The February 12th Grammy win by musician Kalani Peʻa for Best Regional Roots album “E Walea” is also a win for the representation of Hawaiian music.
This is the first win for Hawaiian music since 2012, when the categories for genres such as Hawaiian, Zydeco or Cajun, Native American and polka were combined into the category of Best Regional Roots.
Peʻa originated from Hilo, Hawaiʻi, and is now based on Maui. “E Walea” represents traditional Hawaiian music with seven “haku mele” songs, as well as five cover songs. The album reached #1 on iTunes World Music charts as well as #12 on Billboard World Music chart.
Graduating from Hawaiian Language School Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu in 2001, Peʻa sings in the Hawaiian language in all songs on “E Walea”, including remakes of “Always and Forever” and “You Are So Beautiful”.
While Best Hawaiian Music Album was a past Grammys category, many have criticized the selection committee for awarding artists in the category for music that does not hold true to the traditional Hawaiian sound and culture. Past awardees include Don Ho and Tia Carrere, who were no longer Hawai’i residents at the time of their wins and incorporated little elements of Hawaiian music into their work.
Peʻa’s Grammy award is a step in added recognition and exposure for traditional music of Hawai‘i. His win is encouraging for Hawaiʻi-based artists and reminds them that it is possible to achieve success without decamping to California, the base for many in the music industry. The success of “E Walea” validates the integrity of staying true to one’s roots in both the physical and musical sense.