mana in music

Craig DeSilva
July 05, 2024

Kuuipo Kumukahi, who grew up near Hilo, remembers hearing stories about how her father, a Native Hawaiian speaker, was banned in school from using the language that he was raised speaking.

As a Hawaiian musician, Kumukahi is proud to keep Hawaii’s language, history, and culture alive through music. “Kanaka maoli tell their moolelo (stories) through mele (songs and poetry),” she says. “They speak of our winds, rains, and places. We must preserve these wahi pana (storied places).”

Photo by Brad Goda

The multi-Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning singer, songwriter, and musician loves performing mele Hawaii and sharing her ike (knowledge) of Hawaiian culture. That paused during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020 when people weren’t allowed to gather in public due to health and safety concerns.

But that didn’t stop Kumukahi from spreading the joy of music. She and other musicians took their music to the streets in what they called “Mele on the Move” concerts. They performed in the back of a pickup truck every Sunday as it drove through the Hawaiian Homesteads of Waimanalo, Waianae, Nanakuli, Kapolei, and Papakolea. They livestreamed their experience on their Facebook page @HMPSHawaii

“Kupuna would come out and sing with us and some would dance the hula,” she says. “It was such a chicken-skin moment.”

Power of music
Those moments prompted Kumukahi to create the Hawaiian Music Perpetuation Society (HMPS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserve, promote, and perpetuate mele Hawaii. “Mele is more than just something beautiful to listen to. Music connects people and communities. And when we do that, we understand each other better,” she says.

The society organizes concerts that showcase Hawaiian musicians past and present. Malio, a musical extravaganza held at the iconic Hawaii Theatre Center, featured women singing mele Hawaii while playing an instrument. Na Kupuna Nights concerts celebrated legendary musicians from Hawaii’s golden age of music when Waikiki was filled with live Hawaiian music in packed showrooms. He Lei No Emalani, a musical tribute to our beloved Queen Emma, was held Hanaiakamalama in Nuuanu. 

Photo courtesy Hawaiian Music Perpetuation Society

Music as medicine
Last year, HMPS received a grant from the Hawaii Department of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Branch to host a three-day conference entitled Kulia i ka Nuu. The focus was on Native Hawaiian women’s health. Presenters included historians, practitioners, artists, educators, and health care providers. All gathered to share resources available to the community and spotlight how mele Hawai'i heals.

“Music has the power to mend connections and heal spirits,” says Jenine Heleloa, the society’s executive director. “If you don’t have good health, you don’t have anything.”

Kumukahi is looking forward to creating more opportunities with HMPS so that Hawaiian music can continue to live in the hearts and minds of Hawaii’s people.

“When we connect through music, we watch out for one another and take care of each other,” she says. “Hawaiian music is about our communities, people, and land. And passing it to the next generation.”

To learn more about the work Kuuipo Kumukahi does with the Hawaiian Music Perpetuation Society, visit or call 808-348-3322.

Hero and thumbnail images by Brad Goda


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