Kanikapila: Hawaiian Living Room Jams for the Masses

Kanikapila Reloaded: Bringing living room jams to the masses.

Dave Kusumoto and Jon Yamasato, keeping it down home.

photos: courtesy dave kusumoto

Kanikapila, Hawaiian for “play music,” was once a daily part of life in Old Hawaii—mele made in back yards and living rooms, rather than on stage. Many of our most beloved songs were composed in this tradition and, for the most part, kanikapila jam sessions have been limited to friends hanging out at home. Now, though, a new local TV show is bringing that casual vibe to a larger audience.

In October, KFVE started airing HI*Sessions, a program featuring Hawaii’s top musicians hanging out and playing together in a living room. Five-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Jon Yamasato and former songwriter and musician Dave Kusumoto came up with the idea of filming kanikapila sessions as webcasts after seeing other musicians post jam sessions on YouTube. Yamasato and Kusumoto are both busy these days with young families and full-time careers (in real estate and web/video production, respectively), but they longed to reconnect with the musicians they used to see when they played gigs. Yamasato says he wanted to “recreate my life on the circuit without actually being on the circuit.”

“When we first started, we had no idea what we were doing, so we knew we had to have people who were not going to get upset when we messed up,” Yamasato explains. “I called my friends and told them, ‘I have this idea for an online music show, you want to come over and hang out?’” On the appointed day, Kusumoto pushed aside couches to set up lights, microphones and five cameras.

The show brings local artists such as Kainalu, Yoza and Johnna Padeken into the living room.

Yamasato continues, “Suddenly we had a director, producer, musicians, and food. We spent the day playing music, eating and hanging out.” Yamasato, Kusumoto and their crew took a week to edit the footage, and then posted the finished clip on the HI*Sessions YouTube channel. Word of the relaxed atmosphere and high-quality production (the show is shot in High Definition) got out, and soon musicians like Nathan Aweau of Hapa, Ernie Cruz Jr., formerly of Kaau Crater Boys, and Lehua Kalama of Na Leo started dropping by. It wasn’t long before the two friends were pitching the show to KVFE.

Even as HI*Sessions transitions from online to primetime, the project remains about connecting with people. Jon reminisces about his early days “back when Pure Heart was starting out. We’d play for six hours on Saturdays, in my back yard. Just get together, jam, and record for fun. HI*Sessions brings me back to those times.”