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Native Hawaiian nonprofit's youth music program earns national recognition

Mana Maoli.jpg
Mana Maoli
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HPR
Mana Maoli serves thousands of students at 20 schools each year through its youth music programs.

A Native Hawaiian nonprofit that offers music programs to thousands of island keiki recently received national recognition.

Mana Maoli was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Lewis Prize for Music. They say the money will help to fund their music programs.

“The opportunities that they get in our programming helps to build a strong sense of identity in our students, which in turn creates a drive for them to participate in community," said Liʻi Sarsona, the nonprofitʻs community outreach manager and mentor.

Mana Maoli serves thousands of students at 20 schools each year through its Mana Mele project. They have produced popular music videos and collaborations, including the “Island Style - ʻŌiwi Ē” medley and "Hawaiʻi '78." Many feature thousands of Hawaiian charter school students.

They operate a solar-powered mobile studio and a music multimedia academy. It teaches students their ABCs — academics, business and culture — through music.

“They’re learning how to sing and play the song, but they’re also learning the backstory, the history and the culture," said Keola Nakanishi, Mana Maoli’s executive director. "There’s language arts involved… and social studies because of the history and cultural element. As they get into the technical and the production side, then the math and science come more into play as well.”

The nonprofit also founded the charter school Hālau Kū Māna, as well as the double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Kānehūnāmoku, to serve as a "floating classroom."

Nakanishi said that for many of their students, their programs are the only arts and music education they receive.

He added that they plan to work on more videos and collaborations, as well as continue to support local musicians and the next generation of artists.

"In so many schools, the arts is the first thing to chop. And I think music is a great creative outlet," he said. "It’s a great way to express yourself creatively and emotionally. It’s a great way to tell stories. It’s a great way to raise awareness out there in the community.”

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at jomaye@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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