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The 25 Greatest Hawai‘i Songs of the New Century

As voted by a panel of experts. Plus, read the stories behind the music.


(page 5 of 5)

22. Moloka‘i Jam

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole and Kekuhi Kanahele
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


Can a song with a driving, electronic club beat be considered a Hawaiian song? When it’s an oli-style chant coming from two members of the highly esteemed Kanaka‘ole family, you better believe it. Kaumakaiwa says “Moloka‘i Jam,” a mele of thanks to the Helm ‘ohana, got its modern pop feel while being crafted in the studio with producer Shawn Pimental. “We have total artistic freedom,” she says, “because we don’t have to worry about the cultural repercussions. We have standing, without needing to say it, ever. It comes from decades of rapport and merit, and all the residual mana that comes from that.” Kaumakaiwa may be experimenting with bold new influences in her music, but it’s all within an unbroken lineage that goes back to her great-grandmother Edith Kanaka‘ole and beyond.


23. Rising in Love

Lehua Kalima 
Composed by: Lehua Kalima 
Performed by: Lehua Kalima 
Appears on: Rising in Love
Released: 2011
Photo: Courtesy of Mountain Apple Co. 


Lehua Kalima might be best known as part of the Hawaiian music trio Nā Leo, but, when she started work on her first solo album, she needed a project that she could work on herself. “Around 2009, I was going through a divorce and wanted some distraction and some outlet for all of that,” Kalima says. “It was my way of venting and focusing on something constructive.” The title track, which described, not falling in love, but rising, was at that point a dream for Kalima, not a reality, but you can hear the optimism starting to shine through.



24. Love I

The Green 
Photo: Courtesy of Mountain Apple Co. 


The Green has recorded its share of hard-hitting political songs, but with “Love I,” it all comes down to that one special girl who’s just out of reach. Says composer Caleb Keolanui, “It’s pretty much a love story, but about how love doesn’t always come through. It’s expressing this idea of, if you just would take the chance.” He swears he didn’t write the song about a specific person, but, no matter, the band turned it into a rich, narcotic torch song that, as the lead single off their debut album, offered a glimpse of the heavy-duty reggae they’d make their career on.



25. Bullet Train Song

Composed by: Kamaka Kukona
Performed by: Kamaka Kukona
Appears on: Hanu ‘A‘ala
Released: 2014

As you might guess, Kamaka Kukona composed this song while riding on a bullet train, heading for Nagata. “There were just miles and miles of green rice fields. It was so beautiful,” he says. “When I reached my destination, I had it to give as a gift to the hula students who were there to greet me.” There are Japanese touches throughout the song, from the singsong melody to the swaying, enka rhythm, making it a perfect ode to the special affinity between the Hawaiian and Japanese cultures.



Mahalo to all our esteemed panelists:

Leah Bernstein / Jon de Mello / Keola Donaghy / Lihau Hannahs-Paik  / Daniel Ito / Kainani Kahaunaele  / Kuana Torres Kahele / Kawika Kahiapo / Michael Keany / Fred “Punahele” Krauss / Kamakoa Lindsey-Asing / Derrick Malama / KĪhei Nahale-a / Derek Paiva / Jake and Laurie Rohrer / Skylark Rossetti  / Jade Snow / Harry B. Soria / Dave Tucciarone

Click here to listen to the full playlist.




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Honolulu Magazine March 2019