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Iconic Anthem 'Hawaii '78' Revived as Oʻahu's Population Hits 1 Million


"Honestly, I didn't know if I had it in me."

Kawehi, of IAmKawehi, opens her rerelease of "Hawai'i '78" with Hawaiian chant.

"I did go to immersion school, I did learn Hawaiian from K through 8th grade and that was my first language at some point but that was years ago."

Kawehi surprised herself with how deep into her own experience she had to go, to bring Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's anthem into the present. The video begins with solo hula.

"I haven't danced in forever and there are all these elements where I was like, Should I do this? But I really just wanted to try."

Jeffree McKee

Kamehameha Schools grad, Kawehi moved to Los Angeles at 19 to get into music. She stayed 10 years — nine years too long, she says before she and her husband Paul moved to Lawrence, Kansas, about eight years ago.

"Things happened when we moved to Kansas mainly because we weren't tied to working five jobs to pay the bills and having zero time to be creative."

Kawehi iced down her looping style, which is sampling bits of audio and playing them, sometimes, repeating, or looping them, sourcing all kinds of audio.

"It's amazing what you can do when you have a thousand percent of your energy to dedicate to your craft. It'll blow anybody away what anybody can do just dedicating that time."

Paul is the videographer/art director for the IAMKAWEHI duo. His smart, spare style with video occasionally reveals endearing moments, usually with a dog. Kawehi says she finds peace in the midwestern landscape. They're not signed to a label, they're independent musicians, relying on concerts and web sales.

"When we moved to Kansas we didn't have any bills for a year. We sold our LA house and were going to take a little bit of this chump change and really go for it for the music thing. That's what Kansas has done for us."

Kawehi's fluid mixing can happen at a console, in a black room with maybe candelabra with Kawehi wearing metal and futuristic fabrics. Or she can be on her bed, in a tube top with her dog. And a console.

"Before when I would song write it would be me and a guitar and those were the only sounds I was thinking of. With looping, I think of a lot of sounds, I think as an orchestra now. I think, Oh it would be nice if a little of that is here, and this and that.'

'I love that part," says Kawehi. "I think live looping has built me into who I am today."

IAmKawehi's cover of "Hawaiʻi '78" is a love letter from Kansas, she says, as Oʻahu's population nudges over a million.

Kawehi performs tonight, Aug. 19, at Da Playground Wailuku, Maui, 7 p.m.

Friday night, Aug. 20, she's at the Blue Note in Waikiki.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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