Keep Your Eyes—and Ears—on Grammy and Nā Hōkū Award-Winning Kalani Pe‘a

After Grammy and Nā Hōkū award wins for Hawaiian musician Kalani Pe‘a, the world is listening.
Kalani Pea
Photo: Gregory Yamamoto


Expect to be hearing more about Kalani Pe‘a. The 34-year-old Hawaiian musician’s debut album, E Walea, zoomed to No. 1 on the iTunes world-music-album chart after its release this past August, and, in February, Pe‘a won a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album—the first Hawai‘i artist to land the prestigious honor since the Best Hawaiian Music Album category went away in 2011. Then, in May, he won a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Best Hawaiian Contemporary Album, making him the first artist ever to win both a Grammy and a Hōkū for the same album.


SEE ALSO: Q+A: Kalani Pe‘a, Grammy Award-Winning Hawaiian Musician


The critical acclaim and fan enthusiasm over Pe‘a’s unique blend of traditional Hawaiian and modern pop music has been enough that he’s been able to quit his day job as a Hawaiian resource coordinator and curriculum developer for Kamehameha Schools and become a full-time musical artist. “Everything is just aligned,” he says. “As wayfinders and voyagers, we look to the stars to guide us, and I never knew how much everything would align.” 


This month, he’s performing in Japan on a four-city tour, and Pe‘a says he still thinks of himself as an educator, even if the classroom looks a lot different. To millennial Hawaiians just like himself, he wants to make sure they know: “It’s OK to wear a lau hala bowtie with Burberry glasses, and wear a Louis Vuitton bag and sing ‘You Are So Beautiful’ in English and Hawaiian. It’s OK to be innovative,” he says. “I’m not here to please anybody. … This is who I am, and I’m not going
to change.”


He’s planning to include, as part of his musical tours, songwriter summits and a songwriter haku mele camp, to empower others to create new Hawaiian music.


Pe‘a is booked solid with performances until 2020, but says, even with a Grammy and a Hōkū under his belt, he’s just getting started. “From a Hawaiian perspective, we don’t believe in just kūlia i ka nu‘u, striving for the highest mountain and you get to the top and that’s the end,” he says. “We continue to soar and continue to climb. In Hawaiian, we call it ‘akahi o ho‘omaka, the beginning of every journey. We don’t believe there’s a start and finish line, like a marathon. This is just the start for me, even though I’ve been singing for 30 years.” 


Listen to Kalani Pe‘a at