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NUNN ON ONE: MUSIC Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole: Trans Hawaiian singer on home state, final CD
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Transgender Hawaiian performer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole is making a rare appearance in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The show will combine ancestral chants, singing, and hula practice.

Having been on stage since she could walk has now earned her five Hawaiian Grammy Awards and also awarded the 2015 Native Hawaiian Artist Fellowship by the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation.

Kanaka'ole appeared in a film about chanting called Power of the Voice was the first Hawaiian performer invited to appear at New York's globalFEST 2011.

Windy City Times: Where in the world are you calling from?

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole: I am in Oahu, Hawaii. I live here where I was born and raised.

WCT: Did you grow up around volcanos?

KK: I did. I live on an island with 13 different climates. It was a powerful upbringing. It certainly has resonated with adolescence and my adult life.

WCT: How do you hold on to a Hawaiian heritage in a modern world?

KK: I'm not sure what holding on means. It is a lifestyle. If you talking about indigenous being able to continue to practice their culture in the 21st century there are different discussions.

I do this to honor my ancestors and for the sake of the well being of the land and the environment.

WCT: How would you describe the trans community in Hawaii?

KK: The trans community has always been there. The third gender is not an uncommon theme in most indigenous and aborigines cultures. Polynesia is no exception, particularly in Hawaii. Ancient indigenous people embrace all facets and mediums of gender while still trying to balance the juxtaposition of colonialism or Western religious oppression.

When you are raised in 21st-century Hawaii with conflicting philosophies toward gender you have exactly that—you have a good portion of the population that embrace all genders and you have those that adhere to the Western religious doctrines that shun it.

I lucked out. I was born into the family that was rooted, grounded and educated. It gave me an in and allowed my native Hawaiian community to appreciate my contributions to the culture instead of judging me for what I am. My upbringing has been a saving grace, on that end.

WCT: Did you sing from a young age?

KK: No; I was raised doing hula and chant.

WCT: When did you start performing music?

KK: I didn't start performing live until my early 20s.

WCT: Where are you touring this time?

KK: We have four stops: Chicago, North Dakota, San Francisco and New York.

WCT: Describe a live show of yours.

KK: I tell stories. We are using hula and my native language as a medium in a way to convey our message.

WCT: What are you working on after the tour?

KK: I will be working on my final studio music album. It will be about me. It is finally my fourth album and a decade in the industry. It is me embracing my trans identity publicly in the middle of that. It is [about] coming to terms, looking in the mirror and being able to love what I see.

WCT: Why is it your final album?

KK: It is the last music album because I am done. I think commercial and capitalist institutions that surround the industry here, especially in music and art, is all bullshit. On social media when we think we are at our most authentic it is all just putting on mini performances just to get that shot. We capture a moment on social media to share with the audience. There is already an audience in mind that makes it a performance, and not an authentic moment.

It is in the spirit of that and the way that the 21st century changes the dynamic of human communication and interaction. We are allowing it to change us.

I think there are more valuable things in life than the next single or album. Who cares?

WCT: What will you do instead of music?

KK: I am going to focus my recording career into my passion, which is chanting. This will be ritual or primal Hawaiian chanting techniques to compositions over the millennia. It is more meaningful to me. I was raised in that environment so it is natural that I focus my career on it.

Kanaka'ole will perform with guitarist Shawn Pimental at the Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave., on Sunday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. Visit for tickets and information.

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