“I use either modalities, lyric first or melody first—whichever comes first in the emotional space I might be in at the time. A melody or word can reignite the writing process for me as much as an emotional catalyst can.”

Guitarist Shawn Pimental will be performing with Kaumakaiwa in Vancouver

Your main performing medium is hula. Most people think of hula as the stereotypical image of grass-skirt-and-lei-wearing dancers, so how would you describe it, since it is obviously more than that?

“As I stated earlier, music, dance, chant and ritual for me are unique in its restorative and communicative functions. They are a genetic necessity that mankind possesses, because ‘music’ and ‘dance’ is the only natural resource that mankind has the capacity to create purely out of one’s own existence without first diminishing or consuming something else. Cross species communication by means of resonant frequency and wavelength.

THAT IS HULA!!! Its original purpose was one part restorative and one part communicative. [It was] between man and nature long before man became the focus of hula.”

Kaumakaiwa will be performing with guitarist Shawn Pimental at York Theatre as part of their Femme Series, which “highlight[s] the strength and power of the female voice and experience.” The show is on January 27 at 8PM, and tickets can be purchased through The Cultch website.

Rachel Rosenberg is a writer and library technician who is a proud member of the LGBTQ2+ community. She writes for Book Riot and can be found on Instagram @penandmitten 

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