Moving Rendition of “Hawai‘i Aloha” Gave Students Real Music Recording Chops

Making music work.


Earlier this year, a Hawaiian music video went viral on YouTube: A rendition of “Hawai‘i Aloha” performed by dozens of noteworthy local artists including Cyril Pahinui, Ledward Ka‘apana, Paula Fuga, Imua Garza and Kimie Miner, and more than 1,000 students from 10 Hawaiian charter schools. The video struck a real chord with people in Hawai‘i and around the world, racking up more than 1.5 million views and counting.


It was the creation of a local nonprofit called Mana Mele, which aims to educate local students to work in the music industry, using the world’s first solar-powered mobile recording studio and a full-on multi-media-and-music curriculum.


The project launched in 2013 with federal grants, and Mana Mele has added funds with community support. A Kickstarter campaign this April raised more than $26,000 from 263 backers. So far, the project has served more than 1,300 students through school visits, mentorships, mobile studio tours and yearlong classes at more than a dozen culture-based charter schools across the Islands.




The project works with the MELE (Music and Entertainment Learning Experience) program at Honolulu Community College, which offers degrees in audio engineering and music business and production.


Hawai‘i’s music pros have stepped up, too. More than 200 musicians, engineers, videographers and others have contributed so far.


“Based on the feedback we’ve received, we expect the number of students and schools we serve to continue growing,” says Keola Nakanishi, director of Mana Maoli, the nonprofit that founded Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter School, which focuses on voyaging and music, and the Mana Mele Project.


Photo: Aaron Yoshino 


He says students in the program have not only grown creatively, but they’re doing better in school, too, a win for his vision of “fostering lifelong learners who think, feel and act in ways that are pono.”


If students who participate in Mana Mele don’t end up going into the recording industry, that’s OK. “We don’t want to limit or pigeonhole them,” Nakanishi says. “Mana Mele aims to empower them to tell their story, from their place. In that process, the knowledge, skills and values gained are applicable to any career path they choose.”