Maui Arts & Entertainment

The Tuahine Troupe from UH perpetuating mother tongue in its traditional Hawaiian music

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The Tuahine Troupe recently recorded its first album, which was nominated for eight Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards.

The Tuahine Troupe’s recently recorded first album, Keāiwaokulamanu, earned eight Nā Hōkū Hanohano nominations for Album of the Year, Group of the Year, Most Promising Artist, Hawaiian Music Album, Favorite Entertainer, Graphics, Haku Mele and Hawaiian Language Performance. 

The 22-member traditional Hawaiian music group was born out of the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The troupe was formed by Associate Professor Keawe Lopes — director of Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha and KCHL of Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge — with the purpose of expanding the use of ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) throughout the islands and around the world.  

While recording the album, Lopes required student members to concurrently complete the department’s haku mele (song composition) course at UH Mānoa, which is formed around broadening language acquisition through learning traditional songs composed by mānaleo (native speakers).

“Learning the songs … learning the meanings … learning how to build upon those kinds of poetic expressions [of] our kūpuna allows them to further develop their language skills,” Lopes said. 

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From lyric composing to recording, UH Mānoa Hawaiian language student Taisamasama Kaiminaauao-Eteuati is mesmerized by the opportunity to deepen his connection to ʻōlelo. 

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“We could write the song, understand the language and then go to kumu and get corrected and then come [to the recording studio] and relate all of those manaʻo (thoughts), all of these old inoas (names), now into a recording,” he said.  

Troupe member Kaʻiulani Kanehailua, an educational specialist at HSHK, said eight Nā Hōkū Hanohano nominations is “amazing.”

“The project came out so well and we’re so proud of it,” he said.

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The Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts hosts the annual Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards and invited the group to perform in the ceremony’s opening number. The awards show will air live on KGMB on Wednesday, July 20 at 7 p.m. 

Four of the 14 songs featured on the troupe’s album are original compositions written by band members. The album also showcases four songs penned by Lopes and a track co-composed by Lopes and UH Mānoa alumnus Zachary Lum, an award winning musician who earned his MA in Ethnomusicology.

The troupe recorded five cover songs originally composed by kūpuna Julia Walanika, J. K. Kamali, Bina Mossman, John K. Almeida and Kimo Alama Keaulana. 

During the recording process, Kaiminaauao-Eteuati shadowed award-winning sound engineer Michael Grande who helped produce the album. 

The troupe opted to pay homage to the ʻāina (land) of Mānoa, where the sprawling university campus sits. The essence can even be found in the troupe’s name, tuahine, which is a traditional name used to identify a particular gentle rain that falls in the valley. Every track on the album is either written about the area or by a composer who lived in Mānoa Valley. 

The voices of longtime Mānoa residents Aunty Mona Teves and her daughter Noelani Whittington are spotlighted on the track Rain Tuahine o Mānoa, which was composed by their tūtū.

Keaulana also grew up in the lush valley and can be heard singing with the troupe on track Nani Mānoa, his own composition.

Other special appearances on the album include keiki from Pūnana Leo o Mānoa led by Kawaihuelani alumnus and site coordinator Kahōkū Lindsey-Asing, and UH Mānoa alumni Hauʻoli Akaka and Kalehua Krug who are both renowned ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi educators and musicians.   

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