Willie K. Kicks Off Kanikapila With Poki Event in Lahaina
Story & Photos by Wendy OSHER
LAHAINA–The Lahaina Restoration Foundation launched a new Hawaiian Music Series today on the lawn of the Historic Baldwin House museum. The inaugural program featured entertainment by Willie “Willie K” Kahaiali’i who took guests on a journey back to his days growing up in Lahaina Town.
The event was the first in a 10 part series that will feature Hawaiian music every second Thursday of the month between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at the Front Street Location. The Pa’ani with Poki event is hosted by Pacific Radio Group’s Allen “Braddah Poki” Pokipala who created the event as a way to showcase the traditional music of the islands in a way that truly reflects the spirit of aloha.
While listening to the music of Hawaii, guests learn about the culture of the islands and get a glimpse into the past, as artists and emcee share their manaâ€™o about the region and the historic treasures of Lahaina Town.
Today’s event included a blessing and opening ceremony by Kumu Kelii Taua prior to the start of the program.During the blessing, Taua and event organizers shared their thoughts about the unique experience being offered to visitors and residents alike.
Pacific Radio Group CEO Chuck Bergson noted the strong ties the station has to Lahaina, having launched KPOA 93.5 FM, the state’s first station with a Hawaiian Music format from a site just down the road 25 years ago. “It’s like coming back home for us,” said Bergson.
Braddah Poki meantime, pointed to the kukui nut trees, the land across the street that once held taro patches, and a parcel down the road that was once home to many chiefly families. “You won’t get that out of a tour book,” he said.
As the first entertainer for the Pa’ani with Poki event, Willie K. talked about the irony of playing music on the lawn of a place he used to be chased away from as a kid. “Back in those days, you would always see a bunch of us on top of this stone wall playing our ukuleles,” said Kahaiali’i. “We had fun, it was the thing to do.”
Willie K., has been playing music and entertaining audiences since the age of 10. From the very beginning, Willie was influenced by many musical genres; from the Hawaiian, Jazz, and early R&B he heard at his father’s side, to the sounds emanating from the radio and TV from musical giants such as B.B. King, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and Willie Nelson. By his high school graduation, Willie was playing in as many as 8 bands from country and western, salsa, rhythm and blues, rock, and of course Hawaiian. A few years later he moved to San Francisco, determined to make it in the music scene there.
After several years in California, Willie gained some notoriety opening for groups such as Cecilio and Kapono. On returning to Maui, he produced three albums which changed the direction of contemporary Hawaiian music. He swept up multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts. He then joined with Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom and produced three albums with Amy for The Mountain Apple Company. He earned two more Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for Producer of the year, while Amy won Album of the Year, Female Vocalist, Song of the Year, and Hawaiian Album of the Year awards.
The beginning of 2000 also brought forth a new CD, “The Uncle In Me”, which compiles the best of Willie’s music into a single recording. In 2005, Willie began performing with Eric Gilliom, Amy’s brother, and formed The Barefoot Natives. The duo created a natural blend of Hawaiian contemporary sound that has their signature stamp on it. Both CDs, “Barefoot Natives” and “Slack key Circus”, received multiple Hoku nominations, winning one Hoku award in 2007 for “Best New Artist”. The duo continues to perform their music along side one of rock-n-roll’s historical icon, Mick Fleetwood, in his Island Rumours Band.
The Pa’ani With Poki event which takes place every second Thursday of the month, was modeled after the successful Picnic With Poki event that continues to take place every third Thursday of the month in Wailuku town under the Monkey Pod Tree fronting the Ka’ahumanu Church.That event has become popular with kupuna, school groups, and county employees who take a break from their daily schedules to eat lunch and listen to music on the church grounds.It was the venue for one of the last public appearances made by Aunty Genoa Keawe before she passed away last year.
The Hawaiian Music Series in Lahaina is coordinated by Lahaina Restoration Foundation and sponsored by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development and Hawaii Tourism Authority.
(Story & Photos by Wendy OSHER © 2009)